I was the Queen of Procrastination. I made myself so many promises to improve my productivity but still found myself putting off everything until the very last minute, all the time stressing about what needed doing or reading more articles on how to improve your productivity or stop procrastinating.
Over the years, I have read numerous books, blog posts and tips on how to improve your productivity. However, very often, the tips seemed to be aimed at single women, with no children and no commitments or those who have this thing called “spare time”. As a mum of three children, I found myself laughing as I read them, especially the ones that said “get up an hour before the rest of the family”. Having a son with autism who likes to wake up at 4.45am each morning and another son who is blind, with no light perception, who rarely goes to sleep before midnight, I can promise you that getting up an hour earlier was not an option I was even prepared to consider.
Having school age children brings a whole ream of additional activities and responsibilities to any home. Juggling diaries, work, housework, family life and hopefully a few hours “me time” feels like a Herculean task Add special educational needs and disability to the mix together with a system that appears to exist purely to challenge even the strongest person, and you can find yourself just wanting to throw the towel in and admit defeat.
However, I have found a few tips that really have helped me to stay on top of the game, or at least make me feel less like I am in a sinking ship taking on water.
Write everything down!
Do not presume you will remember everything. We just don’t. When I was younger and managed to sleep, I may have remembered a lot more details but as time has passed, I find that my memory is not as reliable as it used to be. My memory, like me, is tired and looking for life hacks to help it through the day. You don’t need a planner, you don’t need to try a million different apps, just grab a notebook and write everything down. I have written about how I use a notebook, a la Bullet Journal, before.
Plan your day – the night before
I tried planning the week ahead but as anyone with children will tell you, that can be optimistic! So now I sit for ten mins each evening and plan what I need to do the next day. If a child decides that they are going to be ill the next day, you can just carry it over to the day they return to school.
Batch work together
Do similar tasks at the same time, in bulk. So any emails need sending, do them all in the same sitting, rather than trying to fit them in between other tasks. Any phone calls to make, again set aside an hour or so to make all the calls you need to.
Don’t put off the big tasks you hate
Get them out of the way. If you have that one task just sitting there – the one you keep putting off because you think it’s going to take hours or perhaps it’s a call to make that you just are not looking forward to – get it out of the way instead of choosing 50 other small tasks. This is called “eating the frog“, the idea being that once you’ve done this, the rest of the day will be much more pleasant. The relief of getting it out of the way will be immense.
Know when you are at your most productive
We all have times of the day when we work best. It may be that you are happiest sitting with your laptop late at night, after the chaos of bedtime or perhaps you are at your best as soon as the kids are at school. Mid afternoon you may have an energy dip or if you’ve had a particularly bad night then a morning nap may be essential to get you through the day. Have a look at what works for you and use that knowledge. I know I am most productive in a morning. Once it gets to early afternoon, I am too focused on what time the kids will be home, or what I need to make for dinner, or what I need to have ready for the kids tomorrow. This is not a productive time for me so I try to schedule work for the morning.
I know that I work so much better if I allow myself 5/10 minutes once the chaos of the school morning is over to just sit quietly. I sometimes use a meditation app to help with this, but at other times I just sit and enjoy the total peace of an empty house. If, like me, you don’t go to an office to work, it feels a bit like my commute time. The time to change from “mum” to “me”.
This sounds like a really dippy hippy thing to do but it works, I promise! Every morning, as soon as the kids have gone to school (or during the holidays, I embrace them with the love of YouTube or similar for ten minutes) I grab a note book and I just write down anything in my head. Not a to do list but things that are playing on my mind. Maybe hubby said something yesterday which got my back up or someone commented on my weight, perhaps I’m anxious about a change ahead or I’m worried about something that happened the day before. Anything playing on my mind at all gets written down in the notebook. Three pages every single day. Some days my writing is really large and other days I struggle to stop at three pages. However, three pages is the limit and I find it really helps to refocus me on what is really important. Also writing it down and then closing the book is also a really useful way to get it out of my head and allow me to refocus on what needs to be done.
Change the view!
If you always sit at the same place at home, then move to another room or if possible, get out of the house and work in a coffee shop or in the park. If I can’t go out (say a child is at home or I’m waiting in for a delivery), I either move to the dining table or if it’s nice, I sit in the garden. If I can go out, I’m very lucky and live near the coast so I head to the beach, or if’s raining, I head to our caravan and work there. Changing the view really helps me. I also love School Run Shop’s idea of setting up the back seat of the car as a mobile office and just driving somewhere else or even sitting on the driveway!
Have some processes:
If you do something regularly but it has lots of little tasks (eg writing a blog post, organising an event, housework, etc) then have a check list for the process.
So for a blog post, it would include write the content, image, research (if applicable), etc. If an event, then it would include find venue, confirm venue, confirm guests, confirm attendees, rooming list, food, dietary needs, etc. Have a list of housework tasks, including those monthly jobs like changing water filters or descaling kettles, etc. Having a check list means things don’t get missed but also means you don’t have to remember everything. It also means that if someone offers to help, you have a list they can work from. I like lists, can you tell?
Now I am the world’s laziest person, if I can do something without moving off the sofa I will.To give you an idea of how lazy I can be, I was delighted when I found the Sky + app on my phone could control the sky box if the sky remote was not in reach! Yes, I really am that lazy! However, I know that when I make the effort to get active, even if it’s just dancing around the kitchen to 80’s music, I feel better and more ready to face the world. So make yourself move. I have found some great YouTube videos with quick workouts that I can do at home, or I put music on and just walk around the kitchen. I hurt my ankle a few weeks ago but instead of thinking “oh what a shame, I can’t move today”, I actually spent a few days just doing arm exercises on the sofa instead. I can never imagine myself being one of those people who get antsy if they can’t exercise – although part of me wishes I did feel like that – but I do know that if I kick my butt into getting off the sofa, it helps me immensely.
When you set your list of things to do, add an item that is something for you. It could be watching something off the planner (I am currently addicted to all the re-runs of “Who Do You Think You Are”), catching up on some blogs you enjoy, or just having a long shower without a child waltzing in to use the loo. Anything that just benefits you. No one else. Indirectly it will benefit those around you but it’s something you do just for you. We often put ourselves at the bottom of the list and find other things to do which we believe are more important. However, if you don’t give yourself that time, even if it is just five minutes a day, you will hit burn out so much quicker. Giving yourself permission to do something for you will take some getting used to at first but the benefits are so huge, you will soon see why it’s worth doing. I see these moments as my chance to recharge, ready to face the next challenge.
Over to you:
What helps you to be more productive? I know that if I don’t have a list to work with, I will happily sit on the sofa and watch back to back episodes of Real Housewives or spend a few hours on social media. I also know I spent years searching for the perfect planner, spending a small fortune and often starting again in a new planner half way through year but now I have found the Bullet Journal method, I have found a planner that works for me.
What are the biggest barriers you face? Have you struggled to overcome them, then maybe comment below and see if anyone else has had similar and come up with a solution.