Planning to Succeed
When you have a big assignment coming up, or, need to spend time working on a project, it is important that you don’t set yourself up to fail. For example, someone I know (who might even be me) once tried to work on an important article that needed to be pitch-perfect at an indoor play-centre. It takes a mind of steel to stay focused at the best of times so setting up shop right in the middle of a place designed for fun and noise was never a good option. Neither was sitting next to a table where they kept ordering hot chips and smartie biscuits…but I digress. That mother learnt her lesson.
So, assuming you are motivated and ready to go, here are some things you can do to ensure you give yourself the best chance of getting your work done.
Working without kids around
1) Before you start make sure your environment is set up. Don’t work at the kitchen table where you can see dirty breakfast dishes and piles of washing up. It will be too easy to stop what you are doing to get those jobs done. Yes, even cleaning is attractive when it means a break from writing or researching.
2) Have everything ready to go. Don’t waste your precious time looking around for items you need. Try to have everyone on hand so all you have to do is start. Another good idea is if you are working on an assignment or chapter, rather than have to start from scratch each time you come back to work, leave a sentence unfinished. That way when you open the document you can start writing straight away and before you know it, you will be carried away with the momentum.
3) Have a clear plan. Ideally, you would have spent the last ten minutes of your previous ‘session’ writing down what you will do next. This means you have an instruction sheet so don’t get distracted trying to figure out what to do next. If you haven’t done this in the previous session, invest ten minutes of time to set up a plan or schedule. Then, here is the hardest part: Stick to it. No matter how attractive it might be to divert to something else, don’t do it. This leads to the next idea…
4) Have a piece of paper next to you where you write down all the things you are tempted to do. Mine includes things like look on the internet for how to termite-proof a piece of wood, research things to do in Singapore with kids, examine what that mark on the wall is, check if Howard Storage world has any magical products to organise my laundry…you see what I mean? Once I write them down they are actually quite silly but these things pop into my mind and can easily derail my writing and before I know it, I have lost half an hour.
5) Some people swear by the Pomodoro Technique. Basically, it involves giving yourself a task to do and using a kitchen timer to keep you on track. You can be as basic as you like with this or download the apps to keep you on track. Once you have finished each ‘Pomodoro’ which is usually about 25 minutes, you can reward yourself with whatever you had on your list. So you can indulge in half an hour of surfing the internet, cleaning the kitchen or whatever it is. Those distractions become your reward for getting the ‘real’ work done.
Working with kids around
Sometimes this is your only option. If that is the case, you seriously need to plan ahead.
1) Choose your distractions and don’t feel bad using them. This could be DVDs, using the iPads or whatever you know your kids will stick at for at least half an hour. This is really a no-brainer but what you do need to get clear is that you can’t spend the time feeling bad about the ‘electronic babysitter’ and all that other rubbish. Use them, get some stuff done and then go and turn it off if it bothers you so much.
2) Work while the baby sleeps. If you have a baby and can manage the energy to get some work done while they are sleeping it helps to have everything on hand or close by before you put them to sleep. My kids have all been fed to sleep so I have managed to do a lot of reading and typing with the baby asleep on m, but to avoid waking them up, I have always had everything close by. It’s better than watching TV or spending mindless time on the internet and, if you aren’t going to sleep yourself, you will feel a lot better for doing something even if it’s only a small bit of work. Keep the momentum going – no matter how small. Then reward yourself with Netflix, Facebook, online window-shopping etc…
3) Pre-plan activities. One mother I interviewed for my research set up ‘stations’ for her kids. For her boys who liked Lego and crafts she put all the bits and pieces she needed into a box and then set them up with a task, like make a picture of a farm or build a truck. You can do this with a timer too so it’s like a game: “Don’t show me until you have finished and the timer has beeped”. You then move onto the next activity (which you have ready to go in another box). It’s not ideal, as you keep having to break your concentration and you can never fully take your eyes off the kids anyway, but it’s worth a try if this is your only option. You can also sit inside the baby jail (my family tell me I have to stop calling it that and use the term playpen) with something you need to read or a small task that needs to be done and hope that your baby will be happy enough with your company and play with the toys while you are busy.
No matter how small a step is…it is still progress.
What is important to remember here is that even small little bits are worth doing. And truthfully, when you are so tired and at home with the kids it’s probably all you can really manage anyway. But as they say, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Just make it easier on yourself and have a list of tasks or jobs ready along with everything you need, so you can literally pick them up and start straight away when you have the chance.