Do you ever wonder how you’ll get everything accomplished that’s on your to-do list? I’ve been there for the past 15 years, balancing the managing of a growing company, caring for my family, and homeschooling five of our six children. I get how overwhelming it can feel to try and do it all. Which is probably why over the years I’ve become a sort of productivity junkie. I started reading the best time management and productivity books and advice I could get my hands on, and then tried out different practices until I found what worked best for me.
In this article, I’m going to share the top productivity and time management techniques that have helped me balance the competing demands of work and family life while being present and productive. With these habits in place, I’ve been able to build a 20+ member team, expand our online presence, be featured as a LinkedIn Top Voice in my industry, generate six to seven figures in revenue annually, raise a family, and homeschool my children. My hope is you’ll find a strategy or two here that will help you achieve your goals, too.
Establish a Morning Routine
I’ve always been a morning person, so it’s easy for me to start here. I typically get up a couple of hours before my children so that I can start my day with some quiet time. I use this time to read my Bible, journal, gather my thoughts for the day, exercise, walk, whatever I need to do to put myself in a positive place before the day starts.
Claire Diaz-Ortiz wrote a fantastic book called Design Your Day that really dives deeper into setting up your own morning routine. If you’re looking for more guidance I recommend reading her book—it’s a quick read and worth your time. There’s also Laura Vanderkam’s book What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. It’s a quick read chock full of great strategies for starting your day on the right foot.
If you’re not a morning person, that’s okay, too. You can create a routine for yourself in the evening that helps you set the next day up for success. It could include reading, scheduling the next day’s tasks, or anything else that helps you prepare for a successful day.
My morning routine varies slightly depending on what I need most that day, but always starts with breakfast and reading my Bible. Establishing a routine also helps alleviate the effort of decision, which is the greatest effort we expend in a day. It’s why some well-known people choose to eat the same thing for breakfast or lunch everyday, or wear the same style of clothes everyday. It gives you one less decision to make, which relieves stress.
Capitalize on a Keystone Habit
Charles Duhigg coined the phrase “keystone habit.” Keystone habits are the routines and behaviors in your life that lead to other positive habits. One positive keystone habit has a ripple effect on your other habits throughout the day.
It’s why starting my day with an established routine sets me up for success. If I wake up and eat breakfast and read my Bible, I automatically autopilot the rest of my morning routine: a 20-minute workout at home, a 30-minute nature walk, and 90 minutes of deep creative work or social media marketing. One task leads right into the next.
Look at your current routine and see where you already have good habits in place. Maybe you exercise every morning, have family dinners every night, track what you eat, or meditate. If you don’t have a keystone habit, find one that you think would be the easiest to start with and see what positive effects it has in your life.
Try choosing a good habit that leads to other great habits (working out and eating healthy is where a lot of people start). I like to tie it to a morning routine. Michael Phelps used a keystone habit to start his precompetition warm-up. Before every race, he would put his headphones in and play the same song, do the same stretches, etc. One keystone habit started a chain reaction and those habits helped him win gold medals.
For more on keystone habits, I recommend reading Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.
Use Time Blocks for Deep Work + Split Shifts + Time Tracking
Before I dive into the strategies, I want to explain the concept of deep work. Deep work is the truly productive, often creative work we do that requires our full attention and that aligns with our highest possible contribution (a term used by Greg McKeown in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less). It’s basically the meaningful work we are designed by God to do. Work that glorifies him and contributes to the good of others. Deep work is not administrative tasks—work that can be delegated to others, checking/responding to emails, etc.
If you’re an author, deep work is time invested in writing your book.
If you’re a graphic designer, deep work is time invested in designing graphics for your clients.
If you’re a visionary leader, deep work is time invested into casting vision, or brainstorming, or developing new ideas.
90-Minute Time Blocks
I remember breathing a deep sigh of relief when I read about the research studies that proved we really only get about 4 hours of productive work accomplished in a day. Even the most productive and famous people only work about four hours a day. I first read about these productivity research studies through Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang’s book, Rest, Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. He shared stories of how some of the most accomplished writers, actors, scientists, and politicians did great work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Then they might take the afternoon to eat lunch, go for a walk, or play tennis before coming back to respond to letters or check email.
I think it was the realization that four hours was enough that really relieved the burden I had been carrying as a mom and business owner. The more studies I read, the more it made sense. Our minds are able to focus on deep work for about 90 minutes at a time, then our brain needs a 15-30 minute rest from the work we’ve been doing. Then we can return to another 90-minute block of deeply focused work before needing another rest. It’s called an ultradian rhythm.
Align your day with two to three deep work slots with 15-30 minute breaks in between for maximum productivity. Which leads me to my next strategy—split shifts.
As moms, it can be really hard to get uninterrupted work time. The more children you have, the more likely you are to be interrupted. Ask me how I know. =)
One of the ways I’ve found to fit in productive deep work time is to get my 90-minute blocks in not all back-to-back, but distributed throughout the day. My first 90-minute block is usually before my children wake up for the day. It’s when I focus on the bulk of my marketing or writing efforts. When my mind is its freshest.
The second block I fit in during what our family calls afternoon quiet time. When my children were still napping after lunch, we had an afternoon quiet time of one to two hours where they would go to their rooms and nap or if they were past the age of napping, they would play quietly. I could usually fit in another 90-minute time block of deep work during that time.
Then, in the evenings after they were in bed I could fit in another 60-90-minute block. Working in split shifts was how I spent the first 10 years growing my business and it worked for me during that season. Now that my children are older and we have teenagers in the house, I can easily have them entertain the younger ones while I get in 90 minutes of focused effort.
Giving myself permission to spread out my productive blocks of work throughout the day helped me to increase my productivity exponentially and be present for my children throughout the day.
In Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It, she shares research from hundreds of time logs of executive women making six figures or more. She analyzed how they invested their time to see how they were able to “do it all.” Turns out almost every mom was utilizing some form of split shift to get her work accomplished and have time with her family.
If you’ve never kept a time log for a week, I encourage you to try it out. It’s an eye-opening experience to see how you really spend your time. As I was reading her book I kept a log of my time and realized that I was investing much more time with my children than I had previously realized, which actually helped relieve some of the mommy guilt I carried for so long. You can find the Time Tracking Challenge on her blog here. It includes instructions for the challenge and the time log sheets. I encourage you to try it for just a week. You’ll be surprised to see how much you’re really accomplishing (it’s more than you think) and where you can plan for your 90-minute blocks of deep work.
Prioritize “The Big 3” Daily Tasks
I am a huge fan of the Michael Hyatt Full Focus Planner. Each day’s page has a place to write your big three priorities for that day, which is my favorite feature. I write in the three tasks that I must accomplish that day. At the end of the day, if those three tasks are checked off, I know that I’ve had a productive day and taken a step closer to my quarterly goals. Some days those boxes are filled with family responsibilities, other days it’s tasks for a big work project I need to finish.
Regardless, the planner helps me to keep my mind focused on the most essential tasks I need to complete. The activities that align with my highest possible contribution. The work God created me to do. And, let me say it’s really easy to do busy work. You know those things that feel productive but really aren’t productive? Checking social media likes, checking email for the 10th time that day, or logging in to your appointment software five times to see if there are any new appointments?
It feels productive, but it’s really a waste of time. It takes away from your most essential work. You know, that thing that God has gifted you to do that glorifies him and serves others? Yes, that. All those fruitless activities are really false productivity. They make you feel like you’re doing something but they really aren’t focused on the essential work you need to be doing.
Don’t get caught up in the fringe. Use the daily “Big 3” to keep you focused on what matters most every day. Small consistent effort repeated consistently leads to great gains.
Make the Most of Breaks
In his book Redeeming Your Time, author Jordan Raynor shares that if your work is mainly mind work—which is the case for many of us (mind work being creating, writing, blogging, sales, etc.)—then you should rest or take breaks with your hands. If your work is mainly with your hands, then you should rest by using your mind.
For example, I write a lot. I invest most of my working hours into teaching via my writing. Whether that’s a new blog post, LinkedIn long-form post, a graphic for social media, website content, or a new lead gen. I work primarily with my mind. So when I take a break, I need to rest by switching gears and doing something with my body like taking a walk, playing with my kids, washing the dishes, doing a load of laundry, or fixing lunch.
If your work is creating with your hands (artist, jewelry designer, etc.), then rest with your mind. Perhaps your break includes reading a book, browsing the newspaper, or connecting with a friend or family member.
We need breaks. They’re essential to maintaining our productivity. In fact, research studies show that if you don’t take breaks it has a counter effect on your productivity. It reduces it. But taking breaks periodically throughout the day—and yes, even taking one whole day off to simply rest—actually increases your productivity substantially.
If you follow the 90-minute time block technique I shared above, then it’s easy to schedule your break time. It comes in between those 90-minute blocks of deep work. I use my break time to spend quality time with my husband and kids, to put dinner in the crockpot, help my children with their school work, and catch up with friends.
We can read about productivity and time management strategies all day long, but they only work if we implement them. I recommend choosing one technique and implementing it into your day first, then once you’ve mastered one you can add another. I wouldn’t try using all seven from day one. That’s a recipe for overwhelm and burnout.
Maybe you already have a great morning routine, so you start with prioritizing three daily tasks, then add on scheduling 90-minute time blocks. Test things out, see which strategies work for you in this season of life, and don’t be afraid to mix it up or try something new.
Thanks for reading! Want more job search and resume tips? Check out these 6 free resources on my website that have helped more than 25,000 job seekers land their next job.
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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