As a productivity consultant, I spend my days working with clients that are committed to self-improvement, happiness and success. Many of them are parents like me. Over the years, I have realized that some of the tried-and-true lessons we use as parents can be directly translated into boosting your productivity.
1) Read the books, get some advice, but ultimately, find your own way.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I devoured pregnancy and parenting books, trying to learn everything we could to be the best parents possible. When Isabella was born, however, we quickly learned that some of the advice was great, but some just didn’t fit with her personality, while the rest was just not the right advice for the kind of parents we were choosing to be. And when Eddie, and later Viviana were born, the advice that worked for Isabella just wasn’t right for them. We realized that by then, we were confident parents and could navigate it together making the choices that were right for our family.
When making a commitment to change or improve, it is always a great first step to read the information available and learn from the experts. But books and tips on productivity can only take you so far. True change will only happen when you take what you need, change what you can, and pave your own way.
2) Stick to your rules and be consistent.
Anyone who has children knows that consistency is key when it comes to discipline. One of our rules is “no screen in the morning.” Our mornings are already crazy enough with getting 3 kids and the two of us ready and out the door, and we found that if the TV or the iPad goes on, everything takes longer, the kids don’t listen and we end up losing our patience – not the ideal start to anyone’s day! When we first established this rule, it was easy to give in, especially if the kids woke up extra early or got ready fast, but we stuck to our rule and now they don’t even ask anymore. They know that if we have extra time in the morning they can either read or play together — a much better way to spend 15 minutes than staring at a screen!
The same holds true for your personal productivity. Set some rules and then stick to them and be consistent. If one of your “rules” is that you take no phone calls between 10 and 11 am (except for true emergencies), but you are not consistent about enforcing it, your staff will know that following the rule is optional.
3) Build routines into your schedule.
One of the most widely known parenting advice is to build routine into your children’s day. When children know what to expect from their day, transitions are much easier and you drastically reduce the chance of potential meltdowns.
As adults, we also crave routines, which is one of the best ways to streamline your time management, making it second nature and part of your day. Schedule phone calls for right after lunch every day, or whatever time is convenient for you. If you have an assistant who schedules your calls, communicate your preferences clearly. You can set up a weekly structure for repeating tasks so that you are not worried about when you’re going to get to do them. If you know you have some things that happen daily, weekly, monthly, or annually, why not schedule them into your routine?
Adopting a deliberate structure to your week allows you to devote sufficient, and effective, time to achieving your most important goals.
4) Learn how to say “no.”
Have you ever struggled with a 2-year old to do something that they don’t want to? Young children have no feelings of guilt or “should’” guiding their decision-making process. They just simply say “no” and go on with their day.
Saying “no” to unimportant tasks will create more space in your calendar for the activities that really matter. You want to focus your energy on essential tasks, activities, and projects that are going to have the greatest impact on your success, your career, and your happiness.
I was recently asked by a colleague to write a press release for an event that I was helping coordinate. Unfortunately, the request came during an extremely full 2 weeks between work and family commitments. I knew that I couldn’t devote the amount of time necessary to draft a great press release, and I also felt comfortable knowing that I had already provided meaningful contributions to the project. I emailed my colleague back explaining that I had no bandwidth during the following 2 weeks to dedicate to the task, and pointed her to some great resources and samples she could use to draft the release. I also offered to review the press release once it was drafted and offer feedback. She was happy to have some direction and was able to write a great press release.
The more you practice your time management skills—the more you practice scheduling your priorities, instead of prioritizing your activities—the better you will be at realizing when something is not important, and you just won’t do it.
5) Be present – focus on the moment.
Children teach us so much about focus! I recently took my kids to the park and, as I watched them play, my mind started wondering off, thinking about all the things I had to do that evening and the next day. A few moments later, my youngest daughter ran over to show me a beautiful orange leaf she had found. I hadn’t even noticed the leaves on the ground!
Often, our minds are so cluttered with to-dos and we move so fast through our days, trying to multitask and get it all done that we end up distracted and make mistakes. We self-interrupt, and activities end up taking twice as long as they should. Instead, try prioritizing and fully focusing on the task at hand. You will notice that the quality of your work will improve, you will feel less stress and be much more productive.