Our Thought Process Can Boost Productivity and Performance

posted by Andrea | 03/31/2016
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think

Growing up, my piano teacher frequently told me to “think through the song before playing”. Think about the key signature, think about the chord progressions, think about how my fingers will need to move to reach the various notes and chords, think about how the music will sound, think about the tempo, etc. When I honed in and focused all my thoughts on the music before I played a note, my playing greatly improved.

Similarly, my high school’s honors choir frequently performed for festivals where we were judged on various different components. One of those components was sight reading. We had to really study and “think through the music” so that when it was time to sing, we were focused and ready to go, even though we had never sung that particular piece of music before.

And when it came to the hundreds of different sporting events I participated in, our mental focus was at least half the battle (especially in girls sports!) If we could rally our team together, get our heads in the game, and “think through what we were going to do”, we had a much better chance of winning — or at least playing our best game.

It’s been several years since my piano-playing, choral-singing, sports-playing days… but I have learned that in almost every single situation, my thought process has a dramatic affect on whatever I’m doing. 

Let me give you a few more current examples…

Blogging:

Some of you might not know this, but almost ALL my blog posts are written and scheduled a full week (or two) in advance. Obviously, the Peek Into Our Week posts and other birthday or anniversary-type posts aren’t written as far in advance, but everything else is.

I write the posts as if I’m writing them on the day you read them, so the timeline of the post is accurate, and I usually re-read the post the night before just to make sure everything I said is accurate. I never did this before having children, but at this point in my life, there is literally NO way I could keep up a quality blog with new posts every day if I wrote them individually the night before!

It takes me a while to come up with all the post ideas, draft them, edit appropriate pictures, write them, edit them, have Dave read through them, etc. etc. So I start early in order to alleviate stress and to allow me time to really think through all the posts before I start writing them (and thus, greatly expedite the time I spend actually writing)

For example, I have an ongoing list of ideas for new blog posts in the back of my planner. Some ideas might be new recipes I want to try, inspirational organizing and cleaning tips, crafts I’m doing with my kids, or another motherhood-type post.

Once I have those ideas written down, I spend some time mulling them over in my head (usually for a few days or weeks). As I think about the various post ideas, I start drafting main points or take-away concepts in my brain, I snap a few pictures that will work for the post, and I think through how I will write the post.

When I actually sit down to write it, the words seem to flow effortlessly. I rarely ever experience writer’s block anymore, and I’m fairly confident it’s because I spend a decent amount of time thinking through all my posts before I ever sit down to write them.

Cleaning and Organizing:

Even though I enjoy cleaning and organizing more than most people, I still want to be as efficient as I can, especially now, with small children around all day long!

As crazy as it might sound, I feel quite confident that I am MUCH more efficient and productive when I take a little time up-front to think through what I’m going to do, when I’m going to do it, and how I’m going to do it.

In fact, just last week I decided that it was time to do a quick “once-over” of the entire house as everything was starting to feel more cluttered and crowded than I like. While this might sound like an overwhelming task to accomplish during the day with 3 kids at home with me, I knew I could do it because I had a rough mental plan of how it would get done.

I purged Nora and Simon’s bedrooms and the play area when we were upstairs playing. I let them help me sort through toys and clothes and I let them have a say in the things we purged (with quite a bit of direction from mom!) We were able to give 1 big bag of Nora’s clothes away to a friend, move a bunch of Simon’s clothing down to James’ room, donate 2 big bags of toys, and put 2 more bags in the trash.

Then, when Nora was at school and Simon was napping, I went through our closet, James’ closet, the office, and the small amount of toys we keep on the main floor. I knew that ALL I wanted to do was quickly purge anything we no longer needed (no cleaning or major organizing)… and I was surprised how quickly everything went. Within 30 minutes, I had a bag of James’ clothes to donate, another bag of toys and books to purge, and FIVE bags of stuff from our closet!

I did the kitchen while the kids were finishing lunch and tackled the 3 bathrooms one afternoon when Dave was home. I ended up with 3 bags of trash and 2 bags of giveaway!

All together, I think that adds up to 12 bags of giveaway items and 5 bags of trash — and it took almost no extra effort or time on my part because I thought through everything ahead of time and was mentally focused on what I was trying to accomplish.

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Mothering:

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything I could and should know about motherhood… however, I realize that most of what I learn about mothering will come from hands-on doing and being and living — so I just keep plugging along!

That said, I KNOW spending a few minutes each day focusing my thought process on my role as “mother” does a world of good for me and for my children.

Of course, there’s the whole “they are only kids, try to have more patience” part that requires SO much personal control and restraint from me, I could never do it if I wasn’t constantly thinking about and reminding myself of this every. single. day! There’s also the “I have to come up with something for these crazy kids to do all day long” part that requires quite a bit of forethought for me.

While the majority of our day is just spent playing at home, I do usually try to plan one simple “fun activity” (build a fort, walk to the dollar store and get a treat, story hour at the library, play at the park, visit grandpa, etc.) and one craft or baking activity (even something as simple as coloring or making brownies from a box) every day — just to try and mix things up a bit.

I also try to include 1 or 2 productive activities for me into every day (running an errand with the kids, letting them “help” me clean something, help me make dinner, etc.) This assures that I can actually accomplish a few things before Dave gets home.

We read quite a few books, and they also get to watch a few Netflix shows at various points during the day (usually when I’m trying to get something done!)

By thinking through my day at home with my kids, I feel more prepared and ready… and much less stressed or frazzled. I think it also helps my kids to see how I plan ahead… and then encourage them to do the same. For example, when we’re driving home, I might say something like “we’re almost home… and when we get home, we all need to take of our shoes, wash our hands, and then go straight upstairs to get ready for bed.”

This gets them thinking about the 3 things they need to do when we get home, even before we pull in the driveway. Of course, it doesn’t always mean they listen right away, but it’s amazing how much better they follow directions when I “lay out the plan” for them to think about in advance.

Planning and Scheduling:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again, my organized days start with organized nights.

EVERY SINGLE NIGHT before I go to bed, I make sure the house is picked up, the counters are clean, the dishwasher is loaded, breakfast foods are ready to go, lunches and bags are packed, snack cups and water bottles are refilled, the car is packed (if we’re going anywhere that day), clothes are picked out, and my to-do list is ready for me when I wake up.

Dave does the exact same thing, and after almost 10 years of marriage, it’s almost like a little dance we do!

We pick up the house as we get the kids ready for bed. I make sure we have everything we need for tomorrow’s meals while Dave gets the kids their bedtime snacks. After the kids are in bed, one of us showers while the other one packs lunches. The other one showers while the other one washes dishes or cleans out the dishwasher. Dave sets up the coffee pot, I make pancake or waffle mix and cut up fruit. He fills the snack cups, I fill the water and juice cups. His clothes are hung in the bathroom, mine are folded at the end of the bed. We run through our to-dos for the next day and talk about any scheduling conflicts or upcoming events. He sets the alarm, I turn off the lights.

Obviously it doesn’t go exactly like that every single night — but you get the idea.

For a solid 30-minutes or more each night, our thought process is completely focused on preparing for the day ahead. And by the time we go to bed, we both know what’s going on the next day, what we need to do when, who needs to pick up Nora from school, who has a meeting at night, what we’ll be eating for dinner (and at what time), etc. etc. etc.

That means very few forgetful moments, missed events, late arrivals, or stressful moments of panic because we aren’t prepared.

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I realize not everyone functions the same way I do (I am Type A — in case that isn’t completely obvious!) but I do think that being conscious about our thought process is very important and beneficial for any personality type.

Whether it’s something huge like interviewing for a new job or gutting your kitchen, or something more “everyday” like cleaning your home and planning your meals, I’m fairly confident that you will notice a nice boost in your productivity and performance by taking a small amount of time to think through upcoming events and process the details in your mind before taking any actions.

Plus, you’ll have less stress, fewer frazzled moments, less forgetting, and more confidence.

Sound good?

think

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26 comments

  1. Carrie

    06/16/2016

    One hint for decluttering is to keep a small box or bag in closets to put in too small clothes/shoes or unwanted or unneeded items. When the box/bagis full it is ready for donating or the trash. I find this very helpful especially for clothing as sizes can vary so much. Plus I have boys and they would just put a too small item of clothing back in the drawer or closet and think nothing about it!

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  2. Kelly

    04/02/2016

    I am curious about the snack cups you prepare in the evening. Do you have regular snack times or do your kids snack throughout the day? Does this cover your snacks entirely for the day?

    I do like having consistent snack times (around 10 am and 3 pm), but feel like by the time I do those, plus prepare three meals a day, all I’m ever doing is cleaning up our kitchen – it’s teeny tiny so I can’t leave much of a mess.

    Just curious what you use the snack cups for, and how that works – maybe would save me a couple steps each day. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — we don’t have super consistent snack times every day, but they often have a snack around 10:00. They always want veggie straws and goldfish, so I put them in the shack cups every night so I can just hand out the snack cups during the day. Also, they both eat a bowl of grapes when they first wake up, so I have those ready to go too!

    it’s a small task, but it definitely helps the day to run smoother so I keep doing it!

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  3. DJ

    04/02/2016

    I love this post! I have always been a plan-person – carefully planning out everything before doing. But I had gotten to the point that I was spending too much time planning and the planning was actually inhibiting my productivity. To break out of that, I stopped planning all together and also had a number of unexpected events in my life (terminally ill family members, and new jobs to name a few) to where my life feels chaotic. I’m now working on trying to plan outlines of projects and tasks and setting up routines so my planning will empower me instead of debilitate me. This post really made me think of changes i know I need to make. Thank you!

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    Kelly Reply:

    I have this problem too where I feel like I plan too much, and if I simply spent the time planning to actually do something, it would make me more productive! It’s a tricky balance – one I’m still trying to figure out. 🙂

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  4. JJ

    04/01/2016

    This post totally motivated me! I was able to occupy my three kiddos 3 and under to dust, vacuum and organize my baby’s nursery and kiddos’ play area(we moved 3 weeks before I had him). It wasn’t easy, but by thinking it through I was able to get it done! And Daniel Tiger helped for a bit–haha! Thank you for taking the time to write this!

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — good for you! I’m sure it felt great to get a few things crossed off your list — and extra rewarding knowing you did it with all your kids around too (I always feel more accomplished then!) Also, no shame in Daniel Tiger 🙂

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  5. Dianne

    04/01/2016

    I love this post. Because my family is grown I have not did some of these task to prepare for a busy day in a long time. I do still work and have mornings that can be stressful, so I will try doing more of my work the night before. Thanks for the reminder.

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  6. JJ

    03/31/2016

    That’s impressive!

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  7. Mommymommymommy

    03/31/2016

    Andrea, if it’s not asking too big a favor, could you explain a bit how you thought through decluttering? Did you simply arrange in your head the order in which to declutter various areas, or list what areas to declutter, or think through how you’d do them with and without children? Or did you actually think through specific areas, visualizing what items to declutter?

    Thanks.

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh wow — I’m not sure how I’d really go about explaining everything that goes on in my brain! I guess I’m just the type of person who always has an “agenda” and to-do list and I’m always mentally calculating how long something might take, if I can do it with kids around or not, etc. I figured it would be fairly easy to do the kids’ clothes and toys with them (and it was). then I waited to do the kitchen and our closet when they were otherwise occupied.

    Also, when I’m decluttering, I’m literally moving as fast as I can and just pulling out anything we don’t need or use. I don’t take time to clean, dust, organized, or make anything look pretty, I just PURGE!

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  8. Audra

    03/31/2016

    Since I’m a teacher planning is second nature to me. I can’t imagine not thinking through each part of my day! I realized when my oldest was quite young that sharing my plan with him really helped our day go smoothly….especially in the summer when we are home all day together. We spend a couple minutes reviewing the morning plan and then at lunch we go over the afternoon plan. Both of my kiddos love knowing their schedules and they like to do lists. They are for sure my kids! 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I can see both your boys thriving with your parenting style 🙂

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  9. Jane

    03/31/2016

    This makes perfect sense. I have a hard time planning ahead and visualizing projects ahead of time. I just plunge in. And then usually have to redo part of the project or stop and come back later to finish. I’m going to try to harder to do this!

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  10. Laura

    03/31/2016

    I do this with my daughter (she’s 2) — I tell her what’s happening next. “First, we’re going to clear away the toys. Then we’re going to brush your teeth, and then get into your pyjamas.” As you said, it doesn’t always work, but I find she’s much more co-operative than usual if I tell her what’s about to happen, step by step.

    It’s also why I meditate every day — it gives me a chance to sit in silence and think things over. I, too, am much more productive when I mentally map out my day.

    Great post, as always, Andrea.

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  11. Kristi

    03/31/2016

    Terrific post, Andrea. It’s so true that getting our head in the game as mothers makes the day go much smoother. My oldest son struggled mightily with transitions when he was younger, even transitions to something AMAZING (like “hey, we’re going to the zoo!”) and after his ASD diagnosis we learned that visual schedules, communicating “the plan” in advance, and giving countdown reminders made a world of difference. Thinking everything through in advance like that has spilled over positively in the rest of our life, too.

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES! I feel like my children (even being quite young) are already so much more obedient and responsive when I lay out the plan ahead of time and give them a chance to think through it before they actually have to do it. Countdowns are big in our house too 🙂

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  12. Laurel

    03/31/2016

    Funny to see a French Horn in marching band. Most march Mellophones.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, no mellophones at a small christian high school 🙂

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  13. Ashley

    03/31/2016

    Great post! I find that I do this in a lot of areas, too, and it certainly helps!

    On an unrelated note, did you *march* with the French horn?? Impressive!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes ma’am 🙂 It was awkward… but not too bad 🙂

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  14. Paulette

    03/31/2016

    My wheels are turning, Andrea. I realize I already practice this idea when I have errands to run. I’ll mentally run through where I need to go and map out where and when I’ll make stops. Then I’ll mentally think of everything I’ll need and make sure it’s all ready to go. It helps so much and makes my trips to town (I have a 15-20 minute drive) so much more productive! Now for a nighttime routine. My best time is morning, so at night it takes a real effort to get moving. However, it would sure make those early morning stumbling sessions making lunches so much less painful. I’m going to try it! Thank you so much!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, that’s a great example Paulette 🙂
    Also, you may have read this post already — but I shared how I literally changed my most productive time of day from the morning to the evening — and although I still love the early morning quiet, I have really boosted my productivity by getting a bunch of things accomplished the night before (Here’s a link to that post if you want to read it again!)

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    Paulette Reply:

    Read it…now I’m off to the races. Thanks, Andrea!

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  15. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    03/31/2016

    I totally agree! Like to make my to do list for the weekend while I’m at work so that it’s all ready by the time I get home to start the weekend. Also, I think it can help to think through how you want your home to look and feel to motivate you before you start purging and organizing.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I love envisioning how my home will look and feel after I’m done. However, I’ve found that it’s often overwhelming for anyone with perfectionistic tendencies or anyone who is easily overwhelmed to think too hard about the end results before they get started. They usually just need to think about their next step, and then the next step and keep working their way down their list!

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