Ready, Set, Reset

Harnessing productivity for morning-shift parents.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Stern

I’ve been reading a bit lately about increasing productivity as I wade through the first rewrite of a novel. Much of the advice I’ve seen suggests taking the very first hours after waking to work on your most highly prioritized tasks. That sounds amazing. But for now, as the parent who wakes up with two little children who do not yet sleep through the night, I can only dream of such early morning productivity. (Or hire a live-in nanny.) Here’s a peek into my morning routine:

Wake up around 6 am with 3–4 people in my bed, depending on which child had a nightmare or a sock emergency (e.g., where the sock falls off a foot during sleep and child screams until sock is replaced on foot.) Husband is out the door, and the kids chant for milk before I’ve used the bathroom and dressed, let alone had a cup of coffee. I spend the next two hours pleading with other humans to use the bathroom, eat their food and get dressed. I also dabble as a bouncer, breaking up fights between hysterical household patrons, and as a short order cook.

Now I am more than happy to do all this, but I’m also interested in maximizing the creative efficiency of the two to three hours I have to work after the kids head off to school.

The key is in the reset.

Blocking off the first few hours in the morning works well because it’s usually a slower time of the day, and therefore there are fewer distractions. And then because you’ve had a good night’s rest (insert sound of parents everywhere laughing) and nothing to distract you, you can dump that creativity right onto the page. But if you spend your first waking hours with children practiced in the art of psychological operations, that rested and distraction-free aura you had at 6 am has likely dissipated. A reset can bring you back to your state of pre-kid-chaos productivity.

Any activity that is restorative, refreshing and executed with the intent to restart your day may serve as a reset.

Once I’ve reset and I’m ready to work, I start a timer on my phone and plug it in to charge away from where I’ll be working to reduce the temptation to check in with social media. I also turn off message notifications on my computer to minimize distraction.

Finding your reset requires some experimentation. For me, something as simple as a shower or as involved as a concise interval of exercise might work. Short meditations or yoga nidra sessions have also served me well. If the living space is a mess, pick the cleaning task that has the biggest bang for your buck and knock it out; let the rest of it be for now, while you allow yourself the mental space to create. Or pretend the mess doesn’t exist and head to a coffee shop. Your choice.

NB: Checking e-mail, social media, cat memes and headline news do not count as resets. In fact, these activities may compound any stress you feel after you get the kids out the door and zap you of creative energy.

Originally published at medium.com

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