I get a slight gagging feeling when I read about “add these 5 habits to your morning routine to become extremely productive.” These may be great habits, but they’re not all necessities for everyone. In fact, in my workshop on priorities & productivity, I emphasize that different things work for different people. The best thing we can do is to try out different ideas, figure out what works for us, and implement that consistently.
There’s no point in trying to change ourselves. You may think that getting up early is a great idea, but if you’re an evening person, that may not be the best approach for you. Or you may think that it’s great to be able to follow your own to-do list, but if external accountability is what you need, you’d be wasting precious time trying to change yourself instead of doing what works for you.
Our son just turned 12 weeks! Last week, I described how I went back to the basics of time management when he was born. I also went to the very basics of task management, and it’s been super effective.
Many new tasks came up when our little boy was born: order diapers, fill out the form for his daycare, read an article on his development, etc. I started jotting these down since I didn’t want anything to slip through my fingers.
Usually, I advocate the GTD approach where tasks are sorted by context: some need to be done on the laptop or my phone, others in my sons room or in the kitchen. The logic is that when you find yourself in the specific context, you can check the respective list and see what tasks you can do there.
With my newborn, however, I found it more helpful to have one list. I’m not sure why; perhaps because my different contexts were pulled more closely together by my being home with him. I began keeping one list on my phone with the creative name ‘General Tasks.’ I’d arrange the tasks on it in terms of which I wanted to tackle next. It was very easy to open up my list whenever I got a moment and see what task I could tackle at that time. This list served as a catch-all place for the tasks that had crossed my mind at some point.
I also added tasks on the bottom of the list such as ‘Organize a photoshoot in the spring’ with a due date of April 1. These are quite far in the future still, but they will come on to my plate in due time. Since I don’t have that many tasks on the list, it doesn’t feel overwhelming to have these longer-term tasks on there too. If at any time it becomes too much, I’ll move them to my ‘Someday Tasks’ list.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about the ‘Today’s Want To Do’ list, and that’s different from the ‘General Tasks’ list. The General Tasks list includes tasks that I’d like to get done sometime, in the near or far future. I’d consult the General Tasks list whenever I had time on my hands to do something. Today’s Want To Do list is really about what I hope to accomplish today.
It’s interesting how when things became more chaotic, I simplified my system. Perhaps that’s because it feels like I’m doing more task management at this point than project management (i.e., I don’t have many separate projects but rather it all more or less revolves around one project). I’m sure this will change when William becomes associated with more ‘projects’ and also when I go back to work.
But for now, simplicity works like a charm. At least one aspect of my life is not chaotic 🙂
Somewhere I read the following advice: “Once your baby is born, you need to set really low expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. You can expect to get two things done per day, one of which is to take a shower.” Oh, was this true for me!
It was very difficult to get used to such diminished productivity in the usual sense of the word. Of course, in fact my productivity was very high but in a very different way. I had just given birth to a tiny human, my body was recovering, I was learning to breastfeed and to take care of the little new person.
But in terms of usual productivity, I was managing to take a shower and to respond to messages on my phone. That was about it. There were days when I didn’t even manage to respond to my friends. Crazy.
I was fortunate enough to receive help during the first two weeks after my baby was born. But after I felt recovered, I wanted to figure out how to get more things done again.
The trouble was that a newborn’s rhythm is very unpredictable. I didn’t know when my little one would be hungry, sleepy, or require my care, so I couldn’t plan my days in any way.
Today’s Want To Do
I quickly came up with a system I called ‘Today’s Want To Do.’ (I called it ‘Want To Do’ because there was no guarantee I’d complete everything on my list on a given day.) I created a simple to do list and added entries on there. There were very few and simple tasks on there usually such as: Shower; Do laundry; Dry laundry; Empty dishwasher; Load dishwasher; Tidy up living room; Read book; Do recovery exercises; Go for a walk; Take a nap. (Note: These would not all get completed in a single day!)
I arranged the entries in order of importance and tackled the thing on top of the list whenever I got a few minutes. This was helpful because once my baby was asleep, I didn’t have to wonder what to tackle but could just glance at my list and get something done. This also ensured I didn’t start doing something random and later realize I forgot something more urgent.
Importantly, I had to be prepared to stop in the middle of the activity if my baby started crying. This was difficult! I don’t like leaving things half-done, but I had to. Once he was calm and/or sleeping again, I could pick up the activity again.
Sometimes I also had to add mealtimes to the list. Especially in the beginning when everything was chaotic, I had to make sure I ate lunch at a reasonable time because otherwise I ended up very tired and didn’t know why–until I realized it was 15:00, and I had only had breakfast so far.
I arranged the tasks in order of importance but also in temporal order, i.e., how I wanted to get things done in time. For instance, laundry would come before going out for a walk because the laundry takes time to be done. Lunch would come around noon (duh!) because if I postponed it too much, I’d end up tired, cranky, and, needless to say, hungry.
Back to Basics
This was a very basic approach: a simple to-do list organized by urgency and temporal order. Yet, that’s all I needed at that time. I tried creating a schedule of my and William’s rhythms, but apparently that’s impossible with a newborn. I tried to plan for the upcoming week (e.g., I’ll do laundry on this and this day, I’ll go for a walk on Tuesday afternoon, etc.), but that type of planning for the future didn’t work.
Instead, I had to commit to putting small, simple tasks on a list and getting to them when I had a chance. I have to say, it worked very well probably because I put all my thoughts on paper (or in an app, in my case), so I felt like I was taking care of the things I considered important or urgent or just plain necessary.
Sometimes, going back to basics is the only thing that’s necessary.