How to be more productive
The ultimate guide on how to be more productive without burnout for working moms (no hustle culture BS here!)
You probably came to this post after searching “how to be more productive.” And you probably want tips on how to get more accomplished in less time.
After all, productivity is typically synonymous with effort. That’s why you feel like a failure if you don’t check everything off your lengthy to-do list every day.
Yes, this article will share tips for getting more done. But it also invites you to reconsider your relationship with productivity.
If you’re overworked and overtired—and ready to do something about it—then read on…
Male vs. female productivity
This site is for working moms who are tired of unrealistic advice about planning their time. They’re sick of white dudes whose tips on how to be more productive are usually some version of, “get up earlier and work harder.”
The truth is, you can’t “have it all” (at least not while keeping your values and health intact). That’s true for everyone, but especially for working moms.
Giving your all at work necessarily means giving less at home (or vice versa). And despite what Instagram says, you don’t have the same number of hours as Beyonce, who has the money to pay for as much help as she needs.
Women are actually more productive than men at work. Even so, for every $1 a white man earns, a white woman earns $.79, a Black woman earns $.64, and a Latina woman earns $.57.
The wage gap doesn’t make it easy for most women to afford Beyonce levels of help.
Plus, women do an average of 2 hours more of unpaid housework (cooking, cleaning, childcare) each day than men.
Women do more work and make less money. No wonder you’re exhausted and angry!
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to buy into the traditional (ie, white male) definition of productivity.
Unlike a lot of coaches, I suggest a “play smaller” approach to productivity. Do less, and do it well, with a strong focus on your own damn needs and desires.
“Play smaller” may sound bad to you. I get it. The world tells you to do more, achieve more, have more, be more. Aiming for less feels like failure.
You may not be ready to drop the pursuit of more, and that’s okay. But I hope you’ll consider this: The deck is stacked against you, so why accept the hand?
You are allowed to do less.
Give yourself permission to shift from the hustle-culture version of productivity to something healthier for you.
What might shift if you began to focus on what you want to do, want to achieve, want to have, and want to be?
Planning for success
However you choose to view productivity, journaling is a smart way to increase your success. Before you scoff and skip ahead, there’s science that proves the benefits of journaling.
I recommend journaling to all of my coaching clients. Those who actually do it tend to achieve more over the long term.
Here are a few journaling prompts to help boost your productivity:
- If today went as planned, I’d finish… and I’d feel…
- Given an extra hour today, I’d spend it…
- If I had no fear today, I’d…
- Today I will say yes to…
- Today I will say no to…
[Want more journaling prompts? Get 300+ on a variety of topics for just $24 here]
You’re also more likely to feel productive if you have written goals for the long term, mid-term, and the day. Without goals, you can’t know where you’re going or what will get you there.
Women tend to underestimate what they can accomplish in the long-term, and overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term.
That means, dream bigger for your life, but play smaller in the day to day.
It’s probably time to admit (even if only to yourself) what you really want both personally and professionally.
If you need some help with identifying your big-picture goals, start by defining your values.
Values-based planning serves your deeply held core beliefs. Those are the beliefs that define who you are and how you want to contribute to the world.
Rather than just pulling random feel-good words, I ask my clients to audit what actually matters to them. Over a week, keep a log of when you get into a flow state or feel content.
- Are you doing something you love?
- Is there something about the environment or the experience that appeals to you?
- What commonalities do you find in all of the moments you uncovered?
Here are a few examples. You may find that you feel the most peace or focus when…
- working in community with others.
- acting from a place of integrity, even when it’s difficult.
- doing something that contributes to your personal growth.
- working in solitude.
- creating something that adds beauty to the world.
- making a contribution larger than yourself.
- you flex your creativity muscle.
- you’re learning about something new.
- acting in a leadership role.
It’s possible to have several values, but Brené Brown in “Dare to Lead” wisely says having too many makes them less useful. She recommends narrowing it down to just one or two if possible.
It’s easier to make values actionable for planning when you have only one or two.
How? By asking yourself this question about every goal or project: Does this align with my values?
If the answer is no, adjust the goal to fit your values (and not the other way around). When there’s no way to align your goal with your values, then it’s best to let it go.
If you don’t yet know what big-picture goals you want to pursue, think about what projects would best allow you to live out your values.
Pursuing a goal aligned with your values is important. It’s what keeps you motivated even when the effort becomes a challenge.
When goals aren’t connected to values, however, you’re more likely to procrastinate, grow resentful, and quit.
Once you have identified values-aligned goals, it’s time to craft a plan for how to make them reality. Want to really know how to be more productive? Before rushing to write a to-do list, make sure your goals are also SMART.
Ask yourself whether your goals are:
Specific: You know exactly what you want to accomplish (ie, instead of “make more money,” shoot for a specific dollar amount).
Measurable: Identify quantifiable metrics you can use to measure success (ie, a specific dollar amount, Instagram follower count, number of books read, etc.), and remember important qualitative metrics, too.
Achievable: Dreaming big is excellent, but you want to set yourself up for success. Make sure the goal is something you can actually do (even if it will take time, help, or learning new skills).
Relevant: Make sure your goal is in service of, or a step toward, your personal or professional mission.
Time-bound: Assign a specific target date for achieving your goal. As it’s been said, “goals without deadlines are just dreams.”
If a goal doesn’t pass the SMART test, either let it go or rework it until it is SMART.
Now you’re ready to break your goal down into a clear and actionable plan.
Start with a brain dump.
Write down everything you can think of that you need to do to make this goal a reality. The ideas don’t need to be in order. You don’t have to know every single step.
Get everything out of your head and onto paper (or into a digital planning tool).
This frees your brain to think new thoughts, effectively doubling your brainpower. And that allows you to be more productive (in a way that feels good to you).
Review the brain dump, and then put the activities into chronological order. What needs to happen first? Next? Next?
Some people find it easier to reverse engineer this process. Start with the final outcome, and work backwards through the steps to make it happen until you arrive at Step 1.
Along the way, remove anything that isn’t necessary to this particular goal. Save for later any ideas that are interesting or useful to a future iteration of the goal.
Also, make note of anything that you need to learn, or any help you’ll need to solicit, for the various steps. That includes getting help with identifying steps for areas where you aren’t yet sure what is required.
At the end, the goal is to have a step-by-step action plan for how to get from where you are right now to achieving the goal.
How to make a plan—and stick to it
Remember: Less is more.
The key to productivity is to do one thing at a time, do it really well, and finish it before moving onto the next thing. This is especially true with big-picture, high-level goals.
You only have so many hours each day. That time is already reduced by the additional personal responsibilities that fall on your shoulders.
Trying to shove more into your limited hours is how you’ve been taught to increase productivity. That works for a while, but eventually you will burn out.
You may already be feeling overwhelmed. Symptoms include anxiety, worry, doubt, anger, frustration, plus physical manifestations like muscle pain, headache, tears, panic attacks, illness, and rapid heartbeat.
The “more is more” approach to productivity may give you a short fuse, difficulty focusing, sleep disruptions, and decreased self-esteem.
The best way to accomplish your goals is to make a plan—and stick to it. Your plan must be sustainable over weeks, months, or years.
You can only maintain mental, emotional, and physical energy over time when you take small steps each day toward a bigger goal.
Breaking your goals down into much smaller steps in the short run is the most certain way to be more productive over the long run.
Taking even just one, small but meaningful action each day will eventually help you reach even the biggest goal.
Identify how much time you have each day to work on your goal. Whether that’s 1 minute or 8 hours, make sure you an accomplish each task in your action plan in that amount of time.
If your to-dos aren’t small enough for your allotted time, break them down further.
This can be a challenge. But this process will give you a more realistic understanding of exactly how long it will take to reach your goal.
Finally, as you execute your plan, continually ask yourself, “how can I make this easy?”
We’ve been trained that “blood, sweat, and tears” are required to achieve our dreams. That often leads to overcomplicating things. How can you simplify at every step along the way?
Going after your goals should feel good as you pursue them, not just when you reach them.
Time management tips
Two of the most effective time-management tips I’ve discovered include block scheduling and the Pomodoro Technique.
Block scheduling is when you bundle similar tasks and assign a chunk of time to do only that type of work.
Here are a few examples:
- Scheduling a 4-hour block of time on the first day of each month to write and schedule all social media posts for the month.
- Putting a 1-hour block in your calendar each Friday to review your finances.
- Setting aside every Monday for administrative tasks.
- Taking the first 10 minutes each day to read and answer email (and not checking it again until the next day).
The Pomodoro Technique can be extremely helpful for buckling down and getting things done. A “pomodoro” is 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break (15 minutes to an hour).
The keys to making pomodoro super productive:
- Remove all distractions during a pomodoro.
- Focus on a single task for each pomodoro (if you complete one, you can move onto another within the same round).
- Take the breaks! When you know you’ll get a break to search social, check email, or daydream, you’ll feel more permission to remain focused during the pomodoro.
Want more tips? Read this article to get productivity tips from 30 successful entrepreneurs, and check out this one about how to make Mondays more productive.
Best productivity tools
Here are a few of my favorite productivity tools:
Paper planner: I love using a paper planner (here are some of my favorites). Research shows that putting pen to paper encodes the information on your hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory and learning.
Google Drive: Storing all of my documents in this cloud-based service allows me to access my work from anywhere. I can write or share resources on my laptop, iPad or iPhone..
Zoom: I use Zoom to host meetings online (even my book club). Not having to drive across town for meetings can save hours. And that time can be used to get other tasks off of my to-do list.
Acuity: Emailing back and forth with someone to try and find a mutually workable meeting time is a waste of time. Using a scheduling service like Acuity or Calendly is easy and saves time.
Podia: Selling my products and services online via Podia allows me to replace multiple tools with just one. That not only saves me time (and allows me to be more productive), it also saves me money.
Also, check out my favorite books about creating better habits, including those that make you more productive.
Finally, there are a ton of productivity books that promise to help you get more done. Be careful, though, because men wrote most of them. They don’t understand what it means to be a working mom, and their advice is often unhelpful or even harmful.
Here are the best productivity books that address the reality of life for working moms.
(Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small referral commission at no additional cost to you.)