There’s an expression: “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” I often think, if you want to get something done, ask a mom, because we are the busiest of the busy people. In my pre-kids life, I had acres of free time—hours per day, whole weekends and long vacations. Yet, I complained endlessly about being so busy, unable to fit in a gym session or enough time to cook a healthy meal.
I believed what everyone told me about time being tight when you’re a parent—how you don’t get any sleep and will give in to chicken nuggets for expediency’s sake, if nothing else, and will never lose the baby weight because you won’t have a second of “me” time. To some extent, those things are true: In the early months (or years, if you’re unlucky), you do get shorted on sleep. It is hard to carve out an hour for the gym, three times a week.
But in other respects, I’m vastly more productive as a mom than I was pre-kids. For one, I no longer think that I need huge blocks of time to get something done. If I have five minutes, I put away the dishes, or practice scales on the guitar, or answer work emails. When I was in my 20s, I felt like if I didn’t have a whole day to devote to something, why even try? And so hours of time were frittered away on dumb stuff like Internet surfing or, I dunno, examining my pores. Back in the day, I’d allow myself an hour to get ready for work or to go out, but nowadays, I’ve got it down to 15 minutes. I don’t look as “done,” but the remaining time nets me more sleep or time with kids or actually working.
For another, I’m more efficient when I’m actually at work, practicing music, or even cleaning the house. I start the day with a list of stuff that needs to get done. I generally power through the most important things and hope the less-important stuff can wait. Before kids, I had a lot of agita (in hindsight, it was kind of indulgent) about stuff on my to-do list. If I wanted to get something done, I’d put it off, feel bad, beat myself up for being a lazy procrastinator, and maybe someday get to it—after I’d watched everything there was to watch on Netflix. It was some kind of weird self-punishment routine.
As a mom, my to-do list is so long and the items are so urgent (take kid to pediatrician, fix leak, etc.) that there’s not a lot of time for the mental sturm und drang of feeling bad. I don’t even put off the really sucky chores like arguing with a health-insurance company over why a bill wasn’t covered. I do it because there’s no one else to do it, it has to get done, and anything I procrastinate on is just going to be waiting for me tomorrow. There’s less emotional baggage.
I also don’t bother with bullshit. I don’t do things I don’t want to do anymore, like go to parties I’m not psyched about or hang out with someone who doesn’t thrill me. When you become a parent, time is so limited that your priorities become clear, very fast. As Heather Havrilesky writes in her marvelous essay, “Want to Be Better at Your Job? Have a Kid,” “[W]hen the leisure hours you used to spend doing stupid, unrewarding crap are eliminated, that leaves only about three seconds to do stuff you truly love. You’re forced to ask yourself, ‘Now that I have exactly three seconds of free time, how do I really want to spend that time?’ And then something strange happens. You TRULY SAVOR those three seconds of free time, maybe for the first time ever.”
So, okay, I still don’t exercise enough, and I don’t cook enough, but it’s possible that I don’t do those things because I don’t want to do those things, not because there’s not enough time or I’m unproductive. When you’re a mom, you do a lot of things that maybe you don’t want to do, like piles of dishes or mountains of laundry. But the context—I’m taking care of my family!—makes those chores more meaningful and harder to put off. You’re more productive because (almost) everything you do is in service to your family. And the time you have for yourself means you spend it in the richest, most satisfying way possible.