I’m someone who’s learned how to be productive in spite of herself. I have a short attention span, my mind wanders even when I’m interested in the topic at hand (it’s game over when I’m not), and I have a lazy streak that I’m fighting constantly. And don’t even get me started on the irresistible lure of my celebrity gossip obsession.
What I’m trying to say here is that if you’re looking for an expert in the field of productivity, I’m not that person. But if you’re curious about, or can relate to, how a scatter-brained, almost lost cause still manages to work a full-time job, be an involved wife and mom, and help build a business by night, read on.
Decide what really has to be done (like, right now, right now)
I’m easily overwhelmed by the idea of facing all the things. Especially the ones I don’t want to do (like household chores, ugh). So after a few minutes of fighting the urge to just drive to Mexico and start a new life, I’ll sit down and figure out what has to be done right now (right now!) and what I can put off until later without feeling guilty or causing trouble.
Now what gets put off is up to you. Call it selective procrastination. Personally, I can sleep soundly with a sink-full of dirty dishes, whereas others would rather die. But if the kids’ lunches aren’t made for the next day or the cats’ litter box needs to be cleaned, I’ll leap out of bed to make sure it gets done.
Find someone to count on you
This is go-to advice for productivity, but the reason it works for me (and probably many others) is that when it comes to deadlines, I can let myself down with just a little convincing. But if someone else is counting on me, be it a boss or a friend, I cannot rest until my obligation is fulfilled (or my promise is kept).
So find someone who won’t let you off the hook. The buddy system works! When you help someone you care about succeed, a bond is formed. Amanda and I live 1,500 miles apart, but we talk just about everyday, even when it’s just through the comments in a Google Doc. It helps us stay on track! Find your own business buddy right away—it will make all the difference in the world, I promise.
Set aside time and just do it, already (but be flexible about where!)
This was especially critical when we started building MILK. Because like everyone reading this, I’m running crazy from the moment I get out of bed to that beautiful moment I get to crawl back in it. So finding time to do anything outside of the standard, chaotic routine felt like moving a mountain.
But because a buddy was counting on me (see above), I had to figure something out. So I would come home, spend time with my family for an hour or so, and then get to work before switching back to the family for a bit. Sometimes, if I got home later, I’d work with my laptop on the couch while my family hung out so I could at least be physically present. I feel a little guilty admitting to that last part, but it is what it is. There was a silver lining, though: My sons would see me working, ask about MILK, and were always excited to see the progress we were making, especially once the website started coming together. They knew mom was on a mission and they thought that was pretty cool.
Attack it in chunks
I’m a slow writer, so the blog post you’re reading now probably took me several hours of total time. Some people can crank them out in 30 minutes, but I have a tendency to hem and haw over commas and what not, so rather than fight that tendency, I embrace it and try to start whatever I’m working on earlier. That way, I can spend an hour or two a day (or whatever time I have available) chipping away at it to my satisfaction.
I know this won’t work for everyone and every project, but it definitely helps me.
Keep your eye on the prize
When the laziness or lack of motivation starts creeping in, reminding myself of what I want and what it’s going to take to get there keeps me going almost every time. Are my goals going to realize themselves? Nope. I imagine how frustrated I’ll feel with myself later down the line, when nothing has moved forward, if I choose to slack off rather than devote even an hour to work. Maybe it’s a form of a shaming myself, and maybe that’s a bad thing, but it works so I keep it in my arsenal.
Stop feeling guilty about who you aren’t
I’m not the tidiest person, nor the most organized. I pretty much adhere to the same grunge chick uniform I’ve been wearing (happily) since 1993 and will never be remembered for my culinary abilities. (I honestly think my kids would have starved to death by now if it wasn’t for my husband.) As a result, it’s really easy for me to fall into the “Why can’t I be more like so-and-so” black hole. Which of course takes my focus off the things that really matter to me, like being a solid wife and mom, and attacking my professional goals. And, of course, when I’m honing in on those last things, I feel amped up and ready to conquer rather than beat down and unmotivated.
Honestly, staying focused on the things that matter can be an everyday struggle for me. But redirecting my mind before I get too far down in the depths has become somewhat of a survival skill. I do this by reminding myself about the things I can do well and how far they’ve taken me. And I’m not talking about material gains, but the things that last: A family I love and who loves me, personal and professional aspirations that have been realized (or are well on their way), and just a happy, fulfilling life overall.
If any of this sounds familiar, just know you’re not alone and that the struggle is all too real. But with a few adjustments and a little help from people who get you, you too can master the productivity game. Or at least play it well enough to get something done.
Dalia Griffith is one of the original MILK founders, a writer, wannabe martial artist, and donkey enthusiast. When she’s not trying yet another product on her curly hair (the miracle’s out there somewhere!), she’s hanging with her husband and two sons on their snowy mountaintop outside Boise, Idaho.