I’m not the most organized person in the world. I admit this with the same level of embarrassment I have when I tell people I can’t speak Spanish, or that I’m not a good driver. These things just don’t make me look so great.
In my defense, there’s a lot on my plate. I know, I know … EVERYBODY has a lot on their plate. But as a full-time working mom with three kids, I think I deserve a little slack. There’s school, homework, sports, weekend tournaments, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, all while the little buggers eat me out of house and home within 24 hours of every supermarket excursion.
On top of that, I’m trying to write two new picture books, I’m producing a TV show, and I write a regular column for TODAY.com. I’d say I exercise too, but who am I kidding? I don’t. Heaven forbid a load of whites gets put aside so I can do some crunches.
I’ve tried to be organized. Organization is the key to productivity — everybody knows that. Productive people get more done in less time. That’s the kind of person I want to be. Getting everything done, and still having time for a cup of tea. And a nap.
After 20 years in the business world, I should have my systems down, and know how to be as productive as possible. But for some reason, this skill always eluded me. I work hard, but nobody has ever shown me how to manage my time. I have always used a sort of “LOOK OUT IT’S HEADED STRAIGHT FOR YOU!” method to handling my workload. I wait until it can’t be ignored, and then I deal with it. Or duck out of the way.
When I got a call from Robert Powell, a producer at TODAY, asking me if I’d like to work with a productivity expert for a show segment, I wanted to kiss him through the phone. This was it! The magic path to productivity would finally be revealed to me.
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When the productivity expert, Peter Bregman, and the TODAY team showed up, they waded through the boxes of lacrosse equipment that came in for my older daughter, party decorations that had been out for months, piles of books, paperwork yet to be done and notebooks containing brilliant ideas I plan to use one day. Their goal was to try to get a handle on how I run my house and my business.
It was kinda tight in my living room, but they managed to give it a quick makeover, moving tons of small crap out of the way — you know, to make the set look pretty. They hadn’t even started teaching me to be productive, but it was already amazing to me how putting away all of the little stuff that cluttered up my home made a difference. Suddenly, I could breathe. And think! Who knew?
Then we sat down. The first thing Peter asked me surprised me — he said, “Tell me the five things that are most important to you.” Is that all it’s going to take to be productive? Well, that’s easy…
- Time with my family
- Time with my friends
- Doing my best work for jobs I’ve been hired to do.
- Time to be creative and write new things
- Time for myself (exercise, nap, massage, whatever…)
Then we sat down and literally wrote EVERYTHING I do in a day down on its own index card. He told me to not just put down what I actually do every day, but to make cards for what I’d like to do. I wrote such indulgences as: go for a walk, drink a cup of tea, take a bath…
As I wrote card after card after card of everything I do, the producer’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I wish.” I said as I boldly scribbled DRINK WINE on a card and slapped it down on top of “grocery shop” “drive to volleyball” and “sterilize the kitchen sponge.”
Peter gave me a thumbs up and said “good for you!”
It had never occurred to me that my “To Do” list doesn’t need to be filled with things I hate doing. My To Do list can — and more importantly, should — include the things that bring me the most joy in life! Suddenly, my To Do list was a lot less scary.
It was a long day. But I walked away with four daily goals to help me organize my life and be more productive:
#1: OUT OF YOUR PILE OF TASKS, CHOOSE THE FIVE THAT BRING YOU JOY...AND MAKE THOSE A PRIORITY EVERY DAY.
When we work on things that we really love to do, we’re excited to complete our tasks and end up being much more productive. Try to re-frame home tasks by connecting with kids and husband over chores — it helps them become a place of engagement, as opposed to obligation and resentment.
#2: LET GO OF THE MOM GUILT — AND DELEGATE.
When Peter saw the piles of laundry awaiting me in the laundry room he nearly fainted. He explained how I could gain an hour a day if the kids did their own laundry. I won’t lie, when we asked the kids if they were willing, I was surprised at their answer!
#3: TREAT YOUR HOME TASKS LIKE WORK AND SCHEDULE EVERYTHING ON A CALENDAR, DOWN TO THE MINUTE.
Now I schedule checking my email the same way I schedule carpool and dinner time. I even schedule my personal reading and social media time. That way, I don’t have the constant distractions pulling me away from whatever task is in front of me.
#4: KNOW WHEN ... AND WHEN NOT ... TO MULTITASK.
I already multitask. What mom doesn’t? But finding a way to combine chores with things that bring me joy not only saved me time, but helped make the chore more pleasurable. Now I combine tasks: exercising with friends, cooking with the kids.
So far, I’m sticking to this plan, but it’s not always easy. I don’t look at Facebook unless it’s scheduled on my calendar (OK … I don’t usually look at Facebook unless it’s during my scheduled time), I don’t stop everything I’m doing to respond to emails the moment I receive them, and I kept my mouth shut as I watched my daughter pull a brand-new tiny knit sweater out of the dryer.
I’m looking at the bright side; I haven’t done their laundry in weeks.
Instead, I’m using that time to enjoy a glass of wine.
See? It’s working already.
Sarah Maizes is a writer, producer, comedian and the author of several award-winning picture books for kids including On My Way to the Bath and On My Way to Bed. Follow her on Facebook or on her blog at www.SarahMaizes.com.