I'm going to be honest, it's almost laughable that I'm writing a blog post about how to be productive, because there are many days when I feel like the least productive person in existence. But with three little kids who are reliant on me for some stability in their lives, I have to organize my days so that there is some framework, and not guesswork, running the show. That means staying on top of a lot of different things at the same time so that they don't crumble and fall apart... which happens very easily when you get behind a day or seven on laundry. Here are some things that I do to ensure our household runs smoothly! For the most part. *cough*
1. Learn to say no. One of the reasons I tend to get overwhelmed and start procrastinating is because I have too much on my plate. I realized a while ago that I need to respect myself and my priorities by saying no sometimes, even if it's to something that I would enjoy doing, or if it's to someone who needs something. While I always want to help out and hang out with people I love, I can't be the best mother, wife, and woman if I am so overwhelmed that the things that really need to get done aren't done. For me, this also has to include things that cause anxiety. Sometimes I want to do something, I might even have the time to do something, but my nerves just can't handle it. I love leading worship, but the last time I was doing it regularly -- lugging three kids to the church and then watching them running around the room like crazy people while we did rehearsal and not getting home until an hour after the youngest's bedtime -- it really worked against my sanity and became something I dreaded, as much as I wanted to do it in my heart of hearts. I had to tell the worship team that I was stopping, which felt awkward and gave me another reason to feel unnecessary guilt, but once I did it, it was like a weight had been lifted. It's important to know how far you can stretch and respect your limits! It's also totally okay that different people can handle different things -- maybe you've made a commitment to something that you realize is outside your gifts or what doesn't realistically fit into the dynamics of your family. We as a society love to be busy, but it's not always healthy. And if you have children, understand that many seasons of motherhood are simply (or not so simply) seasons of survival or waiting. That's okay.
2. Put lists throughout your home. This is something that is so simple that I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before! Throughout my home, I have permanent lists that I glance at several times a day. I tend to be pretty scatterbrained and I'm easily distracted, so checking a list of things that should be done in my day to day routine really helps. It might seem silly to have "take the meat out to thaw," in my daily checklist, but you would not believe how many times I go to start dinner around 4 o'clock and realize the chicken is still frozen solid in the freezer. Or the number of times we are out the door and buckled in the car and I realize I didn't put a brush to Austen's hair. One of the most helpful lists is the one on the door. I look at this list whenever I leave the house to make sure I have everything I need. If I don't check the list, you can almost guarantee I will forget my phone, or a change of clothes for Chase, or heck, even diapers and wipes! Obviously, I won't need all of these things, but if I'm going to be out all afternoon I can take a quick glance to remind myself to bring snacks for the kids or a book.
3. Visually prioritize your to-dos. If I make a general to-do list, I get overwhelmed by the amount of things that need to be done; so I've started by taking off a lot, and by sorting what remains as Must Do, Should Do, and Could do. Must Do are the things that absolutely need to get done that day -- things with deadlines, and often things that I need to complete for others, like design work or scheduling an appointment for one of the kids. Should Do are often home tasks that don't get done as often, like mopping, or things that need immediate attention that I tend to forget, like a load of laundry or taking out the bathroom trash. Could Do are things that I'd like to get done if I have time, but aren't priorities -- things that would give my day a sense of contentment -- like finishing the last few chapters of that I've been reading, starting a new sewing project, or editing photos of the kids. I don't have an extremely busy life outside the home, so you might think that a planner wouldn't come in handy, but I've found that they are very helpful for keeping a daily or weekly routine! Especially as a homeschool mom.
4. Create pleasant morning and evening rituals. Mornings are so hard for me; I have to drag myself out of bed no matter how much sleep I get. I am just not one to leap out of bed bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to start my day. A morning ritual helps a lot -- not only does it help me start the day off on the right foot, but I have something to look forward to. I think this is so important if you are not a morning person! It can be something small -- like doing a quick, five-minute yoga routine or programming the coffee pot to start at 6 am. If you know that the moment you wake up you get to do something you enjoy, it will be easier to get started.
In a way, nights are hard for me too, because I'm night owl and could easily stay up until 2 or 3 am, even if I'm exhausted. By the time I'm ready to go to bed, I don't want to go through the whole process and I'm feeling too wired. Having a routine where I put on my PJs, take out my contacts, brush my teeth early in the evening before I start to feel tired or even before I sit down to relax will make it easier to go to bed earlier and get a good night's sleep.
5. Start without the intention of finishing. You might think I'm crazy and that this goes against all the inspiring, motivating self-help talk you've heard that mentions intention and purpose and being fully present, but I'm telling you -- it works. Research shows that if people start a chore or activity without the intention of finishing that often they will end up sticking to it and seeing it through. No, I can't point you to a source here... I know I read it somewhere, but I scoured the internet and couldn't find an article to back me up. Give it a chance anyway -- try putting it into practice in your daily life and watch the magic. Even if I end up not finishing, doing half the dishes is better than not starting on a mess at all, and getting a jump start on editing a batch of 400 photos is better than letting it sit and my anxiety build up over all the work I have ahead of me. I can't tell you how often "just 15 minutes" turns into an entire hour of hard work.