A Post on Productivity | Long Island Family Photographer

I often get asked "where did you find the time to do that?" so I thought I'd write up a post on how I manage productivity in my own life from day to day. My "system" has definitely evolved over the years as my life has changed, but this is what works for me right now. I fully expect to throw this all out the window for a period of time when our second baby arrives this summer, but I think as our new routines start to work themselves out, I'll be able to get back to this current system.

So here is what I do:

This is my biggest crutch. I have to write EVERYTHING down. I have one main "to do" list, and then a million other lists that I just dump ideas or information from my brain into. If I don't write it down, I will not remember it. So therefore, I everything gets written down. Until just two years ago I was all about keeping lists on paper. I had a moleskin journal that I carried around with all kinds of notes in it, but these days I use Evernote. I like Evernote a lot because I can sync my lists and notes over all my devices - phone, iPad and laptop. I pay for a premium account because occasionally weird things happen with syncing and premium allows me to see my note history, so I can always go back and find a previous version of my notes to recover any lost information.

In Evernote I keep my main "to do" list along with all my recipes, meal plans, grocery lists, ideas for photo and video projects, ideas for blog posts, budget information, and just about anything else that pops into my head. I love that I can clip photos or articles from web pages and save them to Evernote.

My notebooks in Evernote.

My notebooks in Evernote.

A recipe I clipped from the web to Evernote.

A recipe I clipped from the web to Evernote.

My main "to do" list is nothing fancy - I have tried all sorts of different apps for keeping a "to do" list, and really what works for me is just a plain typed column. Over the past couple of years I have found that breaking my list down into assigned days really works best for me. I plan a week at a time. Usually on Thursday or Friday I write out my list for the next week. If I break the list down by day, I am able to manage my time better. I can look ahead and see, for example, that I have to work all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday and have a doctor appointment on Tuesday, so therefore those days should be light on tasks. I load up the days when I have more free time with more tasks. Its a totally simple concept, but not one that I always followed, so I used to find myself wasting time on days when I really should have been trying to get more productive tasks done. Here is an example of what my "to do" list looks like:

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Because I constantly have my "to do" list open on my computer, I also list any scheduled events I have (other than my regular work schedule) on their assigned day on the list, so that I don't forget to go to them - i.e. "music class" on Monday, "lunch with Lyn" on Wednesday. I do keep a calendar also (I'll get to that), but since I am constantly looking at my "to do" list, its helpful for me to have any out-of-the-ordinary events on there, as well. 

Having my list broken down by day also helps me to accomplish the weekly extracurriculars that I like to do - like blog posts 3 times a week and Project Life. I make sure I have "blog" or "Project Life" written down on its assigned day, and if I see that I won't have time on one of those days to work on those things because I have to work or whatever, I can quickly discern that from the list and I can figure out where I can find time to do them on a different day that week.

I also write down really obvious tasks like "Lila food/milk" which means making sure I have prepared Lila's food and milk for the babysitter. Even though I do this 5 days a week and it should be ingrained in my brain, sometimes I get caught up doing other things and forget - so having it on the list is my safeguard for making sure it gets done.

This year I am doing an e-course in self-portraiture - I have to take and post at least one self-portrait every week. Even though this is a weekly task, I list it every day of the week as a reminder. Some days I do it, some days I don't, but at least it keeps the reminder at the forefront of my brain that I need to take a photo!

Scheduling and time management are a huge part of what I do for a living as stage manager, so thankfully those skills are just sort of second nature to me at this point. Currently, I know that I have an hour or so in the morning to accomplish a few computer-y or housework-y things while Lila watches her morning TV, and I know that I can count on 1.5-2 hours in the afternoon while she naps to accomplish some tasks at home. I also know that any out-of-the-house errands are best run between 10:30am and about 1:00pm which is between our slow morning routine ending and Lila's nap time. She eats lunch around noon, but I often bring her sandwich and some snacks out with us so that she can eat while I shop or whatever. I leave for work on Monday, Thursday and Friday at 4:30pm. On weekends I work all day/evening. Tuesdays and Wednesdays I have off. When I make my "to do" list for the week, these are the time constraints that I keep in mind when planning my tasks for each day. I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish each day, knowing that this is the time that I have. I also have to prioritize tasks for myself based around what I can do while Lila is awake and what I can only do while she sleeps. Cooking, for instance, always happens during her nap, because toddler underfoot while cooking just does not work in our house. Tuesdays and Wednesdays obviously get assigned longer lists of tasks because I don't have to leave to go to work.

Eric and I have a joint Google calendar. Since the last iOS update, we can now access our Google calendar on our mac calendar app on all our devices, which is great. This is where we share our work schedules and any appointments and keep track of childcare. We also have a dry erase calendar hanging in our kitchen with this same information for quick reference.

Around the time Lila was born, I started doing weekly meal planning, inspired by this blog post by my friend Sarah. This was actually when I first started using Evernote, too. I have a lot of cookbooks, but honestly, most of the recipes I use are from websites. I pin recipes that sound good to me on Pinterest and then every Thursday I browse for ideas for what to make the following week. I plan my weekly meal plan much like my regular weekly "to do" list - I know I don't have time to cook on Saturday or Sunday so I don't assign any meal prep for those days. I usually make something big on Friday so that the leftovers will get us through the weekend. If there are days when I know I don't have much time to cook then I'll plan a crockpot meal or something really quick and easy. On my days off, I will often plan something that might take a little longer to make because I know I have extra time. Any recipes that I plan on making I clip from the web and put them in Evernote. After I've written out my weekly meal plan, I then make a grocery list at the bottom of the meal plan note with everything I'll need to buy. I have a note in Evernote called "Master Grocery List" that lists of all our regular staples - milk, bread, butter, coffee, etc. -  I reference that to see if I need to add any of those items to my grocery list for the week. Once I've finished the week's meal plan, I add each meal to their assigned day on my weekly "to do" list so that I remember to make them! Meal planning has helped immensely with cutting down on food waste, keeping our grocery budget down and it also keeps us from eating out too much. 

An example of a weekly meal plan (I couldn't fit all the grocery list in the shot).

An example of a weekly meal plan (I couldn't fit all the grocery list in the shot).

I made a few decisions this year that have made life a lot easier for me as a working mom. Namely - I asked for help:

  • I started taking an additional day off work each week. I used to just have Wednesdays off - now I take Tuesdays off as well. Having that extra day is amazing. I feel like I can get a lot of errands/chores done, but also spend some time resting or hanging with Lila and Eric. 
  • I get my groceries delivered. I order my groceries online on Sundays through Stop and Shop's delivery service Peapod, and have them delivered on Tuesday mornings. It saves SO much time. It is completely worth the $6.95 delivery fee. There are often a few items not in stock so I usually do have to make a quick stop at the grocery store each week, but we are talking 10 minutes as opposed to the hour and a half that it used to take to shop for everything.
  • I pay to have my house cleaned once a month. I wish I could afford to have the cleaning ladies come more often, but its just not in the budget right now. Coming home to a clean house is amazing. It is impossible for me to do much more than vacuum every now and again or wipe down the bathroom with a toddler in the house. Before we got cleaning ladies, I felt like I could never keep up with the housework. When Tallulah passed away in October, we re-allocated our monthly cat food/supply budget to house cleaning. Bittersweet, for sure, but it has been such a huge help to me.

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And that, in a nutshell, is my system. Writing everything down, a master weekly "to do" list broken down by day, meal planning, asking for help and managing my time realistically - those are the key elements. I am also learning to not over-commit. I tend to take on way too many projects and responsibilities and then I get overwhelmed and stressed. I have learned (especially since having Lila) that I have to say "no" sometimes and set limits. I am working very hard on not over-committing this year as I know my life is going to be turned upside come June when we have a new baby in the house. Hopefully not being over-committed will make it easier to start getting back into a manageable routine more quickly.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you!  Finally, here are a couple of links to articles I read recently on productivity that I found helpful:

10 Tips for a Productive Life

The Difference between Goals and To-Do List Items