How To Stay Productive When You Have Young Kids

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Do you have the patter of tiny feet around your home? Are you raising a bunch of lovely kids? How’s your productivity going? In this week’s episode find out a few strategies to cope with those little bundles of joy called kids.

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Episode 85

Hello and welcome to episode 85 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a great question about coping with a young family. Now anyone with children will understand the difficulties these little ones pose to our overall productivity. But with a few simple adjustments and a little shift in your mindset, this period of life does not need to be stressful or too harmful to our productivity. 

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Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Matt. Matt asks: Hi Carl, I'm a father of 2 daughters, (3 and 1) and naturally they take or impact a lot of my time. I've been trying to build a productivity system for a long time that works for me, as well as implementing a lot of the tips and routines suggested by you and others. However, everything I have found seems to rely on building a predictable routine for oneself, which is near impossible with children. Do you have any tips that will help me? 

Hi Matt, Thank you so much for this question. I am sure there are a lot of people experiencing this joyous, life-changing experience as well as the challenges that come along with it.

Having small children around is a huge demand on your time and disrupts the most organised of people. But let’s be honest here, raising children is likely to be the biggest responsibility and best experience you will ever have in your life and one you should enjoy, cherish and let it be where you do your best work not just professionally but as a parent. 

The first point is as you say, Matt, it is almost impossible to stick to any kind of plan when your kids wake up at different times each day and in all likelihood go off to sleep at different times too. So what can you do?

Well, the first thing to understand is if you are trying to stick to a routine at the same time each day you are only going to be fighting yourself. It is not going to happen with any consistency and ultimately you will fail. On that point no matter what you do your kids will win in the end. So rather than have a set time for morning routines, it would be better to start your morning routines when you wake up. Now that could be 4am or it could be 7am the key is you begin the day the same way. 

Now we all follow some kind of routine each day. When we wake up we make our coffee, we brush our teeth, shower etc. So whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you do still follow some kind of routine each day. With kids, you have added tasks. Breakfast needs preparing, kids need dressing etc. All these routines are things you just do because you have to do them. 

It can be useful to have a morning ‘have I done?’ checklist. What this means is you have a list of things you have to do in a morning - not wish to do things - wish to do things should never be on this list. This list is for things that you absolutely have to do and all it is doing is asking “have I done this?” 

This question—“have I done this?”—is a powerful question because rather than telling you to do something it is asking you whether you have done it and if you haven’t you can decide if you want to do it or not. It gives you a better sense of calm, when all around you may be chaos. I know this might sound simplistic, but it works. You should try it. It is far less commanding and gives you an option to decide. 

Now as an aside here, if you create this morning checklist on a little whiteboard in your kitchen you can involve your children in the process too. You can ask them the questions one by one and they can check off the tasks as you go through them. By starting them young you are installing habits that they will get a great deal of benefit from in later life. Now that’s a win-win for all of you.

Now as for your own personal morning routines, again you need to be flexible. You will have to accept there will be days when you are not going to be able to fit in exercise, or reading. Your kids are going to demand your attention. But from a parent’s perspective, that’s a great thing. You are getting some quality time with your kids. If possible, involve your kids in your exercise. You can ask them to sit on your back while you do press-ups for example, or you can get them to hold your knees when you do your stomach crunches. Another thing you can have them do is press the stopwatch start button and tell you when you have done 30 seconds or a minute. There are endless ways of involving your kids in an exercise programme. 

Of course, you might not get the exercise session you want, but at least you get some exercise and you have just given your children some quality time with you. 

Okay, what about your personal projects

For the most part, your projects are going to have to be realistic. You will need to reduce the things you used to do before your children came along. There’s no point in thinking that your kids will all go to bed at the same time, sleep soundly and wake up at the same time each day. That’s never going to happen. So if you have any thoughts about being able to micro-manage your day you are heading for a big surprise. That won't happen. But that’s okay.

Rather than micro-scheduling your day, you are better working from a master list of projects and working on them as and when you get time. I’ve found it’s often better to plan what you would like to do on a weekly basis and keep that plan to the minimum of projects. 

It’s really all about what you can do in the moments of time you get when your kids are either asleep or engaged in their own activities. 

Your kids might be watching tv or drawing. While they are doing that you can do some of your own work. Of course, once again it is not ideal, but doing that is better than not doing anything at all. Just being able to move your projects forward a little is better than not moving forward at all. 

With all that said, collecting your stuff and spending ten to fifteen minutes each day to organise that stuff should be possible even with the most energetic of kids. Kids drop off at some stage and when they get organising. It might be your only chance all day. 

You could, of course, do what my mother did when she wanted some quiet time. She’d give me a spoonful of cough medicine and within twenty minutes I was sound asleep. I didn't turn out that bad... or did I? hahaha oh those were the days. 

Now there is the other part to this and that is to negotiate time with your partner. Some friends of mine came up with an arrangement where when the husband came home from work—usually around 7—their young son was his responsibility. He was also responsible for their son on a Saturday. 

Those Saturdays turned into some huge adventures from parking in the car park near the end of the local airport’s runway to watch the aeroplanes land and take-off to fishing at a local river. It was not only a great experience for their son it was hugely beneficial for the husband too because he was able to get time away from screens and work. 

Whatever way you look at it, having kids running around the house is a joyous thing. For our own personal productivity, we need to adapt and create systems and strategies that allow us to have that important quality time with our kids and carve out some time for ourselves to work on our own projects. 

It’s not easy, of course, but with a little foresight, creativity and a good strong list of things you want to complete is not impossible. 

I should point out that the one thing you need to keep a tab on is your own sleep cycle. A lack of sleep will kill any ideas you have about staying productive, no matter how organised you are. Pay close attention to your own sleep. If you are not getting enough, prioritise catch-up time. This isn't about reducing your available time still further. This is more about making sure when you have time available it is not sabotaged by your own exhaustion. A lack of sleep will lead to mistakes which will need fixing, missed deadlines and poor performance. It just isn't worth it. If you are exhausted and you have a choice between clearing your email inbox and getting a twenty-minute nap. Take the nap every time. 

Your email can wait. Your sleep cannot. 

Whether you have kids or not, no matter how busy you are when you are at home, you will always have pockets of time to get on with the things you want to get on with. If you have a master list of projects you can look at when you do have a pocket of time, then no matter how busy you are you will be able to make progress on something. And that is what it is all about. Taking advantage of those pockets of time to get the stuff you want done. 

I hope that goes some way to answering your question, Matt and thank you for allowing me to use your question. 

Thank you too to all of you for listening. Don't forget if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just email me, or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.