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To-Do Lists: Parenting and the Productivity Trap

I like to be productive.

I enjoy feeling like I’ve accomplished things at the end of the day. Checking tasks off my to-do list gives me a momentary sense of relief, of satisfaction, however fleeting.

But my lists are lengthy and tasks seem to multiply when I look away.

Life with three young children (who I absolutely adore) means that things aren’t as predictable as they once were. Unexpected things pop up, the simplest errand takes three times as long, and someone inevitably has to go potty in the middle of shopping.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 11 years I’ve been called mommy—parenthood and productivity don’t always mesh.

Juggling three kids, a full-time job, and a growing writing business often leaves me feeling like I’ve run on a treadmill non-stop with little to show for it. I find myself trading sleep for a few more productive hours after the kids go to bed. Pressure to be productive every second, to multitask constantly, leaves me stressed and frayed.

By trying to do everything all the time, I’ve spread myself so thin I’m almost transparent.

This summer, as I’ve helped prepare my oldest for middle school and my youngest for pre-K, I’ve realized that no matter how fast I run or how many things I accomplish, it will never be enough. There will always be more things to do—more errands to run, social media posts to schedule, spreadsheets to balance.

To-do lists never end. But childhood does.

I don’t want to look back on my life after my last baby moves out of the house and I finally have a quiet, clean home, and plenty of time to get everything done—and realize I’ve missed all the important things in my haste to be productive.

So, I’ve been gathering the reins on this runaway horse.

I am forcing myself to change. It’s gradual but I’m settling into a mindset that is more focused, shedding the multitasking jacket I wore so proudly, and devoting myself to one task at a time, being present wherever I am and at whatever I’m doing.

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Single-tasking for the win.

I’m new at this, having lived a life as a multitasking junkie for my entire life. Doing one thing at a time feels almost decadent, like I’m slacking. But in the few months I’ve tried single-tasking, I’ve found that although I am focusing on one task at a time, I’m completing them faster and I’m getting more accomplished on my to-do lists. With my attention narrowed to one project, my thoughts have time to coalesce and fully form. After practice (there’s a learning curve), I’ve found I complete the task in a shorter amount of time than if I was dividing my attention between multiple tasks.

Prioritizing is essential—so is saying no.

I hate to say no, but too many yeses are a recipe for disaster. It’s vital that we make sure that we are spending our valuable time and energy on things (and people) that matter. That we weigh what is important and devote ourselves to that.

This year I committed to 11 book events. This left me crowding vital writing time into nooks and crannies that I’d normally be doing things like eating and sleeping. I had to schedule almost every moment in order to meet deadlines. And when I spent time with my kids I found myself distracted, short, and thinking of all the things I “needed” to do instead of enjoying the time I spent with them.

I’m learning.

In 2018 I’ve limited myself to four events. And two of them are family-friendly so I’m taking the whole crew. I’m also including family-related things on my to-do lists, making sure they get their space as priorities too. Things like “paint nails with the kids” are listed alongside “revise chapter two” and “pay cover artist.”

Mindfulness is hard but essential.

When I’m working on a project my mind runs away with itself (I’m a writer, daydreaming is in my DNA.) But sometimes it is necessary to slow down and breathe. When I’m playing cards with my crew, I try to focus on actually playing cards with them, not the errands I need to run once they’re asleep, not on where my plot unraveled and how to fix it, but on them. I fall back into old habits sometimes (okay, a lot), but each time I pull my focus back to remind myself how important it is to be present, it gets a little easier.

My to-do lists are still endless, the laundry is never truly done, and while I still feel enormous relief when I cross another thing off my list, I feel less stressed when I see all the fun things I’ve done with my family along the way.

Life belongs to us. It doesn’t dictate; we do. Give attention to the things that matter.

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One Response to To-Do Lists: Parenting and the Productivity Trap

  1. Elizabeth Anne
    Elizabeth Anne August 27, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    Well said mom. Also I love that you say “single tasking for the win” because sometimes LESS is more!!! Trying to do too much at once will likely leave you with a bunch of unfinished,half way through projects!

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