Systems for parents who want to do good work in the world and at home.


4 Productivity Tips for Parents

4 Productivity Tips for Parents

There are plenty of productivity gurus out there who can tell you how to manage your time at work. And there are plenty of people who share hacks for being organized at home (Marie Kondo anyone?).

I love all this stuff as much as any type-a organizational freak. But I also have a problem with it.

In all of the productivity hacks I read about, the screams of a newborn or the whining of a preschooler are strangely absent.

In all of the books on home organization, no one seems to discuss what you do when your beautifully clear horizontal spaces are covered in crayons, glue, and glitter the minute your back is turned.

This is why I teach parents how to be more organized and productive at work and home only using strategies I’ve tested out on myself with my two gremlins (. . . errr, I mean “children.”)

Productivity strategies for parents have to be able to work if you’re nursing a baby, racing from work to school pick-up, and getting interrupted by requests for food or attention every three minutes.

With that in mind, here is my list of my “Top 4 Productivity Tips designed for parents:

#1: Get Stuff Out Of Your Head

You can’t be productive if you don’t do anything. And you can’t do anything if all of your mental energy is spent just keeping track of what you need to do.

As a parent, you know that your mental energy is already spread pretty thin. Setting-up an “In-box” for the thoughts, reminders, inspirations and stressors that clog up your brain is key to freeing up mental energy to do the things that matter to you.

Here is how to do it:

Find a place that you can write things down, no matter where you are or what you are doing. I use the memo app on my phone because I can get to it at the park, while I’m waiting for school pick up, and even use the voice recording feature when my hands aren’t free.

Start using your inbox to record tasks and reminders and ideas every time one pops into your head.
Review your inbox once a day or 3-4 times a week. Use it to decide what tasks you are going to complete, which ideas to work with a bit more, what to let go of or delegate.

Important note: An inbox isn’t just useful for recording tasks and reminders. It’s also really helpful for recording ideas, inspiration, and hopes. You are busy, but you probably have creative ideas you want to explore, projects you want to work on, and even some plans that don’t make sense now but might in the future. Record them so that they don’t clutter your brain and so that you can review them in a week, a month or a year from now when you might actually be able to work on them.

Want more? Click the buttons below to get a more detailed guide to the “Inbox” or the to a similar process called the “Brain Dump.”

#2 Make Tasks Actionable

You know what feels great? Checking something off a to-do list.

Know what is annoying? Working on something, but not being able to check it off the list because it’s not quite “done.”

Look at your to-do list right now. Are all the items on their really actionable? Can you do them and check them off in a fixed period of time?

Here are some examples:

Not Actionable
  • Clean up
  • End-of-day-stuff
  • Read
  • Sweep dining room floor
  • Enter attendance for periods 1-5
  • Read one chapter of a book

Re-write a few tasks to make them really actionable. It might even help you get started on on a project that has been looming over you for a while.

Want more? Click the button below to get a more detailed guide to Projects and Action Steps.

#3 Use a Timer

Parents like you and I want to be productive and organized, but not at the expense of time with our kids. It makes sense. What is the point of getting lots of stuff done if, at the end of the day, you realize you didn’t actually do anything you enjoyed (whether that is being with your kids, or doing the work you love)?

The way to create a balance between productivity and enjoying life is with limits. Limits are your friend.

The simplest way to set a limit is with time. Do you have a to-do list as long as your arm? Turn on PBS for the kids, set a timer for 30 minutes, and get through as much as possible. Want to make sure you spend quality time with your family during a busy work week? When you get home from work, set the timer for 30 minutes and just play, read, or do what you and your kids enjoy most.

When you don’t have time to do something that matters to you, really think about the next tiny chunk of time you will have. Set a timer for that chunk of time (I’ve been known to do this for 10 minutes) and focus in. You won’t get it all done. It won’t be perfect. But a timer helps you make sure that “perfect” is not the enemy of the good.

#4 Rescue Thinking Time

When I became a parent, I struggled with the sudden lack of thinking time in my life. As a teacher and a writer, I was used to having at least small stretches of time to think and work on projects that involved focused, creative energy.

Then, suddenly, I was a sleep-deprived mess who was interrupted every 15 minutes by someone needing something. Time for deep, creative thinking seemed impossible.

Since those days I’ve learned lots and lots about the importance of focused thinking time, deep work, and the value it adds to mental abilities, our lives, and the world.

But how the heck are we supposed to get this kind of time as parents?

The truth is you have to fight for it a little bit. But it’s worth it, which is why I included this tip on this “Top 4” list.

Remember the Timer Tip (#3)? You are going to use that to rescue some deep thinking time!

Find 30-45 minutes in the next week. Make it a deep thinking appointment. Write it down, set an alarm on your phone, tell your partner, and do what you need to do to make this time happen. For this 30-45 minutes, put energy into something that requires some thinking and/or creativity. Here are just a few ideas (although I bet you can come up with your own!):

  • Write in a journal
  • Read newspaper articles (and maybe even write a letter to the editor)
  • Write for your blog
  • Work on a craft project
  • Develop a new unit plan you’ve wanted to try (shoutout to my teacher buddies out there)!
  • Read a really good book
  • Outline a book or project idea

You get the picture. Set this time aside. Make it happen.

Just to be clear, this tip made this “top 4 tips for parents” list because it is so much more challenging to get this kind of time when you become a parent. But this time for thinking and creativity is just as important, if not more important, when we become parents. Having this type of extended time for creative thinking keeps us fulfilled, brings us joy, and also opens our minds to possibilities beyond our creative projects.

This time matters. Do the work to make it happen.

Want more? Click the buttons below to get a more detailed guide to Sacred Time, a complete strategy for making time for what matters most:

I want to hear from you!! What are some of your favorite productivity tools and tips that you use on a regular basis? Share in the comments below!


Get organized with The Inbox

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Get organized with The Brain Dump

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Get organized with Projects and Action Steps

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Make time for what matters most with Sacred Time

Another tool to help you create balance.

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The Organized Parent

I occasionally teach a free online version of my workshop: The Organized Parent, where I show you how to set up a complete system to store all your tasks, ideas, and to-dos, no matter what your personal style is!

Oh, and it’s designed for regular parents, not corporate CEOs who have an office and assistant on hand.

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