Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

How Being Less Productive Made Me More Productive

Everyone told me that once I had a baby, my brain would turn into jello pudding and I’d be as productive as a sloth on mushrooms. “Don’t try to get anything done,” they urged me. “Because you’ll fail.”

I was determined to prove them wrong.

The new me was going to multitask better than Martha Stewart on amphetamines. The result? I put socks in the fridge and plastic bags in the laundry. I took spontaneous ‘cry breaks’ anytime I was overcome with emotion — which was about fourteen times a day. So many things got started, but few things got finished. Alas, I was more Amelia Bedelia than Martha Stewart.

To be ‘productive’ I had to change what the word meant. It wasn’t a list of daily accomplishments that resembled a large kitchen full of half-baked pies. My new kitchen aspired to have one, near perfectly baked pie. Productivity wasn’t about HOW MUCH I got done, but HOW WELL I got a few (important) things done. By doing five key things, I turned ‘less’ into ‘more’.

  1. I cut out the bullshit. I just didn’t have time for it. No time to scan facebook to see if people were having better vacations than me. No time to accept lunch dates with people I only mildly tolerated. Nope, no time to act out of guilty obligation or some social more. I had a wonderful excuse to get out of things I didn’t really want to do — “Sorry, I just had a baby.” If you don’t have a newborn, you need to find your own “baby” to help you say NO. Perhaps it’s a yoga practice or date night or just more declutter. Whatever it is, protect your time as if it came out of your womb.
  2. I maximized small windows of time. ‘Want something done? Give it to a busy person,’ the old adage goes. Moms that return to work are much more effective than their prior non-mom life. Why? They are used to getting shit done in a compressed day maximizing multiple small windows of opportunity. It takes a lot of time to feed and care for a baby, so each nap time is treated like spun gold. Not wanting to waste an ounce of it, I reserved each nap segment for one specific task-making dinner, answering emails, or um, napping myself.
  3. I was ‘present’ when it mattered. Multi tasking is so 2017. Laser focus became my new mantra. When I first started feeding my baby eight to ten times a day, I attempted multi tasking — i.e. Checked out those social media vacations while she suckled away. The problem? I stopped paying attention to her (and crucial bonding time) as well as my own body. One night her mouth fell off my nipple and she started sucking on the side of my left boob. I was too busy scanning instagram feeds of south pacific sunsets to feel the pain of a burgeoning hickey. The angry purple mark was there for a week-a tattoo to remind me to focus. Now when I’m with her, I’m 100% with her. And 100 % hickey free.
  4. I slowed down. Productivity is not a result of speed-it comes from diligence, prioritization, and sustained focus. One day, still in my old multi task mindframe, I rushed to meet an old business colleague right after a “mommy-and-me” yoga class. As I dashed out of the studio, baby strapped to my front, I saw my bus heading down the street. Perfect! If I ran to catch it, it would take me to the lunch spot in the nick of time and I would pat myself on the back for flawless execution. I ran, telling my baby to bear with the jostle. I ran…and ran…and tripped…and fell. Front forward, baby carrier first. Luckily, I was able to contort my body to break the fall. My hands and knees french kissed the asphalt to keep the baby’s head safely off the ground. Five onlookers rushed to my side and helped me to the doctor. Not only did I lose the mediative afterglow of yoga, miss my lunch, and tear up my knees, but I had risked my baby’s life. Now I move slower, accomplishing one thing at a time well before I launch into a second. If it’s a lunch I have ample padding on each end to make it. If it’s a walk, I go at half my normal speed. I don’t get to any destination faster, but I notice a lot more interesting things along the route- making my walks much more enjoyable.
  5. I prioritized. Before I lived for myself. My work was whatever I felt like doing, my travel wherever I felt like going, and my writing was whatever I had an urge to document (i.e one ol’ post was titled, “Fee-Doo — the female Douchebag). Douchebags aside, it was ME that was a bag-a plastic bag floating in the wind trying out anything that struck my fancy. Now, I’m a role model to a little person. I no longer wish to be a bag or write about them. I want my child to grow up witnessing drive and dedication to things that matter. Any minute I spend not with her is a moment that I must be doing something of high value that she’d be proud of. I decluttered my “to do list” and just tackled things that made a difference…like supporting new immigrants and um…buying bitcoin.

My maternity leave is up and I’m ready to start working again, better focused and motivated to positively contribute to the world. It’s an honor to be someone’s mother, responsible for taking care of her. Having a baby is also the greatest education I’ve had to date, teaching me to be more productive in a way that matters. Since first drafting this post my baby brain managed to lose my iPhone for three days. Another lesson. Without the temptation of ceaseless distraction, I got a ton done. Present and productive.

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