We welcomed baby #2 into this world last December. It was a pregnancy crammed full of complications and scares and bedrest, but, from the second our little Henry Bo entered this world, he has been such a light in our lives. He’s full of joy! I mean, what two week old has that big of a smile?
I knew I was going to have my hands very full this year, juggling a toddler, newborn, running a full-time business on part-time hours, and making progress on our house remodel. Not to mention, all the healing I had to do from my pregnancy and complications. Phew, no wonder I’m tired! 🙂 I was so thankful all this was on my plate, but I knew I had to strategize in order to thrive and not just survive this year. Here are ten ways I’ve increased my productivity this year. All of these have helped me tremendously!
1. Inbox ZERO: My husband has been bugging me for years about how I should keep my inbox at zero. I never had a crazy out-of-control inbox, but I always had at least 5-10 “starred” emails that remained in my inbox. I treated my email as my to-do list. I didn’t think this was that big of a deal, but man, it added so much mental clutter that I had no idea even existed. This was a gradual process- I typically ease myself into a new habit. But, I regularly have the elusive inbox zero now and it is GLORIOUS. So, how did I do this?
- You know all those “My Likes” emails? I loved seeing where I could purchase (or most often, not afford to purchase) all the pieces my favorite bloggers linked to. But, I would have several emails a day from myliketoknow.it. It was getting stressful even though I archived them everyday and didn’t let them build up. My solution was to automatically have them delivered to a Gmail folder. I no longer saw them in my inbox, but, when I wanted to actually shop for a piece, I could easily open up this folder and find it. I no longer have this “I need to buy a new shirt” feeling hanging over my head. I can now shop when I want to on my time and when it fits my budget.
- When I check email, I need to have at least 10 minutes to deal with it… instead of seeing all the emails I need to respond to and have another task hanging over my head, I can just take care of it right then and there. No more mental clutter of “that” email I need to take care of.
- I *try* to not check my email first thing in the morning. I have to be kind to my body and family by not devoting the first minutes of my day to getting stressed out by my emails or any work situations. Everyone deserves my full attention- my family and my customers. Plus, it helps my cortisol levels not be as crazy high so fast which in turn helps with my ability to sleep at night. It’s funny how everything is connected.
- I used to “star” my bills that were emailed to me and leave them in my inbox until we paid them. I now have added all of our bills to our online budgeting software so I won’t forget any of them and then just file the bill email in another folder labeled “My Bills” right when I receive it.
- I unsubscribed from every newsletter. If I get a newsletter, instead of just trashing it, I hit unsubscribe and then trash it.
- We finally re-routed all of our business emails to our HelpScout account. Now, all of our correspondence with our customers is in HelpScout. If a customer emails me with a question that requires more than a one sentence reply on Etsy or Creative Market, I kindly ask them to fill out a ticket which then goes to our HelpScout inbox. My personal email is no longer cluttered with several gmail accounts (both personal and business related). Hallelujah!
- If I get an email about an event or a responsibility on a certain date, I immediately grab my planner, write in that event and then archive the email. I like to make meals for friends in our church, so if I get an email about a meal I signed up for, I will not only add the meal to my calendar, but also add the cooking and grocery shopping to the day before on my to-do list. If we get invited to a niece or nephew’s birthday party, I immediately write it on the calendar, quickly add a gift to my Amazon cart that I’ll purchase the next pay cycle and voila, I’m done. These routines are essential to cutting down on my mental clutter.
2. Planner Dates: I realize this might not be normal, but I looooove having dates with just myself and my planner. (Yes, I’m an introvert.) If I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I’ll take a hour to go to a coffee shop and just study my planner and make lists. I’ll figure out what I need to cut or make a chronological plan on how I’m going to tackle everything. Once I start “brain dumping” in my planner, everything becomes much more clear as I can organize my thoughts. I also love to do this at the beginning of the month when I’m setting my monthly and weekly goals.
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3. Downsized Refrigerator: Wait… what?! Ok, hear me out. Earlier this year, we had a refrigerator in our kitchen that stuck out into the walkway about a foot. It was annoying, but not something I super noticed everyday. We finally decided to swap it out for an actual counter depth refrigerator that would fit the space. We lost about 50% of our refrigerator space, but now, I don’t waste food. I can see at a glance what I have, nothing gets lost, and I have to be intentional with every item I choose to refrigerate. I’m not saying counter depth refrigerators will change your life, but downsizing in a small area of our everyday life does bring more free mental space to focus on what matters. Downsizing seemingly small areas in my life adds up to more freedom in the big areas of my life. My energy should be going to my priorities, not to clutter!
4. Limit Evening Screen Time:
Insomnia has been a MAJOR postpartum struggle for me this year. It’s brutal. So, we’ve been trying every single method under the moon and every single sleep hygiene habit I can find. Something all sleep experts agree with is no screen time before bed. Some say to stop at 5pm, some say to stop just the hour before you go to sleep. But, while this didn’t cure my insomnia, it did help relax my mind. I’m less stressed and this allows my cortisol levels to drop in the evening instead of hiking them back up. And, I actually enjoy my evenings so much now… I used to dread them because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Now that I’m really relaxing in the evenings and not re-stimulating my mind, I’m unwinding which in turn sets me up for a more productive day the next morning. Another major perk is that I’ve read so many books. We still might watch one episode of a tv show together to help turn off our brains, but we limit it to one or just a half of an episode. Then, I read an actual book (no screens!) which helps quiet my mind. This sets me up for successful night which leads to a successful next day.
5. Limit Facebook: I don’t know about you, but Facebook has been such a drag this year. It is no longer an uplifting space for me. It started introducing a lot of unnecessary anxiety and negativity in my life, rather than enhancing my life with joy and positivity. There’s enough trials in life… without adding other people’s trials. I realized that I need to carefully choose what I put into my mind… and I didn’t need to be brought down by other people’s negative thoughts on politics, religion, the weather, their personal mishaps, etc. My mind hasn’t been strong enough this year to filter through everyone else’s crap (I apologize, but I really think that’s the best descriptive word to use!). So, I had to cut Facebook. I still check my account, but I have to be in a strong mental space. That way, when I see sad situations or people complaining, I can actually pray for them, give it over to God, and genuinely care for their situation. Facebook is a wonderful tool, but it has to be used wisely. If I want to see cute pictures of people’s babies or houses, I’ll go to Instagram!
6. Set Monthly, Weekly Goals and Daily To-do Lists: This is a habit I’m carrying over from last year. Each year I think about my goals and then each month I write down my goals for that month based on my yearly goals… this usually includes home remodel projects, business projects, organizing projects, buying clothes for the kids, prepping for an event we are hosting, workout/ weight loss goals, yard projects, books I’d like to read, etc. Then, I break these goals down into weekly goals. I make a list each week of what I’d like to accomplish. And now, this is key, I make a daily to-do list. This allows for freedom of when and how I can accomplish my weekly goals because life is very unpredictable as a mom… who knows when the babies will get sick or a family issue will come up. If I don’t accomplish everything that day, it goes to the next day. I choose 3 top priorities for the day. If I just get these 3 things done, it’s a successful day. Then, if I find more time on my hands, I can move to the next item on my list. Since I’m such a list maker, I will write down items on my daily lists that include doing a load of laundry, prepping dinner, reading 3 books to Theo, etc. rather than just actual household or business tasks.
7. Get Help: Get help from experts. Just because I can do it, doesn’t mean I should be devoting my time to it. Time is limited. I only have so much. I can’t do it all and I need time to just breathe and hug my babies during these fast baby years. My best life comes from a place of rest and peace. This year I’ve gotten help with housecleaning. A gal comes twice a month and cleans my showers and floors. It’s amazing and the truth is, I can make a lot more money during a hour of work than I can scrubbing my showers… so this is what works for our family in our current stage. My friend also started a wardrobe shopping business where she shops for pieces on ThredUp. I needed some clothes to fit my post-partum, I-still-have-my-baby-weight body. I would enter my closet in the morning and get depressed. This did not set the tone for a happy, productive day. So, I hired her (she only charges $20 to shop for you!). I was nervous because I’m highly particular and have a certain look I like, but she nailed it. And now, I finally have that item (purchase clothes that fit) and stress crossed off my to-do list. Another friend was starting a handyman business and we hired him to finish painting our vaulted ceiling that had been half finished for over 6 months. Now, when I look at our ceiling, I’m not reminded of all the tasks I still haven’t finished. Such a boost! I also finally went and got my first facial… I had lots of acne scaring from all my fertility drugs when we were trying to get pregnant with our 2nd… It was very discouraging and a reminder of that hard time every time I looked in the mirror. Now, I’m on a regimen tailored just for my skin and my skin is looking great! Again, this was such a mental boost for me. And, we finally hired our amazing, sent-from-God, support gal, Susan, this year. She now answers the majority of our support requests and I can’t believe the amount of mental clutter that has left my mind. I can now focus on growing our business and more big-picture stuff. Yes, I had time to do tickets (if I time-blocked everything just so), but the mental space I’ve gained is gold. And, it enables me to be more present and not always looking at the next task on my list. And I could go on and on, but I’ll end with this one. If I’m stressed about something and I can feel my anxiety rising, I’ll take the issue to my husband. Before, I’d try to have a solution in mind before I talked to him, but now, I’ll just say, “I’m really stressed about this issue. Can you give me your wisdom on what I should do?” It allows him to help and brings such clarity and an action plan to the situation.
8. Monthly Wall Calendar: This is the first year we have a monthly wall calendar hanging in our kitchen. We can see the month at a glance as we go about our days. Before, I would have my physical, paper planner (I LOVE Whitney English’s Day Designer planner) and JT would have his digital work calendar. Now, we write our family events on our monthly calendar so we know what’s coming up or if nothing if coming up, we know we need to make some plans to be proactive in the life we want to live. We also have a monthly meeting together where we write down our goals for that month. We make goals in each of these categories: Social, Memories with our kids, Financial, Business, our Relationship, and Parenting. This has been life-changing this year. We’ve accomplished so much more than any other year in our marriage and we are really working together as a team and building the future we want for our family.
9. Regular Daytime Babysitting: This was forced on me last year when I was required to be on bed-rest during half of my pregnancy. I had to have help with my two year old. And, we continued this on once Henry was born… per my husband’s insistence. I now have the freedom to leave my kids and go work at a coffee shop instead of trying to squeeze work in-between parenting. This allows my attention to be completely on my kids when I’m with them and completely on work when I’m working. Nap times were no longer enough time to get everything done. I also have the freedom to take a workout class once a week or go to a doctor’s appointment without kids crawling all over me. My mental health is much improved! And, I’m happier and more present wife and mom… my husband can totally tell if we go a week without help! We also have a babysitter come twice a month in the evening so we can get away for a date… focusing on our marriage is very important to us as we believe it helps our kids feel secure when our relationship is healthy.
10: An Organized Makeup Drawer: Again, hear me out with this one! At the beginning of this year, I was inspired by Emily Ley’s instagram post. Instead of having to dig around and search for everything, I can now get ready calmly and quickly. This helps set the tone for a calm day. I no longer keep a variety of products in my makeup drawer. I bought an acrylic organizer and everything has its own spot. I can do my everyday makeup now in about 3 minutes. I love being able to get ready quickly… I’m one of those people who has to get ready before I can successfully and cheerfully tackle my day! This has been such a game changer for me! Take the necessary steps to set the tone for the day.