Rethinking Productivity as a Parent

7 Secrets I Wish I’d Known (and Accepted) Sooner

Having kids is the most rewarding thing you will do in this life. It will also cause more disruption for your schedule and your task list than anything else you do. For most of us, it’s the closest we’ll come to starting over.

Every time we enter a new phase in our life, we have to figure out what productivity means in the new phase. From high school to college is a big change. From college to your first job is even bigger. Going from one job to another—even one role to another within a company—requires its own normalization and adjustment as we figure out what productivity looks like now.

Intellectually, you know having kids is going to be a huge adjustment. When it happens, you still aren’t ready for it. I thought I was. Four years in, I’m still adjusting.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Here are the top seven things I would like to go back and tell myself five years ago. These are things I’m still reminding myself of. Every. Day.

  1. The first rule of personal productivity with small children is simple: Throw everything you know about personal productivity out the window. You’re playing in a different league now. The rules are different.

  2. Everything takes longer. You had a good idea of how long a task would take you before the kids came. You’ll be surprised at how much longer it takes now. You’ll be doing things with one hand while you hold a sleeping/crying/wriggling baby. You need to take a lot more with you when you head out the door. You’ll need to stop the car every 2–3 hours to feed the baby and change her diaper. Allow for it.

  3. You’re playing the long game. There’s a lot you won’t get done. You’ll be frustrated that you aren’t achieving more. Stop focusing on short-term results. You’re raising a beautiful little girl. This is a project with a 25-year horizon. These results take time to measure.

  4. Your roles are rebalancing. “Dad” is a big hat to wear, and it’s going to take over your life. This is what Dr. Covey called a “time of chosen imbalance”. Your top two roles for the next few years will be “Dad” and “Husband”. (Come over sometime; we’ll grill up some burgers and discuss the relative order of those two.) Some stuff needs to take a back seat. That’s not just okay—that’s a good thing.

  5. You’ll bounce around the quadrants. No matter how well you plan and prepare, you’re going to get sucked into Quadrant 1 at a moment’s notice. Diapers need changed, milk gets spilled, and I don’t know whose dog that is, but it needs escorted back outside right now. (You’ll learn to gauge the seriousness of the owie by the length of the silence between the thump! and the wail.)

    Every chance you get, make sure your saw is sharpened. This usually means when you put her down for a nap, take a nap yourself. You’re going to realize just how much you need sleep. It may not seem like you’re getting as much done, but you’re actually doing more than you ever have (the results are just measured differently).

    And yes, you’re going to want to escape into Quadrant 4, or at least waste time in Quadrant 3, focusing on the wrong things. Fight it.

  6. Don’t try multitasking your way out of it. Just don’t. You’re not as good at multitasking as you think you are. You’re going to do a worse job at the second thing, and miss out on the kids completely. Put the smartphone away. Focus on your kids while they’re up. When you have time to work, use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.

  7. You’re gonna miss this. Trace Adkins nailed it. Enjoy every day. When the kids want you to play with them, play with them. They won’t always drop everything and come running to greet you when you come home. The happier you are to see them, the longer they’ll be happy to see you. Make every deposit you can into your relationship with them.

You’ll have times where you feel completely out of control and imbalanced. There will be days you think you didn’t get anything done. It will get better. Not so much because the job gets easier, but because you get better at it.

If you can’t see the progress and growth in yourself, watch for it in them. Like it or not, you’ll see yourself reflected in them. Work on being a man worthy of reflection, and things will work out.

Question: What advice would you share with the parents of small kids? Share your answer in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.

  • John Windsor

    GREAT post, Colter. I’m sure you’re an excellent dad 🙂 I’m 20 years into Dad-hood and still loving it. And I’ve saved the attached “Baby Blues” cartoon for 16 years (and counting) as a reminder of where my focus needs to be. Cheers!