A friend of mine jokingly (but in a serious way) calls me her most productive friend.
I take it as a compliment and really do think of myself as someone who is quite productive. As a working-mom—scratch that—as a mom we HAVE to be productive and some how squeeze out every ounce of time we’re given to get the mountain of tasks done. So here are my tips on how I’ve become productive and have learned how to work smarter, not necessarily harder.
*DISCLAIMER: Just become I consider myself productive does not mean that I have all of my stuff together all of the time. My house can be still quite chaotic and messy, and I still have my bad days, but I would say that on the whole I have many more good days where I get a lot accomplished than bad days. I also am in the process of learning how to say “no” to additional tasks (stay tuned to see how that works out!).
*Another DISCLAIMER: A lot of this is from the perspective of a working mom, but these are easily applicable to the stay-at-home mom, work-from-home mom, dog mom, future mom, aunt who loves her littles like a mom… you get it!
1. I make goals
Goals are the first step in being productive. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish how are you going to know if you did anything. I also make several sets of goals—for some it may seem overkill, but hear me out.
I work as an Economics Professor at UNO so my calendar is very much tied to the academic August to August calendar rather than the January to January calendar as many people do. This means I get excited about new planners in July rather than January! So what I do is make 2-3 yearly goals in August. These are large goals that are not going to be a quick afternoon of work—these are projects that are going to take time to accomplish. For example, a couple of my yearly goals right now are to submit one of my pedagogical papers to a journal, submit a different research project to another journal, and rewrite an entrepreneurship curriculum guide.
Next, I’ll make monthly goals. At the beginning of each month I make a list of things that I need to get done. About 80% of these goals are smaller tasks that need to get done in order to accomplish one of my larger yearly goals. So again, for example, in May, one of my monthly goals is to thoroughly read through and list the updates that need to happen in the entrepreneurship guide, write Lessons 1-5, and update the introductions. These are still rather large tasks, but they get me moving forward towards my large goal.
The other 20% of my monthly goals are to get more of the monthly to-dos in order. So, in May, I have to give my final; a goal that needs to get done that month is to write the final exam. I also add things like my Omaha Moms Blog post to the monthly goals because it’s something that needs to get done that month.
After I have my monthly goals, I then make weekly goals which are again smaller tasks to get to the monthly goals. Finally, I make my day to day tasks. I make them based off the previous sets of goals but more importantly I make them realistic. You have to be realistic with what you can really accomplish and much of this comes from practice. On days when I have major events for work, I don’t put down many tasks to get done and the tasks that I do write down are ones that I physically and mentally can accomplish. I’m generally mentally spent after having 150 high school students for an Econ Day event—so on those days I’m not going to be doing hard thought-provoking tasks. Those are days where I’m going to reply to some emails, or fill out a contract, etc. (think: easy tasks). Which flows nicely into my next tip of:
2. Set realistic goals for yourself
I think setting realistic goals is one of the most important things. If you have a to do list a mile long that you literally cannot accomplish in that day, you’re only going to feel defeated and like you didn’t do anything all day. Instead, make a list of tasks that you reasonably can accomplish and get those done. I promise you’ll feel a million times better. If you start you Monday off already defeated with your huge list, you can only go down from there. But, if you can tackle Monday your week is already off to a great start!
3. Prioritize your tasks
What tasks are difficult? Those should be done early when you’re refreshed and mentally charged. Your priority is to get the most difficult and mentally-tough tasks done when you are at your sharpest. For me that is the morning. If I get my really tough tasks done and out of the way early, then the rest of the day is cake for me. If I put them aside to do the “fun” or “easy” stuff then by the middle to end of the day I just don’t have the mental capacity to take on these harder tasks.
What tasks are time sensitive? Those should be done sooner rather than later. If you have a deadline of today by noon, then that task needs to get done TODAY! But with a little planning on your part you don’t have to always wait until the last minute to get these time sensitive tasks done. For me, I know my deadlines and are already in my goals from above therefore throughout the week I’ve worked through them and can usually turn something in early (or have it completed early). I don’t believe for me working under pressure is the best option—that is generally when I make typos, rush something, or don’t take the time to proofread it as necessary.
4. Finally, give yourself some grace!
Are there days when I knock out my Monday to-do list and can even get started on Tuesdays? Sure! Are there days when a metaphorical fire starts at the office and completely throws my plans out the window? Absolutely! Stuff happens—your boss has a report she has to give in 2 hours and needs you to write it up, your child decides to eat a magnet at daycare demanding that you take her to the ER. Stuff happens, and it rarely happens when it’s convenient. However, I’ve found that with making my plans and goals I am much better equipped to handle these things because I’m rarely bumping up against deadline. I’ve also learned that in order to be at my best, I HAVE to give myself grace when I’m having a bad day or didn’t quite get everything accomplished that I planned. The gentler we are with ourselves the better we’re going to be for our families and the better you will be at getting what you need done.
I actually could go on even more about my productivity tips (maybe a post for another time) but I won’t!
However, I’m always reading and trying to improve my organization and productivity—please share your productivity or organization tips in the comments!