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Planning Secrets to a More Productive Day

One of the most common questions I get is what planning and scheduling process I use, particularly as a mom, to get things done.

Now, a little background info. I’m one of those people who does thrive on having busy hands. I like doing and can get antsy if I sit around too long. Prior to motherhood, it was easy for me to be productive. Then, my son was born, and honestly, it kicked my productivity in the butt. It took me over a year after having my son to finally adjust my schedule and adopt the methods I’m going to share in this post to allow myself a feeling of productivity again.

My Two Method Approach to Getting Things Done as a Mom

I use two basic methods in conjunction to get things done. 

First, is what I call “running master lists.” For me, this is how I ensure nothing falls through the cracks or gets forgotten. And, it helps me overcome the overwhelm of “I have so much to do and no time to do it”

The second half of my method is block scheduling. This is how I take that running master list and block it into actual time.

Running Master Lists

One of the biggest issues I face when it comes to being productive and getting things done is feeling overwhelmed by having “so much to do” and “so little time to do it.” Raise your hand if you can relate.

To solve this problem I’ve adopted what I call running master lists. I have a master list for each month and one for each week.

The monthly list is something I write at the beginning of every month and it’s a list of the bigger projects I want to complete that month. For this list, I break it into a few categories. My categories are blog posts, YouTube videos, admin/backend work, and then personal stuff. So, use categories that work for you. It may be personal, home, and work, or kids, home, and DIYs. Whatever works for you, I’d say keep it around 2-5 categories.

Then, I have a weekly list. I write these at the beginning of each week. This is where I’ll break down the bigger projects into the smaller tasks needed to complete them. So, maybe on my monthly list, I have a YouTube video to film. Some of the smaller tasks to complete that would be to write out my script, research a topic, film different portions, edit the video, and create the thumbnail.

Why running master lists works:

The reason this list method also works really well for me is a few reasons:

  1. It allows me to brain dump everything I want to get done. If you suffer from getting overwhelmed with what needs to happen this can be super cathartic. Just the act of writing them down gets them out of your brain and onto paper. It allows you to close some of those 100 tabs your brain has open at any given moment.
  2. The second reason I like master running lists is that it helps me stay accountable for things. If I don’t get to something that week or that month, it doesn’t get just forgotten. The first thing I do when making a new week or month list is to reference the prior list and bring anything uncompleted over.

NOTE: I call them “running” master lists because they are, well, running. I write them at the beginning of the month/week but they can be edited or added to if needed. Often my monthly list will maybe have a little more than I can actually get done that month. But, that’s OK. It’s acting more as a running list of things I want to get done. If it doesn’t get done that month I just move it over to next month.

Time Blocking

OK, so now it’s time to move on to Time Blocking. This is how I take what I want to get done, and set up the time to do that. 

Why Time Blocking Works

The reason Time Blocking works so well is I find,  especially with kids, daily life seems to fall into natural rhythms. The general idea of block scheduling is you break your day up into blocks of time, each dedicated for different tasks. It allows me to be more productive because I know what I want to do in each block but also gives me the flexibility and breathing room I need as a mom of a 1-year-old.  It’s not about trying to cram a TON into my day,  because to me facing it that way is likely to end in anxiety or exhaustion.

Instead, I find that time blocking allows me to FIND time already available in my day and fill it with productive events. Whatever I want to get done I can find a time block to put it in. But also, because we only have so many time blocks in our day, it has been immensely helpful in helping me prioritize which tasks to accomplish. Prior to time blocking I’d often look at my to-do list and feel overwhelmed on where to start. Now, I’m able to look at my list with a clearer head because I feel like it gives me a better grasp of how much time I really have.

How to Time Block

So, how does time blocking ACTUALLY look? Let’s walk through the steps!

FIRST: Using the natural rhythm that likely already exists in your life, start by dividing your day into blocks. Typically you’re looking for blocks around 2-4 hours, but some blocks will allow for shorter or longer blocks.  Then you’re going to name these blocks with generic names (we’ll get specific later). For example my first block of every day before Miles wakes up and it’s labeled as “work,” my next block is always “morning routine”.

So, you’re blocking out your day with general topics, working around the natural rhythm of your day.

SECOND: Once you have your general blocks, this is where you add in your smaller tasks. You want to write down everything you want to accomplish in that block For example you may have a block called “Morning Routine” and inside of that block every day is: breakfast, empty the dishwasher, and get dressed. The point isn’t to give yourself exact times for each of those. You don’t want to be so strict that 8:15 is the dishwasher, 8:30 is getting dressed, etc. It’s just that between 7:30-9:30 you have 4 or 5 things you need to get to in that block. Some of these tasks might be the same every day (like empty the dishwasher) other times they may be just for that day (like call the pharmacy or pay the electrical bill)

THIRD: You want to block like tasks together. So, for me, my first block of the day is a work block. I do anything relating to work stuff whether it’s blogging or YouTube or emails. The next 2 blocks of my day are home/personal blocks. This is where I would do stuff around the home, mom-related tasks, etc.

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The idea is you don’t want your brain switching among all the millions of hats you might wear in a single day. So block similar things together in blocks. 

Time Blocking Best Practices

1. Be realistic with your blocks! You may see a 2-hour block and think you can get 15 things done. But remember most things take longer than we think. Plus daily life happens: kids spill milk, you get distracted texting back a friend, it takes a little longer than you think to finish certain tasks. Honestly, I have been doing this for a long time I still often underestimate how long something will take.  I always provide more time than I think I’ll need.

What’s important is you want to set yourself up for success so you leave the day feeling accomplished not defeated. Don’t overextend yourself.

2. Put the most important tasks in distraction-free blocks. For me, the tasks that require my undivided attention go in blocks when Miles is sleeping (either during nap or early in the morning)

3. Keep it somewhere visible. You’ll want to keep your schedule somewhere visible. Personally, I use paper, I like this because it’s portable. I can make my plan sitting comfy on the couch, and then during the day, my planner sits out on my counter so its always at eyes’ glance.


FAQS About Time Blocking and Scheduling

How do I reschedule when the day goes off plan?

The best method here is to just plan to start fresh on the next time block. Let that one block go, or let two blocks go if you have to. Life happens. The good thing is you have your master list so whatever you didn’t get to you can squeeze into another day. So not all is lost.

Give yourself grace. Of course, we want to be productive and not give into procrastination, but there’s also always tomorrow.

My baby is 2 months old and I can’t get anything done. Help!

I get different versions of this question A LOT. First, as you heard with my story, I got pretty much nothing done when my little one was born. So I RELATE.

My first note to you is that your SCHEDULE WILL RETURN. I know when you’re holding that little newborn in your arms you feel like your life will never return to normal but trust me it will. And as cliche, as it says, try to just embrace those upside-down newborn days. That being said, I also understand that we still want to be able to get somethings done even with newborn life.  So here’s a few tips:

  • Lower your standards. Focus on one or two small tasks every day. Remember, You want to set yourself up for success so you leave the day feeling accomplished not defeated.
  • If you don’t already, babywearing is a life changer to get some small tasks done. This is my favorite baby carrier.
  • ASK FOR HELP. I’m the first one to tell you I suck (like suck suck suck) at asking for help. But motherhood has forced me to get better. One thing that helped me was 2-3 nights a week my husband would take our newborn when he got out of work for an hour or two. We were giving up family time, but I was getting much-needed time for myself. I could do whatever I needed: shower, nap, do my laundry, respond to emails, whatever. Work with your spouse or any family available and actually schedule it into your week.

How do you find downtime?

Guys this is why time blocking rocks. YOU LITERALLY BLOCK IT IN. One block can literally just be for relaxing, for hanging with the family, whatever you want. I know it feels a little over scheduled, but it actually leads to a day that’s more relaxed. 

Tips for getting productive when you just want to sit around?

Trust me I’m NOT immune to getting bit by the “I wanna do nothing bug” But, I strongly believe that a body in motion stays in motion. So, I FORCE myself to get up and do at least one thing. I find that 90% of the time, once I’m up an moving I start to get more momentum to keep going.

My 6 month old won’t nap, any tips to get things done when your little one won’t nap?

If your little one isn’t napping or napping well, then don’t schedule your day assuming you’ll have a naptime. That sets you up to be defeated. In general, between 0-8 months, I found that trying to plan anything specifically around a naptime was bad news because babies don’t always go according to schedule. I’d schedule to do something at 9am but then Miles didn’t nap until 10 and I’d be all messed up and feeling very overwhelmed. This is why time blocking can work well for this time. Personally, we followed the Eat Play Sleep Schedule which naturally put our time into blocks. Then I could focus on small tasks during each block.

Again, like I just said above, don’t feel bad lowering your standards. Focus on the 1-2 tasks you want to do. Use babywearing when you can, and ask for help. And remember this time is temporary, and it too shall pass.

I’m going to link my entire baby sleep guide blog post, that shares our baby sleep journey including what worked and what didn’t work for baby sleep for us as well as what we did for sleep training.

Do you use “chore days” or just do a little every day.

Personally, I like doing a little every day. I think having chore days puts too much pressure on single days which can lead to me feeling upset when I didn’t get it all done. And, I find it doesn’t give me enough flexibility. That being said, I often will have “slow days’ where my chores or tasks are very minimal just like “doing the dishwasher and picking up the bathroom” and I have some days that are more chock full of tasks. 

Tips for housework with a little one around?

I plan my housework around what my son is doing. So during breakfast, he’s in the kitchen so I can empty the dishwasher or clean the kitchen. During playtime in the living room, I can dust or sweep. I’ll bring him upstairs to read so I can quickly put away laundry. 

That being said, I don’t assume I can accomplish anything too large when Miles is around, I stick to short quick tasks. He’s only one year old, so it’s not fair to him or me to assume he’ll sit happily playing for 60 minutes while I reorganize an entire pantry. Sure, sometimes he does and that’s great, but I don’t PLAN on it. That just leads to me being upset I didn’t get something done and him being upset that I’m not giving him attention.  

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How do you set realistic targets? I feel like I’m always aiming too high?

I think this is probably pretty common. I joke that we need to lower standards, but I’m not really joking at all. The KEY to a lot of this is setting yourself up for success. It will take some practice.

We often underestimate how long tasks will take. We think we can do more in a day. So, you need to work on putting less on your plate each day so you can achieve it. This is why I find my Master Running List method works so well with time blocking because it still allows me to have ALLLL the things I want to do written down, even if I know I can’t get to them today or this week. They still feel accounted for.

Tips to avoid procrastination/How do you get motivated?

A little mind trick that works for me is I remind myself how happy I’ll be tomorrow that I did a certain task. Then, the next day I actually mentally acknowledge how glad I am I did it. I know it sounds silly but it seriously works.

On example is cleaning the kitchen at night. I’m usually so tired and don’t want to. But I remind myself how much 5am Kallie will appreciate it. And in the morning when I come downstairs I always remind myself how nice it is that the kitchen is clean. And, if one night I didn’t clean it I remind myself how much of a bummer it was to wake up to a dirty kitchen.

I wake up early to get things done but then my energy is at 0 by 2pm. Tips?

I think we all naturally have a slump in our day. Mine is at 3pm. Plan something at that time every day that will help give you a pick-up. For me taking Miles for a walk helps a lot. Or, making an afternoon coffee. You could do a 10-minute workout. You know when your slump is, so play offense and have something planned to combat it.

Tips for not getting sidetracked?

Hopefully you’ll find time blocking helps with this a lot. You have your set tasks for the block. It may take a few days or week to get into the flow, but you’ll start to find there’s an intrinsic motivation to complete each block’s tasks.

Tips for staying productive when your job is sitting at a computer all day? I tend to zone out.

I SO get this. Prior to working for myself, my job was at a computer all day. And I would totally zone out too! A few things work for me:

  • Time block – Still follow a time blocking schedule. And, when I’m doing computer tasks I often make my blocks smaller (like an hour each). It helped me know what to do next and kept the day chugging along. Having a list of what needs to be done when helped me a lot.
  • Take quick breaks – When needed I would just pop into a co-worker’s office for 5 minutes to stretch my legs and chat for a few minutes.
  • Plan a mid-day pick-me-up – Know when your one or two slow parts of the day are when you sluggish and plan a little treat. I would maybe pack a small dessert or plan to run out and get a coffee.
  • Random, but I also found chewing gum midday helped.

How much help do you get from a babysitter/nanny, spouse, or grandparents?

So, we currently do no have a babysitter, nanny, or daycare due to coronavirus and likely will not have any help in that department for at least 6 more months. We also do not have grandparents nearby to help. So, is essentially just Michael and I on our own.

Before, I relied on daycare days to get my business work done, and I scheduled house stuff in around Miles’ days and his naps. With daycare being gone, we’ve had to re-evaluate. And, it took us about 6 weeks to find a method that worked for our family – so sometimes you have to test different things until you find what works for you. At first, I tried just doing it all during nap and early mornings. But, by about week 3 or 4 I was completely spent. It was impossible to run my business that way. But, it was hard because Michael works full-time. We knew it was necessary for Michael to start taking Miles for period of time if I wanted to keep my business running (which we did!) What we ultimately worked out is 3x a week Michael wakes up with Miles and watches him until about 8:30 when he goes and logs into work. I typically get up around 5am those days and get a solid 3.5 hours to work.

This was an adjustment for Michael and I. And it took a week or two for us both to get into the groove. But, it was important that we kept the lines of communication open. I was able to advocate for what I needed and Michael was able to advocate for what he needed, and we met in the middle.

How do you handle getting things done with screentime for Miles?

So, Miles doesn’t really LOVE watching TV right now. The only thing he’ll watch more than 5 minutes is Songs for Littles on YouTube. But, I’ll tell you my general thoughts on screentime.

Firstly, I think having a general time cap on screentime is a good idea. We clearly all know that we don’t want our kids to spend too much time glued to the screen. It’s important for all aspects of their development that they be moving and doing. So say you choose 1 hour, then you may want to use 30 minutes in the morning when you work and 30 minutes later. That being said, while I think we shouldn’t let our kids have too much screentime, I also strongly believe we need to give ourselves grace with all aspects of parenthood. Some days your kids may watch way more TV. Maybe you’re sick, maybe it’s rainy, maybe they are sick, maybe you just HAVE to get something done. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You love your babies and I know you give them tons of valuable, engaging, hands-on activities all the time that you need to give yourself permission to have some screentime and be OK with it.

When your little one is old enough (usually around 2-1/2 years) I highly suggest using a picture schedule. This is a plan of the day using pictures for them to understand. You’d have breakfast, outside play, bathtime, etc. You can put screentime into this schedule. This way your kids know when to expect it. It will help to prevent them from constantly asking because you can always reference the schedule and say things like “well, right now it’s playtime. We have screentime later, see it’s after lunch.”