Some days the life of a busy mom looks like this:
You cross the finish line of another non-stop day, and you are exhausted... but you honestly don’t know what you have to show for all your spent hours. Projects are piling up at work, the house and kids look like they need to be hosed down, and you can’t remember the last time you had uninterrupted quality time with your spouse. And tomorrow it begins again.
Getting it all done while making the most of your time is possible. Try adopting these 15 practices for maximizing your productivity:
“Well begun is half done.” So say the timeless philosophers Aristotle and Mary Poppins. Save yourself the stress of playing catch-up all day by shifting into gear with time to spare. You’ll set yourself up for a day’s worth of successes.
Don’t roll directly out of bed and groggily begin your most mentally intense task of the day. Invest a few minutes in getting the engine of your brain humming before you dive in to the meaty part of your morning. Pick what works for you – going for a jog, downing a cup of coffee, reading an article, watching the news, or chatting with a coworker.
Struggling to recall, prioritize, and adjust your day’s plans are not feats you can easily accomplish mentally. Not only are you setting yourself up to lose track of something important, but you’ve got the constant nagging of reminders in your head. Dump everything out of your brain onto paper so that you are free to focus on the present. Estimate the amount of time each task will take, or you’ll create a list that requires more hours than you have.
These are three of the four D’s of time management. If you want to do – the fourth D – the important items on your list, you’ll likely need to carve out the time you need. Say no ruthlessly wherever you can. Share the burden whenever possible – both at home and at work – by capitalizing on other people’s skills or simply their availability. Question the urgency of each task to ascertain whether it can be postponed.
Create a customized schedule based on the items you truly need to tackle today. At the same time, don’t reinvent the wheel every morning if you have a routine or elements of a plan that consistently work for you. If you’ve determined that you have a two-hour training session to attend, a one-hour report to write, and a 30-minute school carpool to drive, assign those activities specific blocks of time in your day.
That one-hour report could easily turn into a two-hour, half-finished report if you derail your train of thought by investigating every email alert, calling to set up a physical, or paying off your credit card bill. Consolidating your activities allows you to crank through one set of tasks efficiently before tackling the next. Make all of your phone calls, respond to your emails, and pay your bills in bulk at pre-determined times during your day.
Expect the unexpected. Don’t assume there will be no traffic, that your meeting will end precisely on time, or that your kid’s five-minute bath will not deteriorate into 15 the way the last few have. If you fail to build some wiggle room into your plan, you will force yourself into constantly rearranging your schedule – and drive yourself crazy in the process.
Dive in. If you can’t commit to completing a difficult or annoying task, identify the first step – however tiny – and do that. You will have accomplished something, and you may find that you gain the momentum to keep going.
Don’t bounce back and forth between two activities. Give a project your undivided attention so that you can get it done. Devote your energy to an experience so that you can enjoy it fully.
Most of the day-to-day decisions that we make work out well enough so long as we make a decision. It’s far better to pick a set of lamps for your living room and face the possibility that you’ll dislike them enough to return them than to sit in the dark while you visit every local lighting store and website. Consider how important any decision really is and impose a time limit on yourself accordingly.
Some items on our to-do lists don’t have a finish-by date and thus never get done. Impose a deadline on yourself and plan to meet it. Consider creating a reward for meeting the deadline, or a penalty for being late.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available, so create boundaries on yours. A ticking timer compels you to move, move, move. Instruct yourself to work out for 15 minutes or tell your kids that they have five minutes to pick up all of their toys. See how much you can truly accomplish to the sound of a ticking clock.
Have a few activities you can do if you find yourself unexpectedly tapping your foot. Waiting for your doctor’s appointment, the end of your kid’s ballet class, or a late train? Read a saved article, return a phone call, or write down tomorrow’s to-do list.
You will frustrate yourself and waste time if your space isn’t working for you. Don’t be late for work because you had to scour the house for your car keys or be tardy for a client meeting because their file is buried somewhere on your desk. Create an organizational system that works for you so that you can quickly access the things you need.
Life throws us curveballs, despite our best planning. Anticipate what you can, but know that sometimes you have to modify or – in extreme cases – throw out your whole schedule for the day. Adjust your plan as you encounter obstacles and keep moving.