I’m trying to pay attention when people ask me about something. As Brian Dixon says: “What’s obvious to you is magic to other people.” In the past few weeks, a couple of friends asked me a version of: “How do you get so much done?” I thought–that’s an interesting question! What do I do? So I came up with six tips: simple strategies that help me to be productive.
But there are two caveats I need to give right here at the beginning. First: I am not super productive all of the time, and I do not always get everything done on the list. I watch Hallmark movies and scroll Instagram mindlessly and waste time with the best of them. Learning to be intentional with my time is something I’m always working on–I’m right there with you! And second: on the other end of the spectrum, I’m also trying to learn how to rest and refresh. I tend to constantly push hard at the never-ending list, so I wear myself out and become super stressed. There is much wisdom in closing the planner and taking a break. I am trying to learn this too.
That being said, I do have a few “hacks” that might be beneficial. Juggling five kids, home school, home care, church activities, and a writing hobby, etc. means I have learned a few things about staying organized and productive. It’s actually fun for me! Ever since college, I’ve made a little game of staying on a schedule and using my time effectively. (Any other college kids out there sleep for twelve hours on a Friday night, get up at 8 a.m. on Saturday, clean the entire dorm room, work out, eat breakfast and be in the library studying before noon? No? Just me? I know: I’m weird!)
Even though I’m a bit odd when it comes to this stuff, perhaps some of the habits I’ve learned just might help you! It’s really nothing super tricky or fancy, just good old-fashioned hard work and time management.
One: Get up before the kids (or sun)
The trajectory of a productive day is set first thing in the morning. If I start the day already feeling behind, trying to cram in workout/devotions/getting ready while the kids eat breakfast and do chores (and they get distracted and/or fight because I’m distracted), then my productivity usually takes a dive for the rest of the day. For me, there is always a direct correlation between a productive day overall and getting my personal to-dos done before the kids get up. (Note: there is also an important correlation between going to bed at a good time/getting good sleep and getting up in the morning.) Action step: for one week, try getting up before the kids/sun and take note of your productivity trajectory for the rest of the day. Did you feel less stressed and get more accomplished overall?
Two: Keep a paper calendar & use a pencil
I have kept a paper calendar for the last fifteen years–it’s what works best for me. It reduces stress and organizes the tasks crowding my mind to physically “download” all of my to-dos, appointments, and reminders on a calendar. I also find it helpful to use a pencil so that I can adjust when things get rescheduled or cancelled. Bonus: I love having a record of our year since everything gets written down! (For example, last year I made a note of every time I got sick, so I could easily look back and see the pattern of my sinus flareups.) Action step: pull out that calendar you bought in early January, sit down for thirty minutes on Sunday night and map out your week. Then look at the calendar for two minutes every morning and evening. See if it helps your week feel a little more manageable.
Three: Cook three times a week
I know this is not a popular option but eating leftovers will save you so much time (and it might also be argued: money!). I cook three big meals on Monday/Wednesday/Friday. This means we triple the recipes for our family! Then on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday we eat leftovers, which means my afternoons are freed up to get other things done. On Sunday night, I don’t cook and the kids get to eat frosted shredded wheat, eggs, and yogurt (and they love it). Another piece of advice: use a slow cooker. I use our 8-quart cooker at least once, sometimes twice, a week. Action step: make a grocery list for two weeks (six meals) and pick family-favorite meals (no-brainers). Prepare your family for leftovers. Tip: add bread or a different side to the leftover night to mix it up a little bit. At the end of two weeks, see if you felt a little less stressed and spent less time in the kitchen.
Four: Use your evenings
Ever since our kids were young, we established a 7 p.m. bedtime, for their health (kids need a lot of sleep!) and also for the health of our marriage. But this early bedtime also means I have an entire evening to accomplish tasks I couldn’t get to during the day. This is usually when I listen to podcasts and write/paint/mop/pay bills/etc. I think about seventy percent of my personal work is done in the evenings. I am also learning how to schedule rest into my evenings–that’s important too! Action step: instead of crashing on the couch right away at the end of the day, try setting a timer for 30-40 minutes, turn on a favorite podcast, and get one thing done on your list.
Five: Do the worst thing first & give yourself rewards
It’s helpful for me to tackle my least favorite item on the list first. Get it out of the way and then get on to the things I like to do! Personally, it’s usually the cleaning. I also set up little rewards for myself throughout the day. If I clean the bathrooms, then I can sip a coffee and read for 15 minutes. If I get the dishes done right when the kids go down, then I can have a little time to scroll Instagram. I have friends who save their favorite show for laundry folding or treadmill running. Figure out what motivates you! Action step: make a master list of things you need to get done this week, then separate them out to 3-4 tasks per day. Each day start with your least favorite and work your way to the most liked. And don’t forget to give yourself a little reward when you get something done.
Six: Let it go
Sing it with me: “Let it go! Let it go!” The more children we’ve added to our family and the more time I’ve given to home school and writing means some responsibilities needed to be let go. For example: keeping the house clean normally causes me lots of stress (can’t rest until the floors are perfectly swept!) but I’ve been taking deep breaths and learning to relax. A dirty floor is not the end of the world. Right now I mop the main floor every other week–and you know what? It’s okay! Everyone is surviving. And time is freed up for tasks other than constantly cleaning. Action step: what is one area you could relax on that would free up time for another area of productivity? Try putting a weekly task on a bi-weekly schedule for a month and use the freed-up time to do something life-giving to you.
I hope these tips are helpful! The time God gives us is a gift we can steward well to glorify Him and bless our families. Together we can learn how to practice self-discipline and self-control, managing our time in a way that honors God. May we use our time-gift wisely and faithfully!