Three young children, home management, freelance work: like most moms, I’m busy. Back in day, when I was single (but not quite carefree), I was a super-productive special education teacher and graduate student.

Things changed when I started raising little humans. And again when I turned my writing into freelance work. Trying to transfer workplace productivity into home management left me feeling like the proverbial hamster plugging way on that blasted wheel. The system needed an overhaul.

So I made some changes—keeping the good habits, doing away with the bad, and coming up with time-saving productivity tips of my own.

1. Get ready for the day at the beginning of the day. This is some of my mom’s best advice. I don’t always follow it, but I’m never sorry when I do. Whatever “getting ready” means for you, do it before the kids get out of bed (or after they’re off to school). You’re all set when your doorbell rings, or you remember last-minute that it’s your job to take snacks to ball practice. Or if, like me,  you’re living with an unpredictable work schedule.

2. Shorten your appearance process. If you wear makeup and if you have hair, learn to fix them both in under five minutes. Sometimes this means not washing hair. Other times is means using a baseball cap, or a cute messy bun updo. Forget the five-minute face. Being able to do your face in three to four minutes means it takes hardly any extra time at all.

3. Improvise. If you haven’t made it to the shower in two or three days, and you have to leave the house, put on workout clothes. The people in the checkout line will get it. You’re a little fragrant because you’re training for a 10K. Even if you’re not. (Besides, a little sweat is a thousand times more tolerable than an overdose of perfume). A simple way to upgrade those tight yoga/workout/running pants is to tie a lightweight sweater or sweatshirt around your waist.

4. Stop over-explaining & trying to reason with your children. When appropriate, answer their questions regarding permissions to do this or that with a “yes” or “no” and nothing else.

captain mom, rhonda franz, productivity tips

This child wants an explanation. Don’t give him one.

5. Don’t compare yourself with other parents. Learn from other parents, but don’t, under any circumstances, allow them to intimidate you. Dismiss feelings of inferiority. I include this as a productivity tip because I’ve wasted a precious lot of time and energy comparing myself to others. Learning to break that habit has saved both time and energy (not to mention sanity).

6. Keep a variety of healthy, low-maintenance food on hand. My favorites include sugar snap peas, dried fruits, cherry tomatoes, roast beef, grilled chicken, and sandwich fixins. Rock-solid frozen casseroles have nothing on these fresh foods when it comes to putting together a nutritious and convenient meal in a pinch.

7. Use a tickler file. Here is how to start.

8. Work from context lists rather than “to do” lists. Learn how to make this different kind of lists from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). Revolutionary.

9. Use short batches, or intervals, of time. It’s difficult for me to start on tasks when I don’t know how much time I can commit to it, or when I know my time is short. But that quickly becomes an excuse and leads to bad habits. This article on highly productive people calls it “balancing your workload.” Have tasks you can do while kids are getting shoes on and into the car, or a list of  phone calls you can make while you’re in the car rider line at the end of the school day. These little batches of work add up to a lot of completed tasks over time.

Tell me, now. What saves you time? And how do you get your stuff done?