Note: This post was originally subtitled “without caffeine or childcare” but as Jack has aged and my body has recovered from birth, both are now a part of our lives.
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 2018 (the year Jack was born) 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 struggled with some health issues post-pregnancy that have forced me to make lifestyle changes. I cut way back on caffeine (only one cup early in the mornings) and start my wind down routine for the night around 8:30pm.
With all of that said, I have found that those fears I had going into motherhood turned out to be mostly untrue. We were able to work from home without childcare until Jack was about eight months old and since then, a part time nanny and then part time preschool have allowed us to get plenty of work done while still spending ample time with Jack.
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.
Jack 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 the past two years.
So how has that happened? Here are five ways that I continue to stay productive as a working mom.
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 follow Becca Campbell’s teachings pretty closely. 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 7:30 am on the weekends so we don’t throw off his schedule.
Knowing that we can Jack to sleep from specific times has 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. As he has grown older, he often helps me with those chores and most recently, he has started to earn a “commission” for doing things like feeding the dog and loading the washing machine (with supervision of course!)
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.
If you’ve listened to the podcast recently, you’ve probably heard that Davey and I wake up at 4:30am. That’s three hours before we wake Jack up (yes, we really do wake him up daily – thanks Becca). 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.
5. Walks & Outside Time
When Jack was little, I nursed him at my desk in the mornings because although I valued our time together, I knew he wasn’t entirely focused on me during that time and those 30 minutes of sitting were a great way to get some work done.
When he started to get fussy, one of us would feed him, and then we would do a walk (even in the winter). Walks give us 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.
6. Build a Team and Outsource
Since the initial writing of this post, we’ve also added several members to our team. My role has shifted from designing every single brand and website + running the business to more of a creative director role. I do still design and work on client projects, but we now have incredibly talented designers on our team and we work on projects collectively. This has taken a lot of weight off of my shoulders and allowed me to focus my limited time on projects that “move the needle forward” in the business. Stay tuned for an upcoming podcast episode on team building.
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!