Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Small smaller smallest: productivity for mothers


At the beginning of the year every blogger was writing on productivity. I read all kinds of advice on productivity. I suppose I have spent the past eight and a half years trying to figure out how to be more productive with young children, and being constantly, unendingly tormented by guilt that I couldn't manage to be more productive.

Finally one day I began to look around, to think back about what I have been doing all of this time, and I realized . . . only a mother would prepare, serve, and clean-up three healthy meals; keep all of her little people healthy, safe, content; do six loads of laundry; make a trip to the grocery store with kids in tow; have the children all bathed, brushed, read to, prayed over, tucked warmly into bed and house picked-up . . . and at the end of the day feel guilty for being so unproductive.*

Stop it.

I had to stop the constant stream of self-criticism. 

For a while it seemed that every time I opened my blog reader, another blogger was announcing her new book. Another stay at home mommy blogger was being published. And although I was and am sincerely thrilled for them and honestly believing the world. needs. her. art.; at the end of the day what I heard was- you are so unproductive.

But I wasn't unproductive! There were years when I didn't sit down! I forgot to eat meals! Every day my alarm was set for five- and then four- and still, inevitably, always, my kids would wake when I woke, or be just going back to sleep for some unknowable reason. I have no idea why some kids sleep and some don't.

I was simply making different choices, with a different set of circumstances. I had to make peace with my non-book-writing, differently productive life.

The problem wasn't that I had no time, it's that I didn't have predictable, uninterrupted time. I can do a lot of things with kids underfoot, but writing needs a space free of interruption. And because my kids gave up napping long ago, there wasn't that guaranteed quiet hour. 

And so when I found myself with a sliver of time- a few quiet minutes- what did I do? I wasted it. Because I knew I would only be frustrated if I attempted anything serious. 

This is every mother's life with young children. Any mother of young children is very familiar with what I am writing here, and so this is simply a long, long introduction to something I am finally learning about productivity with little ones: small. smaller. smallest.

I used to write things like this on my to-do list: 
work on book
blog post
write article

These things did not get done. Of course they didn't. 

I am finally learning the key to productivity with only small scoops of time, is to set smaller goals. I mean smaaaaaaaaaalller. Really small.

And this has everything to do with those itty bitty post-its you see there.

Somehow these post-its have given me a new lease on productivity this year. Because you see, not much can fit on a tiny post-it.

Now my to-do list looks like this: 
write intro sentence for article. 
find link for homeschool page. 
find facts about goat farming. Change that: find website about goat farming. The second post-it underneath will say- find fact or two about goat farming.

This has changed everything for me.
Now, when the kids are quiet for five minutes, I have a five-minute task waiting for me. No more wasting time.

Also, my kids are older now. I have so, so much more time than I did a year ago. But I wish I'd have learned this sooner.

The smaller your children, the smaller your post-it. 

As your children grow, so does your post-it.

I am finding I get more done this way AND at the end of the day I can see how much I have done- no more guilt. (or, less anyway- wink)

Which guilt, by the way, is a whole other subject and mamas, we just need to stop. Your kids are fed. They are safe. They are loved. Pat yourself on the back. You are productive. Go have some ice cream.

*(note- my husband does help, plenty, but his job also demands that he frequently work out of town or long hours- as many husbands do, thus granting this mom the gift of being at home with my kids, which I wouldn't trade).


Cami said...

Your lovely post just made me sigh, a really good, deep, I needed to hear that, not because I didn't know it, but needed to hear another mommy, who I know is a wonderful, wonderful mommy say it kind of sigh. (I know that was a wretched mess of a sentence, but I'm going to leave it anyway.)

charrette said...

So True. Every word. Also? I own that book. And stacks of growing post-its.

Sometimes replaced by the Notes app on my phone. Tuesday's was an all-time high: 32. Done.

But the only reason that number is big is because my kids are big too. :)

Corinne Cunningham said...

I love love love this. All of it! It's been on my mind a lot recently as well (I wrote a tiny bit about it this morning actually, taking what moments we can... there's a video interview going around with John Irving and he talks about how if life throws you an interruption - welcome it - as you always come back to your work with fresh eyes... I'm applying that to motherhood and writing and I feel refreshed! our work will be more enriched by the interruptions and life experiences we are having between writing...)

April Lu said...

Thank you for this Jess. Just what I needed to hear. Beautiful. We are just where we are meant to be.