Is anyone else sick of all those “seven ways to have a more productive morning” / “five habits to make your day more effective” lists? As someone who is both continually searching for ways to be more productive in a tight amount of time and slightly obsessed with self-development books, I’ve read all the “tips” going, and they are all totally useless if you have a young child.

Here’s the thing about mornings…

One particularly helpful piece of advice I’ve seen regularly is to take time first thing in the morning, before you get out of bed, some even say before you open your eyes, to centre yourself, think about what you’re grateful for in life, set your intentions for the day ahead and focus your mind on how you want to feel during the day. That sounds beautiful. I imagine that would set you up for a much more productive and positive day. I also picture someone doing this whilst lying under soft white sheets next to a picture window looking out over a turquoise sea under bright sunshine. It sounds totally idyllic. And in no way possible for parents of little ones.

My day starts at whatever time my daughter deems it to be morning. This is usually 6am, but sometimes 5am. At which point she will start shouting, at the top of her lungs, “Muuuummyyyyyyy!” until I come and get her. I can’t imagine she’d take it well if Mummy expected her to wait 10 minutes while I just lay in bed centring myself. I also don’t think I’d feel very centred listening to her calling for me, getting progressively louder, oblivious to the fact that we have a baby monitor that lives right next to my head. Or singing. Sometimes she wakes up singing. No joke, one night this week she woke up at about 2am, sang the entire of Baby Shark from start to finish, then immediately went back to sleep. I have no explanation. Either way, there is no waiting to open my eyes or get out of bed – they will both happen when she says so.

Most productivity and positivity tips centre around taking time in the morning. Doing exercise first thing is another much loved piece of advice. Do a quick yoga class or go for a run before breakfast. Sure. Unless chasing my daughter round the coffee table while pretending to be a lion or an aeroplane (her current favourite game) counts as me going for a run, I think that one’s out too.

Mornings, for most parents, are utter chaos. However old your children are, it seems you never stop having to get them organised – up, dressed, fed and to childcare/nursery/school/work on time. It’s a three ring circus in the mornings. Luckily my daughter loves to brush her teeth… but she doesn’t want to stop. Negotiating with her to put the toothbrush down so we can get her clothes on takes about 10 minutes. She’s also at the age where she has to be given a choice of outfit otherwise she will refuse to wear anything. And making decisions is a slow process for the under twos. Then there’s breakfast… I don’t think I need to explain how long that takes to anyone who has kids.

I did try to do a yoga video while my little one was in the room once. It was fun – she tried to join in for a bit and we both did downward-facing dog while looking at each other through our legs and giggling. She also does a pretty impressive tree pose. But, inevitably, she got bored after about a minute and a half and wanted to tickle my feet when I stuck them in the air, crawl underneath me when there was space or climb on my back when it was accessible. It was a good laugh, but very little actual yoga was achieved.

The Mum solution

So what can you do? If your morning is a write-off and your work day starts with you falling into a chair in front of your computer already frazzled and tired, with a sore throat from all the roaring like a lion, how do you start getting into a productive and energised headspace when you’re already feeling behind? Here are my top tips, that should be slightly more implementable for those with children to wrangle.

1. Plan ahead

The last thing I do before I finish work is to plan my to do list for the next day. That way, when I sit down feeling that rising feeling of panic of needing to do all the things immediately, I have a clear list in front of me that tells me what I actually need to do and what can happen later.

When planning your to do list, it’s tempting to stick everything on it than you can think of, but that’s only going to lead to overwhelm. Try to give yourself just one or two major tasks for each day – what is the thing you absolutely need to do that will make the biggest impact for you? Do that today, and schedule everything else in for later. I like to have a six-month plan to tell me generally where I’d like to go in the long term, then a monthly planner of what will need to be done this month, as well as a weekly planner broken down into what I need to do each day. It helps me to be much clearer on where I am and what needs doing so I can just sit down and crack on without feeling stressed that I’m not doing enough.

2. Work your routine

Sure we might not be able to fit in a yoga class or a trip to the gym, but we can fit exercise and meditation into our daily routine by making use of the routine itself. I started cycling to my office to get some activity into my day. I’m a wuss, though, so when it’s raining that doesn’t happen. But then I get the bus instead and I plug my headphones in my ears and put on a guided meditation, which really helps me calm my mind down ready to start work. Of course, if you have to drive, you can’t be sitting back and closing your eyes on your way in, but another form of mindfulness is to really focus in on the little details while you’re driving – look out for what colour cars you see on the road; the colour and texture of the road surface; the reflections of the light on different surfaces; the movement of birds around you. So much of our travelling is done on autopilot, that actually seeing the world in front of our eyes is a great form of meditation in itself.

3. Give yourself time off

It’s tempting when you have kids taking up a lot of your time and a heavy workload (particularly when you’re self-employed) to think that you can catch up on your work during those precious hours when the little ones are asleep. From time to time, that might be useful, especially if you’re on a tight deadline or you’re feeling particularly inspired to work on a project. But do not make it the norm. Working in the evenings might seem like you’re catching up and moving your work forward, but all you’re doing is making yourself more tired and overwhelmed, which is leading to you being less productive all round. Giving yourself some time off in the evenings to rest, relax and switch off is vital for your brain and your body. The boost in your productivity the next day when you’re rested will far exceed the volume of lacklustre work you managed to produce in the evening when you were drained of energy and motivation.

4. Stop the comparisons

When you read the books and blogs about the CEOs who get up at 4am and go for a run, drink a homemade organic smoothie, then mediate for an hour to channel the idea for the next business book, before heading to a meeting to plan an innovative product launch, and you then realise you have a banana stain down your top as you sit down in front of your computer trying to remember your password, it’s easy to think of yourself as a failure. “Why am I not living this slick, efficient life?” you ask yourself.

Because no one is. It’s a myth, and that CEO is making it up. Ok, maybe not entirely making it up, but it’s an Instagram-filtered version of their life. And anyway, their life is not your life. Your life is running round the coffee table after a toddler shouting “raaahhh” in the mornings. Well mine is anyway, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We’re all filtering our lives, all the time. Think about what you post online or tell your friends – it’s usually airbrushed versions of the truth, because we all want to put our best face out there and treasure the positive memories, that’s only natural. So just remember that that’s what everyone else is doing too, and don’t compare your life to the glossy filtered version of theirs. It’s not real, and it’s not yours.

5. Surrender

Unless you have money for a whole team of help, life with a child is chaos. But the chaos is where you find the connection. When I’m an old lady, am I going to look back and wish I’d done more yoga and brainstorming, or am I going to remember chasing my daughter around when she was a tiny toddler and get all warm and fuzzy over that? I think I’ll take the second, thank you. So embrace the chaos and surrender to it. Accept it as part of your day. Plan for it. I know I’m not going to be able to do anything even vaguely resembling work until 10am, so I plan to start at 10.30 and anything I get before that is a bonus. Find the natural rhythm of your day (and your kids) and work with it, not against it.

6. Find your routine

On that note, you have your own rhythm for when you work most effectively. Some people are super productive in the morning, others don’t get going until the afternoon. You’ll get more done if you find the core hours that are best for you and work then. You’ll also be much happier – working when you’re not really in the right frame of mind to do it only puts your brain under stress and makes you agitated and overwhelmed. Which in turn makes you less productive. So focus on your major tasks in the right time slots to make the most of (and maintain) your energy levels. For me, I work well between 11 and 5, and the sweet spot for intensive work is 1 til 4. I have to leave at 4.30 to get my little girl, so that puts an end to my working day there, and there’s not much I can do about that, so I focus my energies in that time and schedule my plan accordingly. The first hour or so I do emails and bitty tasks because I know I’m not going to be focused enough to do the big stuff, then I go through my list for the day, get myself into the groove, get my head down and go until 4. Then I have time to plan for tomorrow before I have to run off and pretend to be an aeroplane again.

7. Focus on your “why”

Whatever you’re trying to achieve in life, you’re much more likely to succeed if you have a strong reason why you want to do it. Saying you want to be more productive is fine, but as a goal in itself it’s pretty uninspiring. So it’s unlikely you’ll actually make it happen. You want to be more productive so you’ll get more work done, or make more money, or be less stressed… all good reasons. But why?

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Ten years’ time? What does life look like then? How will you feel then? How will accomplishing your goals get you there? What lifestyle do you want to have? How do you want you and your family to experience life? What impact do you want to have on the world? What will that feel like? Try to get a handle on your big vision and make it real for yourself – see it, smell it, hear it, make it so vivid you can touch and taste it. Create an overall goal for yourself that is so exciting you get butterflies and feel giddy enough to cry tears of joy every time you think about it. Now go out and make that happen. You’ll be much more productive, I guarantee.

If you want support to make your routine the most effective it can be, drop me a line and we’ll chat about how coaching could help.