I am a very productive person (if I do say so myself), and I’m excited to share some of my productivity tips here with you today.
That said, whenever I want to talk about something I’m good at, I feel there is a requirement for a moment of self-deprecation so readers will be clear that I am not an arrogant person who thinks I am good at everything. Indeed, I can list a large number of flaws, for example:
- my lack of interest in cooking almost anything that doesn’t come out of a box
- my coordination skills which legitimize being chosen last for gym teams throughout my school years
- the introversion that leads me to be so far from “life-of-the-party” that I am more accurately pegged as “quiet-person-in-the-corner-of-the-party-who-leaves-as-early-as-possible”
- the fact that I do not voluntarily spend time in the Canadian outdoors between the months of November and April
- a lifetime-long list of embarrassing moments that I can call up and replay as if on video (which is really ironic, since I never watch myself when I’m actually on TV)
- for all these flaws and those I cannot now remember, I am truly…oh wait, this wasn’t an actual confession.
As well as I know my weaknesses, I also know my strengths, and let me tell you, I can get things done. I am a wife and a mom of two girls, I teach kindergarten full-time, and I am a freelance magazine writer and TV guest in addition to being an active blogger. I am organized and punctual and take a strange joy in crossing a large number of things off the old to-do list. Here are some of my strategies – I hope you will find inspiration!
Do it now.
Just a warning that these tips may incorporate some age-old cliches, like in this case, “don’t put off for tomorrow what you could do today”. When I bring in the mail, I sort it immediately, with most going straight to the recycling bin. If I can RSVP to a party invitation or pay a bill I do it right then and it’s done. My girls leave their school agendas open on the counter for me to see as soon as I get in the door after work, and I initial them and complete any necessary paperwork on the spot. I also do a load of laundry almost every single day. If the basket’s full, I toss it in, which to me is way better than a marathon weekend laundry session. If you can reply to an email or text right away, do it. (If I don’t reply to a text immediately, which happens on occasion, I am much more likely to lose track as the message goes lower in my list of texts.) On the topic of emails: I constantly strive for inbox Zero, but I do keep messages that still require action right there front and centre as a reminder.
I’m getting much better at this one. There are some things in life that are true obligations, whether because of an actual contract or an unspoken agreement about how social systems work (e.g., you can’t say you “don’t feel like” finishing a project at work, or attending your sister’s wedding). There are many other things in life that you really don’t have to do. I don’t sign up for workout classes or other adult extracurriculars because I just don’t want another commitment each week. I missed a book club meeting a couple of months ago because my week had just been too busy and something had to give. I was recently asked to take on a leadership role on a committee and I said no – to a priest, which should tell you how seriously I take this! I have declined invitations on my children’s behalf as well, occasionally selfishly but often because I want to protect their time too. Best friend’s birthday party? Yes. Weekly soccer games that no one enjoys? Not this year.
Don’t waste time trying to be perfect.
I love the expression (I think by Voltaire), “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes good is good enough. This may involve delegating (see point later about mobilizing children), lowering standards (again, see point about children), or realizing that some things may just not get done at all. If I am contributing to a potluck or bake sale, it might be something homemade. But it very well may not, and I am okay with that. I have a lovely large front garden to which we continue to add perennials, but very few annuals. When it’s the right time of year to be putting them in, I am way too busy and I no longer worry about it. I see some teachers who spend an exorbitant amount of time prepping for something that’s going to take the students two minutes to do and they won’t either learn from or enjoy it anywhere close to as much as they should to justify the time spent. I no longer worry about everything being Pinterest-perfect, either in the classroom or at home.
Be a planner
As high-tech as I am at work and at home, I still love a paper agenda (I recently ordered this 2018 Kate Spade beauty from Chapters Indigo.) One side of each date I use for appointments/events, and the other side for that day’s to-dos. Things that need to be done at some point that week (whether work or personal) go at the top of the page, so I can glance at them each day to see what can be looked after. I also look ahead often to see what birthday gifts need to be purchased, appearances prepped for, etc. We have a computer-generated grocery list on the fridge that shows are commonly purchased items, and we check them off as soon as we need them.
Spend when you can.
This may not be an option for everyone, but if it is, take it. We have a wonderful housecleaner who comes for two hours a week during the school year just to help us stay on top of things, and it’s an incredible investment. I spend a whopping five bucks weekly to have someone do my grocery shopping for me with the Loblaws Click and Collect program (I order online, pull into the parking spot, make a phone call and they bring the groceries out)…another very worthwhile use of my money. Having tasks like this looked after helps free up my time to put towards my classroom, my business, or best of all my family.
Yeah, yeah, I know there are recent studies that show multitasking doesn’t work, but I would argue there are exceptions. I do a lot of work (like writing this post) at my treadmill desk, and I swear I find I am capable of walking and typing at the same time. Maybe I would write faster sitting at a real desk (I don’t even know if that’s true) but this way I get a workout in while at least getting something else done. I take work with me when my daughters have music or dance lessons, because why do I need to stare at them the whole time? (I do watch all of their performances – I’m not coldhearted!)
Mobilize your children.
My girls are now 11 and nine, and they’ve been doing age-appropriate chores almost their entire lives. Making their own beds involved me lowering my standards, but it’s worth it. Same with folding and putting away their own laundry. They’ve been making their own lunches since they were in Grade 1 and JK, (they know they have to have a dairy, a fruit, etc.; we do have guidelines) but this seems to be the hardest tip for many other parents to grasp. When I would see moms on social media complaining about lunches, I used to reply and suggest my system, but had several Judgy Judgersons let me know in no uncertain terms that they are good mothers who want to pack daily lunches for their kids with tender loving care (but still complain about it on Twitter). Fruit and veggies must be freshly sliced each morning in some households, apparently (not like the grapes and strawberries my girls throw in a reusable container), and some children are not allowed to wield butter knives while still in elementary school. Hey, to each their own. By the time I get home, lunches are made for the next day, music and dance practices looked after and homework begun. That works for us.
Take care of yourself.
I would love to say “I work hard and I play hard,” but it would be more accurate to go with “I work hard and I rest hard”. I consistently get eight hours of sleep a night, and have since my younger daughter started sleeping through the night when she was a few months old. Sleep is a top priority for me and I also get r & r through reading books and magazines (I’m a big fan of reserving books at the library as well as the magazine app Texture, if you want some money-saving tips thrown in here too), movies, restaurant meals, hot baths (our hot tub was another great investment) and travel. I also exercise almost every day, and regularly make time to spend with my husband. I ensure my daughters follow this advice as well: they work hard like their parents, but also have lots of downtime, like reading (which is more fun for one than the other), puttering around with their musical instruments, playing with friends, crafting, baking and enjoying screen time (for which I refuse to apologize, given what the rest of their time looks like).
Productivity is certainly not the most important thing in life. Not even close. When Olivia was a baby, my dad came to visit one day and found me lamenting the fact that I wasn’t getting anything crossed off my list. He suggested writing “take care of baby” in every slot, every day, so I could cross it off and feel more productive, and since really that was the most important thing I could be doing with my time. I didn’t actually follow the advice, but the point was made.
Being more productive, however, can lead to a sense of joy and accomplishment (if you’re anything like me)…and to give you an indication of what brings me joy, I am about to go cross “defrost chest freezer” off my to-do list! Woo hoo!