Be Prepared to Be Productive

posted by Andrea | 03/21/2016
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productive

I haven’t posted many productivity tips over the past several months… most likely due to the fact that I personally haven’t felt extremely productive over the past several months.

I’ve been doing what needs to be done and accomplishing my bare minimum each day. I’ve been staying on top of all the house work, all my blog work, all my VA work, keeping mouths fed, and providing various amounts of entertainment for my children throughout the day 🙂

In all honesty, I feel pretty good about what I’ve accomplished with 3 children in tow all day long!

That said, the desire to be more productive is always there for me — and since I rarely have complete control over when, where, or how long I will have an open window of time to be productive, I’ve gotten really good at “preparing to be productive” so when I have a few extra minutes (or hours) of unexpected free time, I can make the most of it.

If you are in a very “full” and busy season of life when free time is almost non-existent, I hope today’s post will offer some help. In my experience, simply being prepared to be productive has allowed me to accomplish so much more each day.

Here are 3 ways I prepare to be productive.

1. I Know What I Need (or Want) to Do

A.K.A. I have a list!

Sometimes it’s an actual written daily or weekly to-do list. Sometimes, it’s just a mental checklist of things I know need to be completed on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Sometimes it’s a special project I work on whenever extra time appears (like painting furniture, working on my digital photo books, landscaping, etc.)

Whatever the case, I always have a nice long list of things I COULD do with extra time.

Please note that these lists of things are not always things I expect myself to do, or things I will feel stressed out about if they aren’t accomplished.

For example, if both boys take really long naps at the same time on a day when Nora is gone at school (for the record, this has maybe happened 1 time the whole year…) I would most likely use that extra time to work ahead on my blog posts.

Computer work is quiet work that I can easily start and stop as time allows, so having a little extra uninterrupted time during the day would be the perfect opportunity to work ahead on my blog — however, since I usually never have that time during the day, I wouldn’t necessarily plan to accomplish all that extra stuff, nor would I be stressed out if it didn’t happen.

The point here is simply that I am aware of things that could be done IF there is extra time.

2. I Know Approximately How Long The Tasks Will Take

I’ve talked about timing tasks before — and although it might sound completely ridiculous to time yourself on various tasks, it has truly been a massive productivity booster for me.

I know that cleaning out the dishwasher takes me less than 5 minutes. I know that I can get dressed and completely ready for the day in less than 15 minutes. I know that I can respond to a handful of emails or comments in 5-10 minutes. I know that writing a blog post from start to finish usually takes around 2 hours, and that I can flesh out some of my ideas or edit the photos for the post in about 20 minutes.

Dave often laughs at me because now that we have kids, I have time estimates for various tasks both with and without children — for example, getting groceries with children will most likely take 1.5 to 2 hours, when I can do it by myself in almost exactly 1 hour.

By knowing approximately how long various tasks and to-dos will take me to complete, I can better know how to utilize small pockets of unexpected free time throughout the day.

For example: if a grandparent unexpectedly stops by to play with the kids for 30 minutes, I know that I would never have enough time to get groceries or write an entire blog post… however, I would have enough time to respond to a handful of emails, clean out the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, and fold a load of laundry. Or, if Dave gets home from school extra early, I might quickly clean the bathrooms or clean out my van before starting dinner.

None of these tasks are things that absolutely need to get done that day or that minute… but eventually, I would need to empty the dishwasher, fold the laundry, clean the bathrooms, and clean out my van — so by knowing that those tasks need to be done eventually (#1) and knowing how long those tasks take me to do (#2), I can better utilize my time and be much more productive.

3. I Constantly Look For Productive Opportunities.

At this point in our lives, Dave and I have chosen not to use any type of daycare or nanny for our kids, outside of Nora’s preschool. We both feel like the main point of me working from home is so that I can actually be home with our children (revolutionary, I know!)

Because of this, most of my mornings and early afternoons are spent playing, feeding, clothing, reading to, and being with my kids.

I know that I generally have enough time to complete my to-do list after Dave gets home for the day and after the kids are sleeping at night — however, I am always on the lookout for small pockets of unexpected time during the day that I might be able to squeeze in one of my to-dos.

For example, if Nora and Simon are playing nicely together while James is napping, I might be able to quickly prepare dinner, or at least part of dinner (I usually do this in the morning if possible). Similarly, if I can occupy them at the table (coloring, lunch, snack, gak, crafts, etc.) or entertain them with a 15-20 minute show on Netflix, I can use that time to tackle a few of the shorter to-dos on my “lists”.

This doesn’t mean that I’m rushing around all day long trying to squeeze something productive into every single minute of my day — it just means that I’m always looking and prepared when an opportunity presents itself because I know that in order for me to accomplish everything I want (and need) to do each day, I can’t afford to waste time.

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That’s it! 

By simply knowing what I need to do and how long it will take me to do it, I can turn unexpected pockets of free time into mini productive periods throughout the day. And honestly, it’s amazing how often those little free pockets of time randomly “appear” throughout my day (probably because I’m always looking for them).

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Preparing to be productive is a relatively SIMPLE concept; however it’s not necessarily EASY. It’s a learned skill that will require lots of repetition to form a habit… but from personal experience, I can confidently say that it is worth the effort.

Preparing to be productive has allowed me to accomplish more, stress less, sleep more, and procrastinate less (all good things in my book!)

Want more productivity?

Here are a few more of my favorite productivity posts:

10 Things I DON’T Do

How I Use Weekly To-Dos to Increase Efficiency

How Lowering My Expectations Increased My Productivity

My Organized Days Start With Organized Nights

7 Tips for a More Productive Morning (and why I’m not following many of them!)

How I Changed my Most Productive Time of Day

How I Changed my Most Productive Time of Day… Again!

How I Reduce Procrastination By Making It Easy to Start

How Do You Prepare to Be Productive?

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11 comments

  1. Jamie @ Medium Sized Family

    03/22/2016

    I think that timing yourself is really important, because it also motivates you when you feel like you just can’t get anything done. If I know that I can pretty much unload my dishwasher while my oatmeal is cooking, I’m that much more motivated to get it over with.

    But I love your point about matching up pockets of time with projects that will fill it appropriately. I’ll be thinking about that throughout my week!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jamie! And yes, knowing how long tasks take me (and then matching them up with pockets of free time throughout the day) is essential for me to tackle my list each day!

    [Reply]

  2. Debbie

    03/21/2016

    I dread ironing and I only do it once every two weeks. I’ve found that it takes me less time now than before, probably because I have more clothes that don’t require ironing now. After a couple of times of finishing it in 10-15 minutes I asked myself why I constantly put it off. I realized it’s because I continued to think of my past experience and how time consuming it was. I need to keep reminding myself it’s only 10-15 minutes. I also try to find pockets of time to be productive but sometimes it’s a bit discouraging because I’m always on the “doing” mode instead of just “being”. Do you ever get tired of always trying to be productive? I realize we all have to get some things done but honestly it does get tiring to always be in this mental mode. It’s like always being on attack mode.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Dave does all our ironing (for real) otherwise, I think I’d be in the same boat as you. However, I love how you’ve changed your perspective a bit now that you can reason with yourself and remind yourself that it only takes 10-15 minutes.

    As for your comment about being tired of always trying to be productive — I’m glad you mentioned that. I thought about trying to explain that part of it in the post, but I felt like things were already too wordy so I opted not to.

    In general, I have gotten to the point where I don’t EXPECT to get anything much accomplished until the boys are napping… and even then, I don’t get anything major accomplished until Dave his home from school. So while I have my list of things I could do if time allowed in the back of my mind, I’m not anxiously waiting for 5 free minutes to pounce on my list. However, if some extra time became available, I would most likely take that opportunity to do something extra from my list.

    I really don’t know how to explain this (which is why I didn’t put it in the post). Yes, I’m always relatively aware of my time and my to-do’s, but not in a way that I feel stressed or in “attack mode” as you put it.

    [Reply]

    Debbie Reply:

    Thank you Andrea!

    [Reply]

  3. Kathy C

    03/21/2016

    I love the idea of timing your tasks. For me, it helps me not to dread the things I hate doing so much. I can look at the clock and say “I’ll be done with this in xx minutes” and see that I still have time left for other things. The 3 things I hate doing are dusting, sweeping and cleaning the bathrooms. But I timed all 3 of them out and now try to break those chores up over 3 weekdays so they don’t eat a big chunk of time on the weekend. And I also found out I can clean 3 bathrooms in less time than dusting! Knowing those times help me both mentally and in planning my time. Also, I used to dread coming home from work and having to gather eggs, feed chickens, water chickens. Until I realized I was dreading a 10 minute task each day. Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    glad to help Kathy — and glad that you are no longer dreading some of these other tasks!

    [Reply]

  4. Alicia

    03/21/2016

    Yes, it really is as simple as you listed above, but can be hard to implement without intention…or even with intention! I’m still a work in progress, and trying to figure out how to juggle it all with 3 kids. 🙂 You seriously inspire me, Andrea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Alicia 🙂

    [Reply]

  5. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    03/21/2016

    I usually do these things without much thought. These things are all really helpful. My problem is that I have so much I want to do and I try to be productive with each bit of extra time that I forget to relax! I’ve started putting read a book and cuddle the puppy on my list so I don’t forget to slow down!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes, I know lots of people who put relaxing things on their to-do list! You are not alone!

    [Reply]