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  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

21 QUICK PRODUCTIVITY TIPS FOR PARENT-CREATIVES

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

In this post I give an overview of 21 productivity tips to help parent-creatives (and other busy people) achieve all the things that matter to them!

Hand-drawn rose symbolising creative growth

Some are well-known. Others have been re-thought or modified to better suit the parenting lifestyle.


There are many tips in this post and I haven’t delved into them in detail here. If you sign up to my newsletter you will receive a free copy of my guide ‘Productivity for Parents’, which goes into these tips in more detail.


In future posts I will do a deeper exploration of some of the tips, with examples and templates, so stay tuned for those.


Before delving into the tips, I recommend reading my previous blog post about harmful productivity myths


Some tips may work for you and others may not. I cannot stress this enough: adopt or tweak the tips and strategies that work for you, in a way which suits your individual circumstances, and ignore the ones that don’t work for you.


1: COFFEE!

Coffee with teddy bear latte art
Coffee: my elixir of life

Self-explanatory! Not everyone likes coffee, but for me (as a parent of two light sleepers) it is the reason I can walk, talk and function.



2: MAKE FLEXIBLE AND REALISTIC GOALS

Make sure your creative goals are achievable and can be completed within a realistic timeframe.


This is a balancing act – I want to push myself and achieve my goals, but I don’t want to feel worthless if I don’t achieve them, especially if I’m sabotaged by circumstances outside my control (a given when looking after unpredictable young humans).


My goal deadlines are flexible and I don’t berate myself if I don’t achieve them. Slow progress is better than no progress!


3: WORK WHEN YOU ARE MOST CREATIVE (IF YOU CAN)

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha… cough.


The time when I’m naturally most productive (the morning) is the time when I’m feeding, dressing and entertaining my early-riser children. Even on days when they’re both out of the house, by the time I’ve dropped them off at school, childcare etc and can (finally) start work, half my creative window has passed.

Teddy bear going to sleep: I write after the children's bed time
Now I write after the children have gone to bed

I’m now a morning lark who reluctantly mutated into a deformed, permanently exhausted night owl. I’m missing a few feathers and I don’t catch all the mice. The transformation hasn’t been easy and it goes against my natural creative body clock. However, my business and my writing are important to me, and I would rather change how I work than not write at all. Now I look forward to my night-writing sessions.


Your children may be the type who sleep during your natural creative window. If that is the case, then more power to you, and I hate you. Not really. But I envy you.


4: WORK AT THE EDGES OF THE DAY

I mentioned above that you could learn to stay up late and write after your children are in bed, but that is just one suggestion. If your children sleep late, then it might work better for you to get up early and do your writing before they wake up. If they are good at napping (mine aren’t) then writing during nap time may work better for you.


However, if your kid got up five times during the night then please don’t berate yourself if you skip 5am writers’ club, or if you can’t face writing that evening. I don’t manage to write every evening – lots of factors affect whether or not this is doable for me, and the number of times my children got up the previous night is a big one.


To summarise, sleep is precious and essential for your health and happiness - don’t deprive yourself of it! Your kids are already doing that for you.


5: SCHEDULE YOUR CREATIVE TIME

Hopefully this tip is self-explanatory – if something is important to you then you need to block time in your schedule to dedicate to it. Protect that time and treat it in the same way as you would a medical appointment, i.e. turn up on time, turn off your phone, and focus on the reason you’re there.


Whatever schedule you create, bear in mind the universally acknowledged truth that your children may come along and disrupt your routine at any time. Children provide more opportunities for destroying your plans than your pre-child life. If this happens – take a deep breath, accept it, and move on (and be kind to yourself).


6: STONES AND SAND

This is a common metaphor in productivity advice, and is one I actually find useful to think about, especially as a parent.


Imagine you have a large bell jar. You also have a pile of different-sized rocks and stones, and you have a huge mound of sand. Your task is to fit all the rocks and all the sand inside the bell jar.


Tackle the stones, i.e. the big tasks, first
Tackle the stones, i.e. the big tasks, first

If you pour the sand in first, then try to fit the rocks in on top of the sand, then they won’t fit. However, if you arrange the rocks in the bell jar first and then pour the sand, the grains will flow around and between the rocks, and everything will fit inside.


In other words, you will be more productive if you tackle the larger items on your list first. For me, this means writing and editing take priority because they are the largest and most important tasks. Smaller tasks, e.g. replying to emails, posting on social media etc, can slot around the larger ones. If you neglect the larger tasks in favour of smaller ones then you will not achieve as much and you will feel less productive.


Now imagine your bell jar suddenly halves in size, i.e. you become a parent. Now you cannot fit everything inside like you did before. You have to choose which rocks and sand to fit into your bell jar, and again you need to tackle the larger and more important items first.


You still won’t achieve as much as you did before children, but by thinking of the bell jar metaphor you continue to focus on what is most important and thus you are more likely to achieve your goals and ambitions.


7: CHOOSE ONE THING TO ACCOMPLISH EACH DAY

Most of the time you’re doing the best you can with a half-size bell jar. Now imagine that on some days a mischievous little hand sneaks up and pushes your bell jar off your desk, smashing it to pieces (yes I’m milking the metaphor). Now you have nothing but a pile of glass shards, and you can only carry what will fit in the palm of your hand. It will be a lot easier to pick one large important stone to carry than to try and cup a handful of sand in your palm.

Claire Bentley rethinking her day
Me after my plans have been wrecked. Again.

These are the days when one of your children is ill, hurts themselves, or is generally being a little [insert favourite swear word]. On these days it will be a lot easier to carry around one important rock than a handful of sand.


You never know when these days are going to happen. For this reason, I like to start each day with one important thing in mind which I have to get done no matter what. It can be large or it can be small. But I know that I cannot finish that day without, at the bare minimum, completing that one task. If the day goes belly-up and nothing else gets done, then it’s irritating but at least I did that one thing.


8: TACKLE ONE TASK AT A TIME

Wherever possible I have assigned slots for family time and assigned slots for writing and editing.


I almost always keep a distinct separation between time with my children and my writing / business time. If I’m trying to do work when I’m with my children then I feel guilty and they interrupt every thirty seconds anyway.


This rule also applies to your task list. If you focus on one thing at a time until that thing is completed then you are more likely to finish tasks than if you jump around your task list.


9: LISTS... BUT NOT THE WAY YOU THINK

Lists are extremely helpful for some of us. For others they are overwhelming.


Holding baby and to-do list
Lists can be helpful for juggling family and business

I find lists useful for long-term project planning, marketing, and business goals, but I find daily to-do lists stressful. I plan quarters, months and weeks rather than specific days, because as a parent I find that system more flexible and more resilient to sudden events wrecking my plans (have I mentioned how often this happens?)


I have two other types of list which do wonders for both my productivity and my mental health.


TO-DON'T LIST: Mental checklist of activities I rarely or never participate in. For example, it is pointless to keep my house immaculate because I have two young kids!


DONE LIST: I don’t put everything from all parts of my life on here, though you certainly can, but I make sure at the end of every day to list all the things I achieved, especially those things which are gradually building my writing and editing career. I find this way more motivational than looking at a partially completed to-do list and feeling bad about myself because I didn’t tick every item.


10: MAKE THE MOST OF BONUS TIME

As tough as parenting is, there are occasional pockets of time where you get an unexpected and temporary reprieve, and they are so appreciated!


What you do with the bonus time depends on how you like to work. Some writers would use that hour to blast out as many words as possible. These are the same writers hastily typing three sentences on their phone while they wait for a doctor’s appointment or sit in the car waiting to pick their kid up.


I am not this type of writer. I generally need at least an hour so I can get immersed in my story, and if that hour comes out of the blue then I find it harder to turn my mind to writing. Instead I take care of other tasks and responsibilities which are clogging up my brain and energy, so that I can have a larger block of writing time in the evening or whenever I’m next writing.


You could even use your bonus time to (whispers) have a rest. The horror! But rest and self-care are vital, and if that hour gives you time for a power-nap, or reading, or drinking a coffee that is actually hot, then do it! Self-care is not wasted time!


However, be intentional with it. Decide how you will best use the time. If you decide it is in your best interests to spend that hour on Twitter then great, go for it, but don’t decide to do one thing and instead spend your hour mindlessly doom-scrolling (not that I’ve ever fallen into this trap. Cough).


11: SET TIME LIMITS

Tasks grow to fill the time allotted to them. When starting a task, set a time when you aim to have it completed. Make it realistic but don’t give yourself too much wiggle room, otherwise it may take longer than you actually need.


12: PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF GOOD

Once a task or piece of work is 80% ‘perfect’ then the amount of time and effort required to get that piece of work close to 100% increases steeply the longer you spend on it.


If the item is a novel, or a commissioned piece of work, then you obviously want to spend time on it and get it as good as you can make it.


However, there comes a point when spending more and more time on a piece of work will get you steeply diminishing returns. If you’re a parent your time is more limited, so be mindful of where you spend it.


13: USE REWARDS


Reward of coffee and a book
Coffee and reading: one of my favourite rewards

I encourage recording and rewarding all your achievements. I work hard for my family, my business and my writing, so if I want a bar of chocolate when I achieve something then I’ll have a guilt-free bar of chocolate!


14: SCREEN TIME IS OK (SHHH!)

Can we all (please!) stop demonising parents who allow their kids screen time? The existence of TV, tablets and gaming are the reason I can get ANYTHING done (if you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean). If I need to sit my energetic children in front of Bluey to give me the time and space to make food for them, then that’s what I’ll do!


The key thing, as with many of these tips, is to be intentional. I make sure my children are consuming content that is educational as well as entertaining, and I make sure to use it strategically (e.g., when I have housework or life admin to do).


If you’re the type of writer who can dip in and out of a project, writing 50 words here, 50 words there, in between other things, then this strategy could also buy you extra writing time. Personally, I use this time to relax with my children or do other things, so that both my schedule and my brain are free for writing after the kids have gone to bed.


15: BE INTENTIONAL WITH SOCIAL MEDIA

This is a double-edged sword because, as ‘serious’ creatives, we need to maintain a social media presence to reach and interact with our audience. Like with anything else, this time is important but needs to be scheduled and intentional. If I open Twitter I set a time limit and tell myself I will come off again at XX time. If I have a quiet (ha!) slot of time in between childcare, school runs, and meal prep then I try to carry a book or my Kindle around instead of my phone, so that I’m less tempted to open Twitter in these moments and read instead.


If your phone is distracting then (if possible) move it away from you while you work.


16: IT DOESN'T MATTER IF THE HOUSE IS MESSY (SHHH!)

On my bookshelf there is a plaque from a German Christmas market.

A pile of children's toys
Toys everywhere!

Roughly translated, the statement on it reads ‘Our house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy’. I try to remember this whenever I’m feeling stressed about the state of the house (if you’re a parent you know exactly what I mean).


In an ideal world my house would be sparkling and immaculate because I hate dirt and mess. Since becoming a parent I’ve had no choice but to let my standards slide because I would’ve lost my sanity if I hadn’t. I could in theory stay up for hours each night cleaning and tidying, but I’d never do any writing and I’d be miserable. I have to accept a certain level of dirt, mess and chaos to stay healthy and happy.


Give yourself permission to prioritise your personal ambitions and dreams over the state of the house. No one ever got a literary award for a gleaming kitchen.


17: OUTSOURCE (IF YOU CAN) AND SIMPLIFY

This depends on your personal resources and finances. Some suggestions include:

· Hire someone to clean the house

· Make regular formal or informal childcare arrangements to give yourself time and space to work on your projects

· Do your shopping online (especially food shopping).

· Cook food in batches

· Batch tasks, e.g. cleaning, laundry etc

· Set aside an hour for tidying and do as much as you can in that time (highest priority first)

· You don’t have to reply to messages straightaway

· Gift cards are fine for gifts: can people please stop being snobby about gift cards?

· Instead of writing and sending Christmas cards, donate the money to a charity instead. The charity, the environment, and your sanity will thank you.


18: SAY NO

If you’re being asked to take on something new, consider first of all whether it aligns with your goals and priorities. Secondly ask yourself whether or not you genuinely can make time to take it on (and be honest!)


The more demands and restrictions you already have on your time and energy, the stricter you have to be in saying no to things which do not align with your goals and priorities. There are things I would love to do but I just don’t have the time or energy to do them.


19: ORGANISE YOUR WORKSPACE


Me at my desk typing on my laptop

This depends on your at-home arrangement. I’m extremely lucky in that I have a room which is my dedicated office space. It is separate from the chaos of the rest of the house. This is the one part of the house which I always keep tidy and uncluttered.


Even if your writing space is a shared space, I recommend having a chosen dedicated writing area which can quickly and easily be tidied or transformed into what you need.

I find it helpful to work in coffee shops some of the time. The change in scenery sparks my creativity, I’m less likely to be interrupted by arguments over toy dinosaurs, and paying for a coffee increases my motivation to make the best use of that time! Of course, the usefulness of this tip depends on your personal circumstances.


20: MANAGE INTERRUPTIONS

Hahahahahahahahaha.


Yes, I know. I’m rewording this to: do whatever you can to manage interruptions.

I realise I’m in the privileged position of having my own office space which I can disappear into when working. The temptation of family members to interrupt if you’re in a shared working space is even more difficult to deal with. However, there are things you can do to try and reduce the likelihood of being interrupted.


If you have older children you can explain that you are writing, and let them know when you do not wish to be disturbed. My older son is partly able to understand this (at least until he decides he needs a snack). Make it clear to your family what time you intend to stop, and what time they are allowed to interrupt you.


Again, like with most of parenting life, some level of interruption is unavoidable. Do the best you can, and try not to be angry with your family (or yourself) if things don’t work out the way you’d like.


21: LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

This is the most important one!


It can be tempting to run at your projects full-pace to get loads of things done as quickly as possible. I fall into this trap too!

Claire Bentley drinking coffee
Most important tip: look after yourself!

This tip is more about taking a long-term view of things. How will your business succeed if you burn yourself out after months of attacking it at full speed? How will you write and publish books for years to come if you trigger or worsen a long-term health condition because you aren’t sleeping, exercising, or eating healthily? How will you enjoy a long career in a creative pursuit if you’re crippled by depression and anxiety because you never allow yourself any rest or space for reflection?


IN CONCLUSION

If you take nothing else from this post, then I hope you allow time for self-care, show yourself kindness and grace, and make time for the things that matter most to you. If you do not feed and nurture your creativity with self-care then it will wither and die. However, if you look after yourself as well as working intelligently to achieve your creative goals, then your creative passion will grow and transform into something beautiful!


BEFORE YOU GO...

What do you think of the productivity tips? Have they helped or hindered you? Are there any other tips that have helped you? Please join in the discussion (contact details below).


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!


Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!




Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/clairebentley

I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.

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