Actually, I dont. This post is rich with irony. I’ll explain…
I’m often asked by mommy friends how I manage to get so much done: blogging, mothering a pretty high needs toddler, walking our dog for 1.5 to 2 hours a day, plus cooking, laundry, folding cloth diapers, etc. I never know what to say because I really don’t think of myself as a particularly type-A or Martha Stewart organista. In fact, my husband is always teasing that I’m the Queen of Chaos.
BUT I have come a long way since my pre-baby days. Mostly because I’ve had to. I would not be able to eat or even pee these days if I was still stuck at my pre-Monster level of organization. As with everything, it’s been a slow, gradual progression. And honestly, if I can do it, you can do it too.
The best part is, my system is ridiculously simple. Because, with the amount of sleep I sometimes get, I have no energy for something complex or colour-coordinated. You ready? Let’s go!
Possibly one of the BEST and most helpful posts on productivity I’ve ever read is this one. It’s all about prioritizing correctly and managing your energy rather than time. Go read it. I’ll wait.
Now I’d like to add some tips I’ve found useful from a mothering perspective.
I still make weekly task lists. They are often fairly repetitive since I’m the stay-at-home (though I do sometimes write freelance and therefore work from home) parent. This might look slightly different if you’re a working parent, but probably not by much.
My trick is to be very frickin’ clear about my priorities. Which means that I put my most important task at the head of my list. Only if I have time to get it done do I move onto my next task. And no daily to-do list can have more than 5 (usually just 3 ) tasks on it. I used to be a super underproductive fool who would drown in useless tasks (the “not knowing when to stop” that the Zen Habits post refers to). Being a mom seems to have drastically recaliberated my system. So here’s my usual daily list:
1. Be a good mom and a good human being.
2. Make sure everybody eats well.
3. Money-related stuff (either earning some or finding ways to save eg calling my cell service provider and shaving $20 off my monthly bill).
4. Everything else
Some days, I only manage to check #1 off my list. And I’ve learned to make my peace with it. I’m doing something profoundly important: I’m nourishing the body and spirit of another human being. I’m breastfeeding, kissing boo-boos, pointing out birds, staying calm during temper tempests, feeding nutritious snacks, helping friends and neighbours, playing at the dog park and generally walking around with my mouth hanging open from the awe of it all. Am I really this powerful? This straggly-haired, sleep-deprived version of me can kick my former perfectly groomed “together” self’s ass without batting an eye while cooking something scrumptious and playing word games with Monster. It’s amazing.
Dr Sears calls this the “mom zone“. It’s when you surrender to the unpredicability of mothering and stop measuring the stuff you’ve gotten done in a day the way non-mothers do. The rules are different. Baking muffins normally takes 40 minutes. Baking muffins with your toddler’s help may take 2-3 hours. But in those muffins there will be memories formed, bonds strengthened, patience tested…er learned (okay, some swear words too!), and brand new, freshly minted synapses kickstarted. If that’s not alchemy, I don’t know what is.
Which is not to say I don’t sometimes forget it and feel like a failure.
I totally do.
Any time I’m on deadline, my stress level rockets up (one of the reasons I’m so insanely grateful and so willing to make almost any compromise to remain a full-time parent until Monster’s a little older). Not having to toggle back between a professional self and my mothering self is a huge saver of my sanity and energy. I truly respect and salute you working moms. I can hardly imagine how hard it must to run at two completely different speeds and juggle two separate and often conflicting lists of priorities. As hard as it is to live on just one salary, I think (for me) it would be infinitely harder to switch back and forth. To be clear, this is a luxury. I wish it were more universal to at least have the choice, but I fully realize I speak from a place of privilege.
So, now you know how I frame my daily choices. But here are some rather more practical things I’ve learned along the way:
1. I cook big batches almost exclusively: Not only does this mean I’ll have leftovers to freeze or eat later (nursing is hungry work, after all!) but I have some to share with friends (which is a biggie for me). Also, this cuts down on dishes and time spent prepping. It’s infinitely quicker to make a big batch of something than several small batches of it. I choose recipes accordingly.
2. Plan according to my energy: I tend to be mentally sharpest in the mornings, so I often plan writing-related activities at this time. My body’s natural inclination is to want to go to bed early (I mean sometimes at 8:30pm early!). We cosleep, so night nursing is not usually disruptive. Then I wake fully refreshed around 4am and have till about 6am (when Monster wakes) to write and think. Obviously, if it’s a teething night or Monster has nightmares or Pat and I need to stay up to mend something caused by a careless word, my plan falls to smithereens and then I fall off the wagon and get nothing but mothering done for a couple of days. C’est la vie. But otherwise, I plan cerebral stuff in the morning, some cooking in the afternoon when it’s hot outside and we’re likely to be indoors (Monster doesn’t always nap and sometimes, if he does, I sleep too). And the laundry, cleaning, etc is in that small window at night. Pat helps a lot with general house maintenance, which then allows me to rest so I can be available to our son at night while Pat sleeps undisturbed in a separate room.
3. I get back on the wagon: This post is a good example. I had planned on posting every Tuesday and Thursday. Twice a week is reasonable, right? That’s almost nothing! But some weeks (we were cutting molars recently), I can’t even do that. It’s a bitter pill of Little Miss Busy to swallow, but there you are. Refer to list of priorities. But where I would get disheartened before, I have discovered a steely determination to stick with projects that I’ve decided are meaningful. This alone has been worth every penny pinched and sleep hour lost.
4. I ask for help: I think a lot of us struggle with this one. Ever since I was pregnant, I’ve had to deal with previously unheard of limitations while also juggling a newfound sense of accountability. I can’t just crap out on my family and change my mind about something I’ve promised. If Monster needs to wake 7 times a night because he’s having nightmares, I’m there. I might fucking hate it in the moment, but I signed up for this. Sometimes this means that I have to swallow by big fat sense of independence and ask for help. Ask Pat. Ask friends. Ask family. Just saying that “I can’t do it” makes me want to vomit, but the fact is, in some cases, no one human being can. And by asking for help, I’m actually doing the truly grown up thing because the help I get allows me to help those who need me most. Too often, I find the burden of doing it all either crushes the joy out of a woman’s experience of motherhood or puts undue pressure on the baby to conform to unrealistic cultural expectations that run contrary to our basic biology. I’m trying very hard to avoid those two pitfalls.
Still, asking for help is hard and requires a lot of confidence to do.
5. Seek advice from the right people: I found that motherhood really affected my speed dial list. Not just because it’s hard to socialize when all my non-parent friends do. But because I consciously socialize and foster closeness with parents who share my attachment-oriented, child-centric views. This is not to say that I am not in contact at all with parents who don’t parent like me or non-parent friends, just that I’m careful about who I let get really close. This is partly to husband my energy and partly because I find I learn so much about the path I’ve chosen from sharing intelligence with other parents who are traveling that same path.
I know whom to call to whine about teething issues. Whom to call to give me a kick to get more organized. Whom to call to rant about whatever bee I might have in my bonnet on a given day. We have crazy, jagged interrupted conversations while chasing after children of various ages, but my soul is generally soothed. And my repertoire of tricks constantly added to. I highly recommend creating some sort of close knit group of like-minded parents that you meet, call and text with regularly. It can save your life.
For example, I have a single mom friend called S on my speed dial. She’s self employed and gets no child support from her toddler’s absentee dad. Yet she never let her child cry it out, she babywore and somehow found it in herself to be the parent she wants to be. Is she perfect? Nope. But she inspires the hell out of me. I often joke that I should have a “What would S do” T-shirt printed for myself. By simply asking myself that question, I’ve often magically turned off the antsy frustration I start to feel right before Pat is scheduled to get home. If I’m not waiting for the cavalry, I often find I have a very workable solution to a given problem. And that way the cavalry doesn’t get shot as they walk in the door 10 minutes late.
Or take my other friend, N, who is ridiculously organized yet not judgemental of my failings in that department. Having her troubleshoot my life is a huge blessing.And what she’s taught me is to push myself constantly. To stop every time I feel overwhelmed and take a good long look in the mirror and say, “Are you SURE you can’t?” My comfort zone is expanding the way Monster’s brain is. It’s a beautiful thing. I am stronger, more capable, more creative, more in line with my deepest values and therefore more likely to the be thoughtful, compassionate, confident person I like to think I am than I ever was before. All this on six hours of broken sleep. Pretty cool, no?
They say a toddler’s diet should be evaluated for balancedness on a two week basis. In other words, if your toddler only eats yellow food for 3 days and just breastmilk for 2 but then scarfs down a whole leg of tandoori chicken on the 7th day and eats kale chips on the 9th, he’s actually eating a balanced diet. Just not every single day. I find my productivity is like that. Pick any one day and it’s hit or miss. But look at my life on a continuum and suddenly, I’m supermom. I just have to find the will to get back in the saddle each of the 18 bazillion times I fall off. I like productivity guru Tim Ferriss’s advice: don’t be afraid to fail, but make sure to fail “better” each time.
So there you go. Any illusions that you might have had that I’m the Indo-Canadian version of Martha Stewart are hopefully banished by now. I’m just another bumbling recovered chaos-a-holic. But I get a lot done. And usually with a smile on my face.
Now it’s your turn. How do you stay on top of things in your life? And if you like what you’ve read here, don’t forget to subscribe and get delicious recipes as well as frugal parenting tips delivered right to your inbox.