Before Jack was born I heard over and over again that once we had a child, we would never get anything done. I entered motherhood with a pretty intense fear that I wouldn’t have enough time for both running a business and being a mother. So I worked really hard from January to May of last year to get as much done as possible before he arrived. I even worked for the five days I was in early labor with him (you can read the birth story here) because I was so afraid that I would never get anything done again.
After he arrived and maternity leave ended, there were definitely moments of overwhelm, anxiety and feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to get back to my old productivity level.
In addition to that I’ve struggled with some health issues post-pregnancy that have forced me to make lifestyle changes. Among the worst of those has been giving up caffeine, which means I can’t rely on my usual few cups of coffee to get me going each morning.
With all of that said, I have found that those fears I had going into motherhood turned out to be mostly untrue. Working from home without any childcare does mean I have to sometimes get creative, but most days I’m able to get about eight hours of work done without working in the evenings. (I do want to add that we had childcare for a couple of hours a week for about a month, but that it didn’t work out. And even though Davey and I are both home during the day, most days Davey has several meetings and so the majority of Jack’s awake time is still spent with me.)
Jack’s birth has forced both Davey and me to be more strategic and intentional with our time. And even though we have a little ‘less time’ to devote to the business than we used to, we’ve still been able to see growth over this past year.
So how has that happened? Here are five ways that I continue to stay productive as a working mom without childcare or caffeine.
1. Tracking My Time
Whenever I log on to my computer to work, I “clock-in” using a time tracking app called Toggl. “Clocking in” – whether it’s just to answer a few emails or it’s to work on client designs helps me to stay accountable and focused. It also helps me see how I’m budgeting my time and how long projects actually take.
On days when I feel like I got nothing done, I can still look at that app and see I pretty much worked the equivalent of a “normal” workday – even if it was broken up. Toggl also helps me to balance tasks that work both “on” and “in” the business. I use the free version of the app and even if you don’t have client projects to work on, I think time tracking is a great way to hold oneself accountable!
2. Pausing My Email
I know a lot of productivity experts recommend turning off your email when you need to focus. But with design work, I’ve found that a lot of the resources I need to do my work are still in my inbox. I discovered Boomerang several years ago and I use it to schedule emails to be delivered at later times, but it also has a feature that lets you pause your inbox (I think the updated version of Gmail has this feature, too).
I actually pause my inbox most of the day to prevent myself from getting distracted. I check it a few times a day when I’m in between projects or am anticipating a specific email.
3. Committing to a Strict Schedule
One of the best things we did when Jack was born was work to get him on a schedule right away. For the most part, he’s been sleeping through the night since about eight weeks. We read Babywise and did the Taking Cara Babies class, and we can’t recommend them enough!
We treat his awake times and naps like meetings, and it’s pretty rare for us to veer from the set times when we’re supposed to put him down or wake him up. I even set an alarm clock to make sure I have him up by 7 on the weekends so we don’t throw off his schedule.
Knowing that we can expect Jack to sleep from 9:30am to 11am and then again from 2pm to at 3:30 or 4 helps me to set very focused work times. If I get a text during those hours it’s pretty likely that I’m going to ignore it and unless I have something to post, you won’t see me on social media. I try to avoid scheduling any meetings during those times, and I tend to save household chores for when Jack is awake and I can let him play next to me while I make dinner, fold laundry, etc.
4. Early Morning Work Time
I realized pretty quickly into motherhood that catching up with work at the end of the day wasn’t going to work for me. I’m exhausted by the time Jack goes down and I really value evenings as a time to unwind and relax. I’ve also always been a morning person so when I was trying to figure out how to structure my days as a working mom, it was pretty clear that in order to fit more work in during the day, I was going to need to start my day earlier.
I wake up about an hour and a half before Jack (and most of the world) gets up. I’ve found those early morning work times to be some of my most productive. Getting work time in during the morning also helps me to feel like I have a head start on my tasks for the day before email starts coming in.
The work I get done during the morning gets scheduled to be delivered to clients a few hours later via Boomerang to help me pace my projects for the day.
I nurse Jack at my desk after he wakes up in the morning or after a nap, and afterwards he’ll normally play with his toys for a bit.
When he starts to get fussy one of us will feed him, and then we’ll do a walk (even in the winter). Walks give me a break from working so hard while he was asleep and they seem to “reset” Jack a bit. Often times after we come back from a walk, I can get him to sit any play with his toys again for a bit.
We probably take two walks a day in the winter and up to four in the summer.
Knowing that things will change
Something else that has we realized fairly quickly was that things would constantly be changing. As soon as we thought we had ‘figured it out,’ Jack’s nap-time would change or he’d be teething and fussier than normal.
Giving ourselves grace through these transitions and leaning on the encouragement and wisdom of friends who have a little more experience than us has been invaluable.
It’s been really helpful for us to find a routine—knowing the specifics of the routine might change in a few weeks or months—and sticking to it as best we can. The other strategies like tracking my time and breaking the day up with walks just helps us stay on track.
I know some of these things might not work for everyone, and that I have so much more to learn as still a relatively new working mom.
If you have tips for staying productive as a working mom, I would love for you to share them in the comments below!