Becoming Your Most Productive Self

An Everyday StoryWhen we first become parents we are told again and again to embrace the moment, live in the now, the dishes can wait… and so can the washing and the dirty floors.

Five years on and I think I have to say that I could never really embrace this notion. Yes the dishes can wait… but then the food becomes crusted on. And yes the washing can wait but then you soon run out of clean clothes. Then when you finally do the washing you have a pile of folding the size of Everest that even contemplating tackling it is too daunting and so it sits there, unfolded, staring at you everyday making you feel guilty for not getting it done sooner.

Because the reality is that these jobs need to be done. There’s no point avoiding it. There’s no such thing as a cleaning fairy. And if you are like us, there’s no money in the budget for a cleaner.

And so I have been working towards being my most productive self; being present with my children and getting the housework done. Now friends of mine can attest that I am far from a Fly Lady (having laughed at the size of my folding pile and the state of my laundry after I hid all signs of mess when an unexpected visitor arrived on my doorstep) but I have also come to realise that if I want to have a peaceful home; one where I don’t constantly feel scrambled for time, drowning under a mountain of chores whilst still trying to be present with Jack and Sarah, then I need to become my most productive self.

And so I have made myself accountable. Accountable for my time and for my responsibilities. My responsibilities as a mama, a homeschool mentor, a wife, and primary keeper of our home.  I decided that I will spend this time consciously; eliminating all the distracting noise which sucks time from my days.

Just like when we do our budget to see where our money goes, so too did I do a budget of my time. A realistic one. In the past I have been known to optimistically plan my days only to slap on a giant dose of mama guilt at the end of the day for not getting it all done.

I realised that I had so many unrealistic expectations which were causing me to feel tired, burdened and perpetually late. Now with a few simple changes, which include breaking some very bad habits, I am starting to feel on track, productive, more present and less stressed.

Becoming my most productive self:

  1. Resetting to Zero: The first week was the hardest. Getting all the washing done, all the folding, cleaning the bathroom and the kitchen, clearing away all the clutter and putting everything away. There were some late nights. I needed this though. I couldn’t move forward if I was still playing catch-up on unfinished business.
  2. Breaking Bad Habits: The hard part was recognising them. I realised that I always felt stressed in the mornings and it was because I would wake to a messy house. I wasn’t starting the day fresh. I couldn’t when the remnants of yesterday (and the day before) were still all around me. I needed to clean away each day, that day.
  3. Small Manageable Tasks: When you do the washing every day, you only have one day’s washing and one day’s folding to do. It’s manageable. If you leave it for a few days it takes longer and I found I was less likely to want to do it. Now I put the clothes in the machine at the end of each night ready to wash in the morning. A little everyday I can do. I have a list of small manageable chores to do everyday. It takes me about an hour each day.
  4. Realistic Time Frames: We seemed to always be late. We never seemed to leave the house calmly, it was always rushed. I know now that it takes at least 20 minutes to get myself and the kids out of the house. And so I have started the + 10 minutes routine. If we need to be out of the house by 9am, I start getting everyone ready at 8:30, giving myself an extra 10 minutes and eliminating an incredible amount of stress.
  5. Dedicated Cleaning Times: My awakening came when I overheard Sarah (3 years) singing to her dolls, “Mummy will you come play with us? No, I’m cleaning the kitchen…”. And she was right. I could spend the whole day cleaning. Now I have one hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon. If I keep on top of my daily tasks this amount of time is enough.
  6. Taking Care of Me: Tiredness is one of my triggers. If I’m tired I have a clouded view of reality. I see tiny squabbles between Jack and Sarah as much more than they are. My patience is much shorter and my ability to stay on top of things calmly is almost non-existent. I need sleep. 10pm is now my bedtime.
  7. Plan a Day Ahead: Deciding what’s for dinner half and hour before dinner is not a productive use of time. Similarly, spending an hour planning a week’s worth of homeschool activities (particularly when we are child-led) is also not time well spent. I realised that I was wasting time planning things that didn’t happen (because the kids would take a different approach to their learning) and not spending time planning things that should happen; like meals. Now I plan a day ahead. One day is enough.
  8. Cutting out Distractions: I don’t need to check my email every hour, or Facebook. I am not missing out on anything life-changing. I realised that every time I stopped what I was doing to check my email or scan Instagram, it took me that much longer to refocus my mind back to reality. All those little interruptions to my thoughts were messing with my sense of presence. It felt like I was never really anywhere. So I am cutting out the distractions (and it is proving a hard habit to break). I am focussing on completing one task completely; without interruption from that pesky iPhone.
  9. Identifying Must-dos: Everyone’s must-dos are going to be different. We all have the same amount of time in each day but have different demands on our lives and so will spend that time differently. For me I needed to make a very specific list of things that must be done each day and each week. These things are important to our family and the running of our home. I have scheduled them into our days and until they have become a habit I have the list on the fridge to remind me.
  10. Recognising that I am an Introvert: I never thought of myself as an introvert. I thought I was quite outgoing. It wasn’t until I had children, until I was surrounded constantly by noise, that I realised that I need quiet and I need time to be with my thoughts. Noise is another trigger for me. I feel overwhelmed, I feel trapped at times; like I need to escape somehow. I can not focus with constant noise. So I have found some peace. I spend an hour a day by myself. Usually in the morning at the gym, just for my own mental health. I know now that I need this to feel centred and ready to start the day.

For the first time in a long time I am starting to feel on top of things. I am starting to feel like I can take a breath again. I feel like I know where I am; that my head isn’t in a constant flurry, that I am not completely overwhelmed by a seemingly endless to-do list.  I feel like I have time; like I am becoming my most productive self. And for the first time in a long time, it feels really good.

17 Replies to “Becoming Your Most Productive Self”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this Kate. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. These insights you’ve learned will really help me as I figure out my family’s rhythm. My 2 year old daughter is so far an only child and is used to me playing with her all the time. I’m trying to find a balance between time with her, time spent on making order in the home, chores, and not feeling guilty for my decisions. I will be bookmarking this post as a reference for sure!! Thanks!! 🙂

  2. I love this post, thank you for taking the time to write it! I have been feeling very overwhelmed with it all lately and had just started to wonder if I need more structure in our days, and then this popped up on my newsfeed – wonderful inspiration! And it also really helps to know that even the calmest, most together seeming people get overwhelmed too if you know what I mean. Thank you again 🙂

  3. I always joke that I’m an introvert that loves people. I totally agree with you about needing quiet time.

  4. I feel like I never got it together again after having a second child. Now she’s two I just feel like I can get on top of it again, but it’s hard. I totally need to put some of these things in place for me. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who plans out stuff for their kids only to have those ideas dashed. The thing is I want them to be independent learners but it’s hard for me to let go of the idea of having activities ready to go for them!

  5. Wow this really hit home with me! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Well said! I also think that when the youngest child in the family turns 3 or is close to that age – our brains begin to come back. Some of us wait longer than others for the youngest one to reach that age because more babies come, and come, and come ;0) & those mamas must learn to adapt to that ‘brain place’….but I really do believe there is something about our brain space that changes when our youngest approaches that 3 year marker. We don’t want to rush those little tiny years but if we keep in mind that it does get easier & whatever frustration we’re having now will pass, I think it makes it that much easier to get through the tough moments. Our youngest is 4 years old & we’re expecting our 5th in December….I will be filing your post in a handy spot to revisit as I feel my brain slipping away again!!!

  7. You are so wise! Yes leaving early makes a huge difference, took me a long time to learn that. And the ‘noise’ it is a hard habit to make, need to become stronger in that area again myself.

  8. I’m new to your blog and it’s wonderful inspiration at a time of flux about the future. Your unique blend of aspiration and humility lead to simple, straightforward but potentially life-changing tips. Another thing currently in my world emphasising the ‘present moment’ rather than the internal dialogues of ‘I need to mop the floor’ or external call of my iPhone…

  9. beautifully said, Kate! i so agree, that i could never feel at peace when the house is a mess. I came to quickly realise that everyone was happier if the house was in a decent state – but my anxiety would go through the roof if there were piles of laundry everywhere!! but at the same time, as you said, not getting caught up into keeping the house as a shrine and ignoring the kids. balance!!! sounds like you have gotten into some excellent new rhythms and have given me some good prompts too. my problem is often leaping into a new routine but letting it fade out – oops!!

  10. Hi Kate, thank you for such a refreshing post! In the early days of motherhood I believed that the chores could wait while I got to know my new baby with 100% devotion but…they can’t wait forever. Over time I tried to keep on top of things but it’s no coincidence that my journey to being more organised/less stressed yet still present with my kids started with 30 days to transform your play. I’m wondering if writing that program triggered your change too? I was a bit chuffed when reading this post because so many of the changes you’ve made are changes that I’ve made too 🙂

  11. Great post kAte

  12. I identify completely with everything you laid out. That is so me as well. Good for you for tackling those bad habits and making some peace in your life.

    I too, get feeling trapped and overwhelmed with constant noise and activity. I do however, find enormous satisfaction from organizing (not so much cleaning though 😉
    I definitely go in stages of success at these bad habits. I love how succinctly you have written out your goals. Very good ones! I will learn from you when there are holes in my organization and my bad habits start creeping back in!

    And what an adorable photo of Sarah! I just smiled when I saw it. She is perfect.

  13. I can relate to this post – when my husband went away for work for 6 weeks leaving me with a 1 year old (while I also worked part time) I had to get on top of things, so I started being more systematic about the chores…an hour in the evening once my son went to bed was enough to keep on top of it (sometimes I was dead tired by the time I put my feet up, but it was worth of it to keep everything running smoothly). Now that my husband is back we split the chores and it’s done with really quickly in the evening – no more ‘cleaning days’, just a little at a time. As for the meals – I plan out all meals and do a huge shop once per month, with fresh food bought locally once a week. Makes a huge difference to my time and money not running to the supermarket all the time (plus I never have to think of what’s for dinner!). I agree that the technology challenge is the hard one, I’m also working to minimise time on facebook etc, trying to limit it to once a day. Thank you for posting Kate, it’s nice to know that we all share the same struggles 🙂

  14. Hiya,
    your post has been timely and I think the universe does this to us on purpose (to keep us sane).
    Everyday washing hey ?
    After my partner and I have spent a whole weekend being present with our children and getting our washing up to zero I will have a good hearted attempt at this.

    I love your posts and admire your work and dedication to educating through the lens of Reggio Emilia.


  15. lydia purple says:

    i was struggeling with a messy house for some time, and yes the worst is to wake up to a messy house. so i started this routine:

    evening: 1. collect all dirty dishes and run the dishwasher, 2. wipe counters and tables, 3. pick up toys in living area (usually with kids before bed time), 4. put a load of laundry in with the timer set on the washer, the laundry is done at 7am.

    morning: empty dish washer while waiting for the coffee to brew, take down/fold/put away dry laundry and hang wet laundry, if needed vacuum before the kids pull out toys.

    it takes maybe half an hour to max 1 hour in the evening and about 20 mins in the morning. it makes life much better! and i always regret it when i don’t do the evening clean up. if those few basic things are done everyday and don’t pile up, all other cleaning tasks go much faster, because the ground is ready… no tons of toys to pick up if you want to wash the floors in the morning etc. i’m expecting baby no 3 now and i know that if all my schedules go down, this daily routine of laundry, dishes, pick up will keep me sane, so i’ll fight to stick with it!

    p.s. on my journey on getting back on track and being able to refocus, i deleted my facebook account and i’m not starting any new social media accounts. i read some blogs, email and limited pinterest as these are the things that really inspire me or have meaningful social contacts. like you i just felt all the time distracted by the constant ‘oh i have 5 mins let’s check my newsfeed…’ which turned into hours of wasted time.

  16. Great post! Thanks so much. Founds like you have about 2.5 gourds day to yourself. Would you mind sharing how you’ve organized that?
    If also like to be my most productive self!

  17. I appreciate the honesty in this post. I recognize myself in many of these things!

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