February 14, 2018

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 Red Bull. 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 14 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.

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 these five key things, I turned "less" into "more."

1. I Cut Out the Crap

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.”

Find your own “baby” to help you say no.

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 affective than their prior non-mom life. Why? They are used to getting stuff 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

Multitasking is so 2017. Laser focus became my new mantra. When I first started feeding my baby eight to 10 times a day, I attempted multitasking—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.

Laser focus became my new mantra.

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 multitask 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 also 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. 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.

Any minute I spend not with my daughter is a moment I want to be doing something of value that she’d be proud of.

My maternity leave is up, and I’m ready to start working again, more 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.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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