As Dwight Eisenhower so wisely said:
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
Ironically, despite the fact our plans don’t always work out, planning is absolutely essential to reducing stress. Since stress is a sense of “losing control”, the best way to reduce it is to bring life under control. Good habits are a means of bringing life under control without even thinking about it. However, planning must also bear a level of flexibility in order to avoid slipping into OCD. As with everything in life, a balance must be struck.
I’ll be sharing many of my favorite productivity and planning techniques over the next few weeks, but today I’m talking about five habits that continually set me up for success. These have buoyed me in each stage of life: during my career as a single woman, as a married working wife, and now as a stay/work-at-home mom. Each day comes with work to be done, and in order to accomplish my daily routine, I need to think less and do more.
Habits give me fewer decisions to make and more actions I can take.
These five habits allow me to accomplish more in less time and energy, which gives me plenty of time to play with my baby, spend time with my husband, and read Seven Habits in bed. 😉
1) Prepare the night before.
Each night as I cook dinner (I always cook from scratch – when you save money by investing time, you’re essentially paying yourself!) I get ready for the next morning. I also:
- Prepare our breakfasts and lunches
- Set out my clothes (and the baby’s, if I think of it)
- Grind the coffee
- Set out my Bible, notebook, and commentaries
- If I’m going anywhere in the morning, pack the diaper bag and set it by the door
An evening routine can profoundly increase your productivity the next day. But a good routine is more than preparation; it’s strategy.
As I go through each day, I take note of anything that takes more time or energy than it should. I note anything that makes me upset, annoyed, or angry. More often than not, these are things within my control.
For example, the baby has about 20 minutes in her seat before she’ll start to fuss. If I use those 20 minutes making breakfast, she’ll be too fussy for me to finish my devotions. This was how I decided to prepare my breakfast the night before. This simple action gives me a full 20 minutes to have my quiet time while she chews plastic keys in her baby seat.
Strategy + Preparation = Productivity.
2) Plan for interruptions.
Going back to the morning devotions example, I know that Adeline is ticking time bomb before her first nap. Because I know I’ll be interrupted, I plan to be interrupted – and I’m not annoyed when it happens.
Many moms get irritated by interruption because it prevents them completing a pressing task. But what if we could prevent ourselves from barking at our children and STILL complete the task at hand? We can!
When I sketched out my daily routine, I left several time slots open for tasks that might not get done earlier in the day. This way, I’m not frustrated when things don’t go according to plan; I simply move them to the next time slot. This can also be used in the workplace – and I used it there often. A sudden meeting would push an urgent project aside, but if I accounted for the human variable in my time usage, I could still complete the task on time.
While I am flexible with my daughter’s interruptions, my daughter does not dictate my day. I do not drop everything the moment she fusses. In fact, I practice what I call “the Pause”, a phrase I learned reading Bringing Up Bebe. If I know Adeline is fed, dry, and otherwise cared for, I will wait three to five minutes before picking her up when she fusses. I’ve done this since she was a month old. Now at five months old, not only can I lay her down awake for her naps (she puts herself to sleep) but she will play contentedly by herself and will wait for me to pick her up – making my job that much easier.
3) Dress for the occasion.
Last week I donated two thirds of my closet. I had a twinge of sadness as I gave away pencil skirts, suit sets, and blouses that carried me through five years in higher education. In my career I lived by the mantra, “Dress for the job you want – not the job you have.”
But now I’m a mom, and I have the job I want. Now my mantra is: “Dress for the task ahead, and you’ll be motivated to do it.”
Each morning I dress in my workout clothes, all the way down to my shoes. I’ve found if I put on the clothes, I’ll be far more likely to actually workout! Gretchen Rubin calls this the “strategy of convenience”. Once my workout is complete, I change into a nicer outfit, put on makeup, and do my hair (a 22-minute routine I talk about in this post). I have boosted my productivity by:
- Finding joy in my appearance, which prepares my attitude for accomplishment
- Minimizing my closet so I have fewer decisions to make
- Setting a timer for my beauty routine
4) Work in 30 minute intervals.
I first heard this concept on a podcast. When I worked an 8-5, I tried 90 minute intervals with 15 minute breaks. It worked, but not as well as 30 minute intervals with five minute breaks.
For tasks that take longer than starting a load of laundry, I set a timer for 30 minutes. During that time my phone and all distractions (except the baby) are set aside. I focus solely on the project. When the time is up, I can check social media, read a book, or deal with another small task.
Most of our “working time” is actually divided into short, ineffective bursts. How many of us try to write an email, check our phones, and start dinner in the crockpot simultaneously? Contrary to popular belief, focusing on one task for a designated time increases productivity in ways multitasking cannot.
5) Make time for something you enjoy.
At the end of the day, my goal is to work myself out of a job.
If I’ve done my job well as Assistant Director of Home Management, all necessary tasks will be complete when the dinner dishes are done. I’ll have a few hours to spend with my baby and my husband, and maybe some time to read, run, or write.
Each of us lead different lives, so my routine won’t work for everyone. But by strategically analyzing your day, you can pinpoint the habits that will help you accomplish the goals personal to your own life and family. Habits themselves aren’t the end goal; they’re a means to an end. A happy ending.
If you liked this, leave a comment letting me know what other aspects of planning and productivity you’d like to see posted.