7 Simple Strategies to Become a More Productive Parent

Productive people are happy people! They have more time for themselves and their families. Here's how to manage your super-busy parenting life so it doesn't manage you.

Cheryl Butler
9-minute read
Episode #555
The Quick And Dirty

You can be a more productive parent by:

  • Developing a wakeup ritual
  • Creating a morning routine for you and your kids to build structure
  • Reframing your to-do lists as get-to-do lists
  • Learning how to say no so you don't overcommit yourself
  • Conquering your ugliest and least desirable chores first
  • Enlisting your kids' help with chores
  • Making time for self-care

Some people cringe at the idea of productivity. It sounds like a fancy term for finding a way to cram even more activity into our already busy schedules. What parent needs that?

But being more productive comes with an unexpected gift. It helps us get those must-do things accomplished efficiently so we have more of the one thing every parent craves—free time. That's time to relax, time to play with our kids, time to go on an adventure, and maybe even time to be alone with a good book instead of spending a few extra stolen minutes hiding in the bathroom. Productivity has its perks!

7 tips to help you be a more productive parent

Put one or more of these tactics to work for you and watch your productivity soar.

1. Have a wakeup ritual that's just for you

Despite the promise you made to yourself to start getting up earlier so you can get a handle on the day, you’ve hit the snooze button three times now. (It’s so warm and peaceful snuggled under your covers!) Now, you and the kids are running dangerously late.

You can make the morning rush less hectic by starting every day with a wakeup ritual.

If this scenario hits home, know that you’re not alone. But there's good news. You can make the morning rush less hectic by starting every day with a wakeup ritual. If you're not much of an early bird, having a plan in place for how you'll spend your time, attention, and energy can smooth the rough edges on crazy mornings.

Although I’m a night owl by nature, there’s something inviting about the quiet of the morning that gets my juices flowing. I have a wakeup ritual that I’ve been following for many years now:

  • Upon waking, I lie in bed and listen to a positive meditation via an app on my phone for about five minutes so I can engage in happy thoughts before I greet the rest of my family.
  • Making my bed is always next. One of my favorite motivational books is Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life ... And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven. It’s an easy read and definitely inspired me to look at my mornings and my life differently.
  • Hydrating throughout the entire day always makes me feel fresh and more energized. My first glass of H2O is right after I’ve made my bed.
  • Connecting with my kids before they leave for school is a must. Though they’re groggy, I can offer them something for breakfast and check in about the upcoming day’s happenings so we’re all on the same page. The hug and “I love you” is a big bonus.
  • Finally, I head out for my morning power walk. Not only is it important to help me manage my diabetes, but it’s also time alone for just me. When I walk, I can organize my thoughts and my daily plan, which helps everything else fall into place.

Your wakeup ritual can consist of anything that will get your day off to a calm start. Think about what's important to you. Perhaps it’s sitting quietly with a cup of coffee and journaling your goals and dreams before you hit the ground running. Meditating with an app such as Simple Habit or organizing your pocketbook or briefcase before you start getting the kids ready might be instrumental in helping you launch into a great day.

Once you find a ritual that's a source of comfort, stick with it. A consistent wake-up routine will help lay the foundation for productivity and happiness.

2. Create a routine for everyone

If there’s just one parenting hack I could give you, it would definitely be the importance of incorporating routines into your daily life.

Routines are a parent’s best friend. Our kids thrive on structure. Whether it’s knowing they have to clean up their toys every night before bed or that they have to brush their teeth after breakfast and before catching the bus—it’s a huge source of comfort to them (young and old alike) to know what they're expected to accomplish each and every day. Without question, I've found that having a strong morning routine in place can make the most positive difference in my family's day.

RELATED: How Routines Can Simplify Your Life

If you’re not sure what should be included in your routine, organization expert Elizabeth Larkin recommends starting with a list of everything you need to get done every day and then structuring it into morning, midday, and evening time periods.

Larkin also recommends spending thinking about when you function best so you can prioritize. She says:

Early birds get things done most effectively before lunchtime, while night owls tend to get their creative burst of energy in the evenings. Think about when you work best, and group your tasks into the time of day that makes the most sense for when you will best complete them.

Elizabeth Larkin, 5 Steps to Create a Personalized Daily Routine

Once you develop a solid routine that works for your family, don't be afraid to revisit how it's working and tweak things as needed. As school schedules or career changes take place, or when a new baby is added to the mix, take some time to re-evaluate your routines and freshen them up, so they continue to work best for you and your family.

PRO TIP: Your morning routine will be super easy if you get ready for school the night before. This includes making tomorrow’s school lunches, laying out backpacks, outfits, and extras like gym clothes or after school practice equipment, and anything else your family needs to step out the door without feeling like chickens without their heads.

3. Create a get-to-do list

I’ve been drawn to lists since I first learned to write. Whether I’ve wanted to keep track of a home improvement project, a deadline at school or work, a shopping list, or planning out where I had to run errands, organizing items in list format has always worked for me.

Once I had kids, however, my lists changed drastically—especially when I went from one to four in less than three years! I was trying so hard to juggle babies, schedules, meals, laundry, and everything in between that my tried-and-true to-do lists became overwhelming.

I started referring to my task lists as get-to-dos. That shifted my mindset. I stopped thinking of the things I needed to do as tedious tasks.

Then I received some terrific advice. Instead of calling them to-do lists, I started referring to my task lists as get-to-dos. That shifted my mindset. I stopped thinking of the things I needed to do as tedious tasks. Instead, washing the baby's laundry or taking her for a wellness check was something I got to do because I had that beautiful child in my life.

After 5 years of infertility, I absolutely loved the concept of viewing chores as a privilege. I'd waited a very long time to become a mom. Although washing tons of dirty baby laundry is certainly not exciting, if I didn’t have a baby, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to care for her things.

There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to check things off upon completion! In fact, last year I read an article that highlighted the importance of having a DONE list (a list of what you’ve accomplished during the day or week) in addition to a running to-do list. I loved it so much I’ve incorporated this into my get-to-do journals.

My colleague, Get-It-Done Guy, has a terrific episode, The Best Tips to Creating a Basic To-Do List, that will give you a hand. Now, have at it and watch all your amazing accomplishments unfold!

4. Have a plan for saying no

I’m a people pleaser. For whatever reason, I hate to disappoint anyone, including our dog.

I was the type of person who never wanted to say no, and that left me disorganized and stressed out. I over-volunteered my time for my kids’ schools and our church, let my kids sign up for too many activities at once, and over-committed to social things like play dates and birthday parties.

Be honest with yourself—how much value do these things you've committed to add for you and your family?

Prioritize your social obligations and civic commitments. Be honest with yourself—how much value do these things add for you and your family? If you take a good hard look at all the things you spend your time on, you'll find that some just don't bring you much in return.

Consciously choose something you've over-committed on and just say no. It might be something like declining another play date for your son this month or bowing out of helping to organize the neighborhood yard sale. This will allow you to keep that time free for whatever activities you want to do with your family (or even for some much-needed "me time"). Get yourself into this habit once a week and soon your plate won’t be quite as full and you’ll be spending this extra time on that of your own and your family’s goals. Go you!

5. Eat the frog

This is probably one of my favorite productive strategies of all: Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that's going to happen to you all day long.

Your frog is your biggest, most important task—the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.

Develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing.

Develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing. And if you have more than one major task on your plate? "Eat the ugliest frog first!" Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the tasks are completed.

As the busy mom of eight and a freelance writer (on top of working a full-time job), my frog is always my writing deadline. Writing is my passion, but when juggling cooking, cleaning, and clocking a 9-5 job, I know that I must devote my fresh energy towards my writing deadline. After I do that, everything else will fall into place.

Assess your frog each day/week and find a way to devour it so everything else will be easy-peasy!

6. Enlist your kid’s help with the chores

As the grateful but exhausted mom of eight, one of the ways I keep my head above water is to assign my children chores. Honestly, even small children can participate and pull their weight if you give them a chance. By enforcing this, not only are you creating positive habits of responsibility and organization, but you are also reducing your own personal workload.

Check out my popular episode, How to Get Kids to Help Out With Chores. I discuss the importance of getting your kids involved with the upkeep of your family home with my former colleague, the Domestic CEO. Find out how to assign age-appropriate jobs to your cherubs so you can devote extra time to other important family matters.

7. Practice Self Care

One of the first podcasts I recorded as Mighty Mommy was 5 Ways That ‘Selfish Parenting’ Can Benefit Your Family. For years, I desperately wanted to become a mother, and when it didn’t happen right away, I vowed when the time came I would be the most devoted mom on the planet. I stayed true to my promise, but I realized before my fifth baby arrived that taking better care of myself—in mind, body, and spirit—was just as important to being a great mom, and perhaps even more so.

Author Ariana Ayu shared her thoughts on cultivating self-care in an article for Inc. She talks candidly about how self-care is often stigmatized in our society, and yet, she says:

The studies I've seen on productivity and efficiency all suggest that taking care of ourselves makes us better workers, because ... we are part of nature. We are nature.

Practicing daily self-care is critical to your health and well-being. When you're out of your mojo, learning to relax and nurture yourself is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself; in fact, sometimes it's all you can do.

Ariana Ayu, Why Self-Care is Critical to Long-Lasting Success

My children have grown up realizing that I have needs and wants that I must tend to on a regular basis. They see me head off to the library or my favorite bookstore so that I can refuel with a great read. They know I get up earlier than the rest of the family to enjoy early morning power walks. My friends are very important to me as well, and I have regular girls' night outings. I even go grocery shopping kid-free just to spend time alone with my own thoughts.

The best part is that I no longer feel guilty about taking this time for just me—I’m totally comfortable making self-care a priority. I believe making time for myself every day is what gives me the desire and stamina to enjoy the ups and downs of parenting, volunteering, and working full-time doing a job that I love as well as sustaining a thriving freelance writing career.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.