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Having children may be a blow to your personal productivity. So much time is suddenly devoted to taking care of kids---there may only be a couple of hours for sleep every day. There may be other similar scenarios: illness, turmoil etc.

Somebody employing personal productivity routines (PPR), like GTD, may find that they break down when there's neither enough time nor energy to uphold them.

These constraints make the use of light-weight and time-conserving PPR crucial. Thus, the question is what routines are recommended to maximize personal productivity when facing such constraints.

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I am not sure what is it that you are asking. What do you mean by routines? Are you asking about productivity systems? Are you asking how to organize un-avoidable urgent tasks? – AsheeshR Jul 8 '13 at 4:43
With routines I mean stuff like GTD, Kanban, or any self-devised custom system. Such routines are normally considered efficient, but they require a substantial amount of overhead work. The question is essentially what personal productivity system to use when overhead work needs to be extremely low. – Gruber Jul 8 '13 at 7:08
Ok. Thats a lot more clearer. – AsheeshR Jul 8 '13 at 7:33
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Suspect I understand your question all too well. This has been my life for many years, working from home with kids. As work from home gurus Paul & Sarah Edwards wrote, it does get better once they're past 6 years old, but the basic issues remain the same - too little time, too many interruptions, too many other priorities that crowd out your own.

So, yes, as wonderful as GTD and other time management strategies may be, if you can't reliably schedule your time and stick to it, then you need a whole different approach. What I've learned is, the two key elements are flexibility and energy management (as opposed to time management).

Look for ways to add flexibility to your routine, so you don't HAVE to do something today, but OTOH are ready to take advantage of little bits of time, etc., when they do arise. For instance, stock up on those things you're always running out of, carry your reading with you so when you're waiting you can at least do some. Have a reliable calendar system so you don't go nuts keeping track of everybody's movements (this gets really tough once they're teens). There are a lot of ways to add flexibility, once you're alert to it.

But energy management is pretty much the holy grail, and more & more it's being recognized that time management can only happen for folks who are first healthy & energetic. So Job One is taking care of yourself - eating, exercise, sleep, taking time to recharge, etc. Many CEOs realize this, and so should anyone else concerned about productivity. Basic health is key. One of the best books on this is the classic, 'The Power of Full Engagement': [Amazon]

Once health is established, there are many more energy-management skills that need to be acquired. Energy 'debt' is way more costly than money debt. A lot of us Type-A achievers have a hard time with this. We want to do everything ASAP, stick-to-the-plan, make progress, BUT when you keep overdrawing your energy 'bank account', very bad things start happening - starting with doing dumb things.

One interesting point made in that book is how most all the big industrial accidents occurred late at night. Of course, one of the main things they're looking at with Saturday's Asian Flight 214 crash is how it came at the end of a very long day (Shanghai-Seoul-San Francisco). We all know this CAN happen but don't think we'll do something so dumb, but it isn't just big mistakes - unrested, even our routine productivity will go way down. It's much better to invest time getting some rest on a regular basis.

Learn the fine arts of letting things slide and of doing things not-so-perfectly, so you can have time to rest. Learn to take a nap, a valuable skill I didn't acquire till past 30. Learn to manage email in 10-15 minute bursts. These are just a few examples of the sorts of skills needed for productivity in 'real-world' conditions ;-)

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Depends on how you define productivity. Having kids results in lots of new tasks. (feed baby, change diaper, etc) Making it necessary to realize you aren't going to have time to do everything you did before.

In any case, not having enough time or energy to update your to do list is a problem. On the energy front, what time of day do you find you have the most energy. For example, maybe you think when feeding the baby. Or while driving to work if you work outside the home.

Think about what to do list system works with that. Maybe one you can update in small doses. Maybe one you can dictate to.

Just don't throw out your system entirely. evolve it to work with your life. Even if it is a list of "projects" on a piece of paper, it is better than nothing.

I suspect you have urgent tasks - take kid to park, deal with crying, etc. And things you want to do. Even just two lists with those will help your mind.

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Strikingly often, 80% of the result can be achieved with 20% of the effort (the Pareto Principle). I think that's the case here too. Whereas personal productivity is concerned, I believe the most crucial things are:

  1. Not forgetting important scheduled appointments
  2. Not forgetting important things that must be completed

A minimum overhead routine for handling this is simply using a calendar (could be a digital or traditional one), and having a whiteboard in your home where you write major things that must be completed. Not using computer programs minimizes overhead.

This scheme should be able to maintain even under extreme pressure, but it may also be a good fit for other people. I believe extensive overhead work associated with elaborate personal productivity routines are sometimes causing more problems than they solve.

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