There are a lot of skills you must master when you become a parent. You eventually get comfortable and confident in your new role and are able to balance parenthood with all of the other tasks you face.
I felt I arrived at this point about the time I found out I was expecting my second child. Learning how to mother two little blessings has reminded me of one skill that is particularly essential if I’m going to get things done: Being able to complete a little work whenever I have a short period of time available.
This sounds so easy, right? I can get a little done in the morning when my infant is napping and my toddler is engrossed in a puzzle. I can do a little more in the afternoon when my infant is happily swatting at the toy bar on her bouncer and my toddler is building towers out of her blocks.
It should be this easy, but it’s actually quite challenging for me. You may find it difficult, too. Sometimes I can’t remember where I left off when I last worked on a task. Other times I find it hard to get motivated to work when I’m not seeing progress. The most difficult thing for me, though, is that I like to start at the beginning of a task and complete it in one sitting (or, if it’s a large task, I like to at least complete a logical portion of it).
Unfortunately, once young kids enter the picture, it’s often impossible to get things accomplished in a linear fashion. For example, I’m sometimes only able to get half a basket of laundry folded at one time. I have to finish it later and it may not get put away until tomorrow (or the next day). Then, of course, there are times when my toddler “helps” me fold the clothes. Sometimes this results in me finding socks in unexpected locations throughout the house for the next week!
If you have young children, then you likely have a good understanding of what I’m talking about. How can we take advantage of our fragmented opportunities to get things done in order to maximize our productivity?
Being productive when your work opportunities are fragmented
- Know what tasks you can accomplish in a short time. I’ve found it helpful to keep a list of tasks that I can complete in a short amount of time. Things like unloading the dishwasher, watering the vegetable gardens, and tidying the entryway of the house are all tasks I can complete when I have a few free moments. If a task can’t be completed in a few minutes, it’s helpful to break it into smaller pieces which can then be included on the list.
- Know what tasks you most need to complete. Of course, if the dishwasher is already empty, then it doesn’t do me a whole lot of good to know I can unload it in a short amount of time. It’s important that I have in mind the tasks I need to complete today. I accomplish this by utilizing a cleaning schedule and making note of other important tasks on the whiteboard in my command center.
- Lower your standards. Before I had kids, I could keep my house really clean. I’m pretty sure it won’t be really clean again until my children are grown! It’s been a challenge, but I’ve slowly learned to redefine what “clean” means. If my house is in a condition where we can live comfortably, safely, and healthily, then it is clean enough.
- Take advantage of shortcuts. We can expedite our work by taking advantage of shortcuts. When I talk about shortcuts, I’m not talking about cutting corners or doing something sloppily. I’m talking about strategies that help us save time and effort. For example, I used to set out to clean an upstairs bathroom when I had a few moments available, but I’d end up spending all my time gathering cleaning supplies from downstairs. I realized that I could get more cleaning done if I kept cleaning washcloths and a second bottle of toilet bowl cleaner, broom and dust pan, etc. in an upstairs closet. This simple change has saved me a lot of time!
- Get the kids to help. Our children can—and should—help us with chores. This is a common expectation with older kids, but even young children can help. I know I just described my 21-month-old scattering socks around the house as she “helps” me fold laundry, but the truth is that even toddlers can help. With a little bit of guidance, my toddler can match up socks as we fold laundry. As we clean, I have her throw items in the trash. She picks up her own toys before bed. She holds the dust pan while I sweep up crumbs from the floor. As her abilities grow, I’ll utilize her help even more!
Do you find yourself trying to be productive in short spurts throughout the day? How do you take advantage of the fragmented time you have available?
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