I considered entitling this blog post “Why I don’t write emails and nurse my baby at the same time,” but apparently Google doesn’t like blog titles of such length and depth. I digress.
Getting anything done while living with small children – even ONE small child – is no joke. Laundry, dishes, basic cleaning, opening the mail, watching a movie – these things that used to happen with almost no thought, now require the strategy energies of a moon-launch to successfully execute, whether you are a mom or a dad of just one tiny two-week old baby or several children under 5.
When Miles was very young, we were barely moved into our apartment in College station, and Mark was in the trenches of the first (pretty terrible) semester of business school, I remember just staring at our piles of possessions completely paralyzed. How was I supposed to turn the chaos into the cozy 810-square-foot-Pinterest-modeled apartment of my dreams while continuing to work my part-time remote job with a baby that required a feeding session every two hours?
But you know what? It got better. Life has a funny way of doing that – more demands on your time come in the by the front door and you think that your sanity is leaving by the back door, but it’s not. Eventually, I figured out what was, and most importantly, was not important for that hour or that day or that week.
So here are my “get it done” hacks. They are not a road-map to 100 extra hours in a week or the answer to why you are not yet successful and happy in your dream job of Instagramming white sandy beaches. They are simply tools that I’ve found useful in stewarding my time and that work for now. I don’t rely them all of the time – but when I do, I’m more well-rested, more productive, more pleasant, and more present.
Whether you are a mom who stays with her baby all day, or a mom who works away from her kids 40 hours a week, or a mom who is at home most of the time and responsible for the laundry while maintaining a career in the cracks of time from your laptop in the dining room – I hope these help you. And give you just a few more hours in your day. Or at least a chance to finish that project and have a few minutes left for a cup of coffee.
Do not do things while your children are asleep that you can do while they are awake.
This is common wisdom passed around leisurely to young mothers at baby showers. But here’s the secret to really leveraging this rule. You can do more things while your children are awake than you think you can.
Laundry? Dishes? Making beds? Opening the mail? Avoid doing these things while your children nap. Instead, talk and sing and play with your children in the room where these things need to be done while you’re doing them.
Will the laundry take longer? Most assuredly. My 2-year-old “helped” me while I cleaned the floors the other day and it took at least twice as long. But it will still get done and then when your baby is asleep you can do something more exciting than the laundry. Like reading a magazine uninterrupted.
Added bonus: your children will not grow up thinking that magical fairies do the laundry and the dishes while they sleep. (And if you are frustrated by this idea or have no idea how to encourage your children to play alongside of you rather than depend on you for 100% of their entertainment, read this book. In fact, read it anyway.)
Have a clearly defined list of things to do while the child or children are asleep.
This way, when that squirmy four-month-old that is in the middle of dropping a nap and won’t sleep at the expected time for all of the efforts you can pour forth and you finally get her down, then you know exactly what to do next to make the 12 minutes of sleep-time productive.
Otherwise, you will spend her 12-minute nap figuring out what to do and will be frustrated because you make any progress on anything but Facebook Awareness when you hear her precious cry at Minute 13.
It doesn’t matter what this list says. If it’s yoga, then get your 12 minutes of yoga in. If it’s editing for a client, then bill 12 minutes of editing. BUT DO SOMETHING that will keep you from falling over the Cliff of Time Despair.
Know and cage black holes.
This is slightly different than the generally accepted mantra: “We are all wasting all of the time with social media” (true as that may be). I have my time black holes and you have yours. Whether the black hole consists of magazines or Instagram or Netflix or counting the clouds that sail by: we all have them. I’m sure even Sheryl Sandberg has something on which she wastes time. The way to leverage this? Know what those things are. Then limit them by determining when you will waste time.
For instance: social media, namely, Instagram, is so addicting to me. I love it. Not always necessarily a good use of time. But when I’m nursing and only have one hand free and can’t really move around very effectively and am generally being left alone by my toddler – I scroll Instagram. When I’m not nursing? I try to leave it alone. See? It’s self-limiting. Wins all around – I get my mental zone-out break, my baby is fed, and I don’t feel as if I wasted precious time by falling down the interwebs.
Have a clear sense of what can be done when.
This is related to all of the other suggestions and this looks different for everyone. Some women can type entire books while they nurse. I can do….basically nothing that requires two hands while nursing. And I’m not very good at typing anything other than a two-line email with one hand. So extensive typing or editing or really at all anything requiring two hands doesn’t happen while I nurse. But my children have both loved our Ergo. So sometimes when they are awake and just want to be close to Mama, I *can* do things like cleaning or laundry or typing while I wear them. But some children hate their Ergos but love their playpens.
If I try to type an email longer than two sentences while I’m nursing, I get frustrated and normally my baby gets frustrated and the email generally doesn’t get finished anyway. So I quit trying to write emails longer than two lines while nursing.
Just know what you need to do and then figure out the best time and situation for doing that. Then, when babies don’t nap and the weather changes and someone needs to be held during their nap instead of sleeping in their crib – you have a backup option and can still be productive at something.
Give yourself grace to be productive in different ways.
Pregnancy and caring for newborns has been a huge reality check (at least for me), in part because being productive suddenly means something very different than it used to mean. During pregnancy, you are growing a human. So even thoughI was exhausted and nauseous and flaky and couldn’t remember why I walked from one end of the house to the other, I was still being massively productive. This took me forever to really accept, but once I did, I became a much less stressed-out human being.
Nursing has been such a soul-check for me. I want to be up and moving and doing things, even if those things don’t necessarily accomplish much, because I feel better if there’s movement and energy being expended. But when I’m nursing my babies, I have to sit for hours. And do seemingly nothing. Sometimes my babies even know when I’m looking at the screen of my phone and get annoyed, so I’m really not doing anything. Except that I am keeping a human alive. So that’s pretty important.
Spending time with my baby and simply cooing back at her is, in fact, quite productive. I’m helping her to become a little human. We don’t always have to be *doing* something remarkable together – sometimes my kids need me to just be present with them. Reminding myself of this helps keep me from being frustrated at the slow moments and helps me appreciate and savor those times more.
This book was also completely life-altering for me. It gave me a new perspective on time and focus and presence with my kids and convicted me enough to really sit down and think about what kind of parent I want to be and how to make that happen.
What are your secret weapons for getting things done with little people?