Learn Productivity Tips From Hardcore Real-Life Experts

It’s time we learned from the masters of the toughest job on Earth — meet the parents

Photo by Mikael Stenberg on Unsplash

I am a huge fan of productivity tips and hacks, and I am so fascinated by new methods and ideas that I am willing to try literally anything — to meet my own impossible expectations and get even more productive if it’s even possible. 80/20? Pomodoro technique? Morning routines? Evening routines? Dedicated time slots? Deep learning? 5 am club? Bring it all on! I’m ready!

I have been ready for 14 years to get my productivity sorted out — to be precise, since the very moment that my first daughter was born I was looking into ways how to manage my time better, how to navigate the roles of being a parent and a valuable worker, how to follow my passion and commit to a sleep schedule that will allow me to get through my obviously busy days.

Parenting is nothing more but just another one of many tasks that you need to face in your life. It is a lot more common than any other task that we might share. Not everyone starts a business, writes a book or invents something great, but a lot of us have to face the challenges of parenting.

Parenting is a very schizoid feeling. It always offers the sources of the greatest frustration and the greatest joy — often at the same time. And it changes you and teaches you in ways nothing else can. But the lessons you learn can be used in other areas of life, be it about dealing with people in relationships, leadership, taking risks, starting a business or following your passions.

I am a mum of three kids — the eldest is 14, the youngest is 6 at the moment. And I have been on this rollercoaster of raging emotions, sky-high frustration and incredible joy in the past 14 years. The highs are high, the lows are very low and there is no getting off — only the scenery changes and the way I choose to look at it.

I might not be a pro at parenting — I guess nobody is. But I have three more or less balanced kids, who taught me a great deal in life. I collected a few learnings that might be useful for anyone, that I learnt from parenting — the toughest job on Earth.

Forget perfection, settle for never being really done with the job

If you are familiar with Latin languages, ‘perfect’ literally means completed. We distorted the meaning of the word and now it means exquisitely done, without flaws. We should go back to the original meaning when we talk about jobs and tasks that we accomplish because the perfection that we seek doesn’t exist.

No one knows it better than a parent — there is no such thing as a perfectly clean house, a well-prepared holiday, a perfectly chosen moment. They are but illusions — shattered by the sticky hands of a toddler falling sick on the family photo day; by a moody teenager who couldn’t care less about eating cookies leaving a trail on the freshly washed floor.

When it comes to business, new ideas, new ventures, let go of the idea of perfect timing, perfect conditions, perfect results. Do it anyway, figure it out as you go. Get started and aim for doing it the best you can. Try to get it done. Done is better than perfect.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, no one else is

We are so self-centred and self-conscious that we believe everybody is watching our every move — waiting to see us fail. Parents have this self-consciousness, at least for a while, usually the strongest with the first kid. We think that we are in the cross-fires of existing solutions and opinions and that we need to live up to the expectation of the whole world.

You shouldn’t feed your kid with fast food, you shouldn’t let them swap dinner with desserts, you shouldn’t be too hard on them or too soft on them either. But in reality, nothing is wrong with frozen pizza or chicken nuggets if they help you survive a really tough day. There is nothing wrong with having ice cream, even if it means that dinner won’t get eaten. There is nothing wrong with showing your kids that you have different moods, you are a human being, you get angry and lonely and you might even cry or yell.

We believe we are always scrutinised, but the truth is, no one really cares. No one is watching, no one is that interested, no one wants you to fail (if they want, you are with the wrong crowd, ditch them). People are curious and they look for self-justification. But everyone’s journey is different, and success looks different for every one of us.

So don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t follow mildly helpful advice from someone else’s life. Do what you feel is best and deal with the consequences — it’s your job anyway.

Routine is the key, and breaking the routine is even better

The biggest learning of parenting for me was to build a routine that we can adhere to 80% of the time. To create tiny habits that don’t ask for too much — but still offer a valuable structure during the days and the night.

Building a routine as a parent is just as difficult as building any other routine in life. Getting kids to sleep at a certain time in the evening doesn’t work automatically. You need years and years of dedication, commitment and training. Sometimes it involves bribes and negotiations, sometimes some tough love, sometimes yelling. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen without sacrifices. If you want to teach your kids to fall asleep alone than you need to decide you will teach them and you won’t make exceptions — of one more story, one more excuse, one more cuddling in your bed just tonight.

But when you have the routine set up already and it’s normal for everyone, then the best thing is to break the routine on special occasions. A no-sweets-before-noon routine can be broken by an ice cream breakfast — to create memorable moments. A lengthy, 10 bedtime-stories night can give a special feeling of love and caring.

Similarly, in other areas of your life, when you already have a routine and you allow yourself to break it, can work wonders: deciding to stay in bed for the whole day when normally you are always up and active; treating yourself with something special during a dieting regime; allowing yourself more financial freedom to spend on unnecessary stuff when you are otherwise very financially conscious.

Set that routine up, break it — and enjoy the break!

Humour solves almost everything

Life is tough — it can be, even you have an optimistic outlook on life. It can be tiring and desperate, and it can feel like nothing ever works out. Changing your mood by the power of laughter and joy is something that works all the time.

If you recognise it only by accident or apply it consciously, it’s a fool-proof way of alleviating the burden of a given situation.

As a parent, humour is indispensable. There are situations so dark and full of despair that you are left with nothing but humour. Getting up 10 times during a night because your child has a fever; fighting with a surly teenager about nonsensical stuff that destroys their life; observing how social rejection can crush a young child and burden them with anxiety and depression — they are killing your soul. There is nothing you can do to do more and be there for them more. Or so it seems.

But fun and laughter is always a tool to reach for when in despair. Making your kids laugh, finding the funny stuff in the average situation, showing them what a sense of humour means and teaching them how to laugh at themselves too will work magically.

In other areas of life, humour is just as important. You need to learn to find the fun, you need to be able to laugh at yourself, and you need the incredible power of the few minutes you spend laughing — with your spouse, your parents, your colleagues. As parents, we know that, and we also know how difficult it is to consciously laugh away the problems — but with a little practice, you can go a long way.

Don’t be always available

I believe in raising independent kids — and I have been trying to raise mine so they can solve their own problems without my intervention. It starts with getting dressed — which can mean to spend the longest ten minutes of your life watching your toddler zipping up their coat alone. It is about them to choose what they want for breakfast and help to make it — for them, for their siblings or even for you. It is about letting them decide about their own life — the clothes they wear, the time they spend with homework, the sports they do, the chores they choose to help with.

Building up independence in your kids is crucial — it means that they are not depending on you all the time, first with little things, then with more significant decisions and actions too.

Sometimes it means that you need to step out of their way and watch them fail and learn. Sometimes it means to tell them no. Sometimes it means to not be available in every single second they demand your attention. At first, it feels awful and full of guilt — then as they reach a point of making better decisions, of being able to get dressed and eat alone and play alone, you can see how much freedom it gives them. And to you too.

When they spend time with you, it’s not because they need you, it’s because they want to. They still need you for a lot of things, but they gradually learn how to be without you.

The same thing works in relationships. If you are always available, you ignore your own needs and boundaries and teach your partner to use you. If you are not always there, it means you are complete on your own and you have a life beyond the relationship. In leadership, your unavailability tells your co-workers that you trust them and you don’t need to be involved in everything. In business, it teaches your partners that your time and energy are valuable and they shouldn’t count on you 24/7.

Stop being available all the time. Set boundaries and teach others — your kids — to respect them. Teach them how to be free and independent — it might seem frightening at first but they will thank you later. Especially, if all else fails you are always there to have their backs. Just like a great leader, just like a great business partner, just like a great partner. Just like a great parent.

Be flexible with your priorities

Life is about figuring out your priorities, right? As a parent, my priority is the wellbeing of the whole family — I believe this is one of the heaviest burdens of being a parent. I might not want this every day and I might hate it, but this is what I have. Tasks, homework, shopping lists — that’s on top of the usual work-related responsibilities which doesn’t get easier just because you have a few kids.

There has to be a middle ground. And for me, it is the periodic changing of priorities. There are times — days and weeks — when my key priority is my family and then my productivity plummets. And other times, I shift my priorities and focus on myself. It’s true for both, that if it’s important, you make the time and if not you’ll make an excuse.

I accepted that my productivity and output is cyclical, and so is my family presence. The good thing about it is that I can enjoy both when it’s their time in the focus.

This is valid for everything else in life — sometimes you focus on your career, sometimes on your health, sometimes on the family. There is always a decision to make, something to sacrifice, something to let go of. Set your priorities and be flexible about them — we change, life changes around us, our needs and wants change. We are allowed to be productive one week and super-lazy the next. We are allowed to focus on work and then half-ass it because our kids need us more. The balance, in the long run, is more important than the objectives in the short run. Choose your priorities right, and don’t feel bad about putting different things first at different times.

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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