11 Smart Productivity Hacks for Busy Moms and Dads
Moms and Dads are by definition busy people. You are responsible not only for yourself, but also for another human being – or 2 or 3 or more.
When you’re a parent, there are many things that are not optional. You have to pick up your child from school. You have to take them to the doctor when they are sick. You have to show up to parent-teacher conference. You have to help your child with homework.
And then there are thousands of things you want to do with or for your child. Watch them score a goal in soccer. Cheer as their best friend blows out a candle on the birthday cake. Read to your child. Take your child to a park or to a ball game. The list goes on and on.
Here are 11 productivity hacks that are guaranteed to save you time and reduce stress levels for you and everyone in your family.
Productivity hack #1. Don’t overcommit.
As a parent, you often have a mile-long to-do list of household chores, school volunteering commitments, dropoffs and pickups, play dates and birthday parties. And then yet another request comes in: Can you volunteer for the school fundraiser? Can you help organize a neighborhood potluck?
Technically, you can. But a better question to ask yourself is, should you do it?
What would happen if you committed to this new request? What won’t get done? Will it interfere with other things that are already on your busy plate? Or with things like rest and sleep?
Take a deep breath and make a conscious decision about whether you want to say “Yes” or “No”.
Is it something you really have to do, or really want to do? Then say “Yes”.
Otherwise, default to “No”. Don’t add yet another spinning plate to your already full set.
Say “No” for the sake of your family, or your own sanity.
Productivity hack #2. Don’t let work to fill the time available.
In economics, there’s a famous principle called Parkinson’s Law. “Work expands to fill the time available”.
If you have a task and give it a week, it’ll take you a week to do. If you give it a day, it’ll take a day. If you give it an hour, it’ll take an hour.
Will the results be better if you spend more time on a task? On the margin, maybe.
Will they ever be 7x better if you spend a week on it instead of a day? Never.
Limiting the amount of time given to the task forces you to focus you on what really matters.
So the trick is to allocate just enough time to allow you to spend 20% of the time to give you 80% of the impact. (That’s another famous principle at work, the 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle).
Don’t let the task to fill the time available.
Productivity hack #3. Don’t multi-task.
I used to pride myself on my ability to multi-task. It felt like I was being productive, when I was working on three things simultaneously. I must be accomplishing three times as much in the same amount of time, right? Wrong!
After reviewing academic research on multi-tasking, I learned that the human brain (no matter how evolved 🙂 is just physically incapable of true multi-tasking. What it does instead is quickly switch back and forth between tasks.
And this task-switching is not “free”. It consumes energy and time. Think of it as a car engine that needs to rev every time it starts going up a new hill.
So even though I felt productive, and thought that I was getting things done 3 times faster, I was actually doing worse than if I had just focused on one task at a time, because I was spending extra time on context switching.
So don’t multi-task. Do one thing at a time, get it done, and move on to the next task.
Productivity hack #4. Run “batch jobs”.
You probably have repetitive tasks that you do many times a day – maybe even many times per hour. Like checking email or getting on Facebook.
As we discussed in the previous hack, task-switching takes time and energy.
So every time you spend 10 minutes checking email, your brain needs an extra minute to rev up and focus on that. And then another minute to rev up to do something else.
It’s like paying a 20% time “tax” for small, repetitive tasks. And that tax percentage is greater the smaller the amount of time you spend on the task itself, and the more frequently you do it.
So, you’re better off batching these tasks into bigger, less frequent chunks.
Designate just 1 hour a day to check email – or if you must, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon.
This principle was popularized by Tim Ferriss of the 4 Hour Workweek fame.
I can personally vouch for its effectiveness. It really does wonders to your productivity!
Productivity hack #5. Don’t be a perfectionist.
Moms (present company included) are often guilty of having very high standards for everything they do.
Laundry has to be folded just so. Sandwich layers have to be put in a particular order. Halloween costume has to be homemade and unique. Cookies for the school bake sale have to make Martha Stewart look like an amateur.
But do they really?
What would happen if they didn’t? Absolutely nothing.
You won’t be sent to Bad Mom Jail. Your child won’t spend the rest of their life in therapy.
In our desire to be a good Mom (or a good Dad), we put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly that we just run ourselves ragged.
Lowering your standards just a bit will do wonders for your sanity. It will also allow you to take advantage of the next hack.
Productivity hack #6. Ask your spouse to help.
Even in this enlightened day and age, somehow Moms end up doing most of the heavy lifting at home, even if they work outside of home.
There are many reasons why the division of responsibilities remains so uneven, and so far from the 50-50 ideal.
One of those reasons is psychological (and entirely self-imposed). We feel that if we ask someone else to do something, they won’t do as good of a job as we may do.
That may very well be the case. Maybe if you ask your husband to do the laundry, he would do it differently from the way you would. Maybe if he packed a school lunch, the sandwich will not look the same way. But so what?
As long as the laundry doesn’t all come out pink because your husband put red socks with the whites, and your children don’t go hungry, it’s all good.
Plus, you may be pleasantly surprised. Maybe kids enjoy Dad’s lunch even more.
Making it easy to ask your spouse (or other family member) for help is one of the reasons we built Calroo. Give it a try today!
Productivity hack #7. Ask your children to do chores.
Having kids do chores is a great way to lighten up your load, but also teach them responsibility.
Research shows that kids as young as 3 can start participating in self-care (like putting away toys after playing with them) or taking care of a family pet (like putting dry food in the pet dish).
Here are examples of chores that are reasonable to expect from an 8-11 year old child. How many of these chores are currently on your to-do list? Get them off your list, and onto your child’s. It’s good for everyone!
- Brush teeth, comb hair, take a shower or bath
- Keep their room tidy and clean
- Wake up using an alarm clock
- Do homework with little or no supervision
- Be responsible for packing backpack
- Help pack lunch box for school
- Wash and put away dishes
- Learn to use the washer and dryer
- Wash the family car (with supervision)
- Prepare snacks and easy meals (e.g., sandwiches)
- Sort and put away laundry (with supervision)
- Take out the garbage on pick up date
- Do light gardening and yard work (e.g., rake leaves)
- Be responsible for the family pet’s food, water and exercise
For more ideas of age-appropriate chores, and to download our free printable chore charts, check out this post.
Productivity hack #8. Get paid help (if you can afford it).
If your financial situation allows it, you can lighten your load even further by hiring others.
Need childcare? Consider hiring a nanny, a babysitter or an au pair.
Need to mow your lawn or have your car washed? Get a neighbor teen to help.
Need groceries delivered? From Instacart to other on-demand delivery platforms, there are many options available.
Need help with family meals? Again, there are many options from restaurant delivery, to home-cooked meals that get prepared a week in advance and sit in your freezer, to subscription services that deliver exact ingredients and recipes for your family meals.
A good rule of thumb is to outsource tasks that you don’t enjoy doing, for which you can pay someone less than the value of your time spent on the task.
Productivity hack #9. Take good care of yourself.
If you are constantly doing things for others, and do not take good care of yourself, you will run out of steam.
It’s very important to get enough sleep, exercise and me-time – doing things that you find relaxing and enjoyable.
When you’re rested and your batteries are fully charged, you can take good care of others. When your batteries are depleted, you are less productive.
There’s a reason why during the safety demonstrations on the plane, they always say “Put your oxygen mask on yourself first, before helping others”. It’s not being selfish, it’s being practical. If you ignore your own needs, you can’t be there for others.
Productivity hack #10. Reward yourself for getting stuff done.
When you accomplish a major task that you didn’t particularly enjoy doing but that needed to be done, treat yourself to something you enjoy.
Take a long bath. Get a massage. Go for a long run or walk.
Rewards work with everyone, including yourself. At the end of the day, we’re simple creatures. When we are rewarded for certain behaviors, we do them more. When we’re punished, we do them less.
So rewarding yourself for accomplishing chores or tasks motivates you to be more productive in the future. And it gives you something to look forward to, beyond the intrinsic reward of crossing that to-do off your list.
Productivity hack #11. Use a good productivity tool.
Are you still using paper calendar for your family? Are you writing things on a to-do list?
While it’s better than nothing, there are far better ways of keeping yourself and your family organized.
At last count, there were 2,088 calendar apps in the Appstore, and many hundreds of to-do apps, grocery list apps, or multi-purpose productivity apps.
And now there’s Calroo, a mobile app that was specifically designed for busy families. It combines a family calendar, to-do list, grocery list, and messaging in one convenient app. It makes asking for help as easy as a swipe. So what are you waiting for? Ditch your paper calendar, and give Calroo a try today!