The biggest challenge for most self-employed creatives and/or stay-at-home parents is staying motivated and on-task. Being your own boss can be tough on productivity when you can say, “Fuck off, I want to spend all day lounging in the sun with my girlfriends, so I’m gonna.” But even if you’ve got the drive, if you’re not mentally on task then your work and the people around can suffer for it.
For me, I get caught up thinking about anything but the activity on-hand. I notice this the most when I’m spending time with my children. I’ll be making cookies with my daughter but thinking about work, or sitting the baby on the potty while checking my email on my phone. I’m all about incorporating my children into my at-home work life, but how are they benefitting from it if I can’t ever be present with them?
It’s not like I have too much shit on my plate, I’m just not managing my tasks efficiently. By attempting to multitask, I am actually hindering my productivity, let alone depriving my children, my work and my projects of quality attention. When I check my email while making breakfast I’m not actually saving a significant amount of time by responding to my clients right that second. Work can wait, and if it waits until I’m ready for it, then the quality will be higher as well.
I decided to try an experiment, to see if I could be more present while remaining productive. I scheduled my days into intervals listing things that may sound ridiculous to have to write down, ie: wash up, make breakfast, clean up kitchen. I put my phone out of reach during large chunks of the day– specifically when I’m with my kids. Then I followed my schedule to the T, even though it is really just my every-day routine. Knowing that I have these lines drawn of when a task starts and ends allowed my mind to free up. Work had a specific time slot, and I didn’t have to think about it during any other time of the day.
The experiment’s results were pretty grand: my 5-year-old isn’t throwing tantrums (because she has all the attention she needs from me), I have more free time because I start & finish a project without getting interrupted, and I don’t go to bed feeling guilty for neglecting my family or my work. I didn’t have to alter any part of my day drastically, I’m now just practicing being mindful and appreciative of my pre-existing routine.
Is multitasking getting the best of you? Here are my tips to make a change:
Being present while remaining productive
Turn off your phone, turn off the computer
Set your phone to “do not disturb” during tasks where having a phone is not necessary. During “work hours”, it’s probably good to have your phone on. When you’re making breakfast and eating with your children, you probably don’t need your phone. Also, while working on the computer, turn off the WiFi so you’re less likely to browse the web.
Meditating doesn’t require a fancy pillow or smudge sticks; meditation is just the practice of mindfulness that provides results with just a couple minutes per day. Meditation relieves stress, improves focus & self control, and it’s good for your body! If you don’t feel that you can fit two minutes of meditation into your day, try doing it while you wake up or fall asleep.
Schedule your day the night before
Planning your day the night before not only clears your mind for a restful night’s sleep, but imposing deadlines and time-slots on your day makes you more productive and enhances performance. Schedule in a “free” slot, where you can fit in tasks that maybe took longer than anticipated, or things that come up last-minute. Maybe some of the tasks are specific and others are open-ended. For example, I wrote down “Kids”, which has a bunch of options under it that include swim lessons, grocery shopping, gardening, hanging with friends, etc. Make it work for you.
Stick to the schedule
This is probably the toughest part of any mindfulness practice: discipline. Divert your thoughts away from ideas that will not serve you in your current activity. If something comes up, recognize its presence, maybe write down the idea, and continue on according to schedule. Remember, you still have your “free” slot where you can fit in unanticipated tasks, but only choose to fill that slot if it’s necessary.
Reward yourself each day with something fun and relaxing. That might be dancing to World Cafe with the kids, journalling, drawing, reading, or watching TV. Write down your your motivational reward on a piece of paper or in your daily planner.
Watch as your life transforms and feel the weight lifted off your shoulders!