If you told me five years ago that I’d be accomplishing more after having kids than I was before I had them, I would have laughed in your face.
But it's true. I get more out of twenty-four hours as a mom now than I ever did as a single 25-year-old living in New York City. It's not that I was bad at managing my time before; I ran half marathons, volunteered regularly, and threw great dinner parties. A lot of my "free" time, however, was spent watching Netflix, Instagramming my food, sleeping in, and working out for two or three hours a day. Don't get me wrong. I still watch lots of Call the Midwife, photograph particularly mouthwatering meals for my Instagram, and exercise. I'm just more intentional—and more efficient—about all of it.
We often hear self-help gurus and productivity coaches advise, "Work smarter, not harder." I'm no smart goal expert, but take it from a mom: if you want to accomplish life goals and nothing else is working for you? Get married and have kids. That's an obvious exaggeration, but it worked for me. Here are four ways motherhood has helped me make much, much, much better use of my time.
01. I wake up earlier and sleep better.
I used to claim I was a night owl, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, scrolling Facebook or watching random Buzzfeed videos because I "just couldn't sleep." Looking back, I did nothing but rob myself of precious shut-eye. But today, I was up at 6 a.m., dressed, had breakfast, and was ready for work by 7 a.m.
After years (years!) of pulling my covers off and throwing the lights on to get me up, my mother would be proud (and shocked). Even my husband, an early bird, believed we'd be routine opposites for life. So what changed? Kids. They're up at 7:30 a.m. So I have to be on point or toddler hell will break loose. Who needs to wake up to chaos when all I need is five minutes to prep oatmeal to prevent it? It's much nicer to do when you're dressed and awake than groggy and irritated.
These days, my head hits the pillow at 11 p.m., and I'm snoozing in minutes. I now realize that in the past I probably "couldn't sleep" because I simply wasn't productive with my time. Going to bed late meant I was tired all day, which meant I had less energy and motivation to accomplish anything. Instead of struggling to get through the next hour; I now wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. By nightfall, I'm exhausted, but I also feel much more accomplished and fulfilled.
02. I learned how to maximize short workouts.
Having kids forced me to prioritize my health and fitness in less time. I no longer had two or three hours to spend running or at the gym. I had to figure out how to get in an effective workout in under thirty minutes. Enter the magic of high intensity interval training.
HIIT is a blend of aerobic exercise and strength training exercise. Economically speaking, it gives you the most bang for your buck. The American College of Sports Medicine states, "HIIT workouts provide similar fitness benefits as continuous endurance workouts, but in shorter periods of time. This is because HIIT workouts tend to burn more calories than traditional workouts, especially after the workout."
HIIT can include a combo of cycling, walking, running, swimming, or stair climbing with strengthening exercises using your own body weight (Greatist has a great list of fifty you can keep in your repertoire), resistance bands, free weights, medicine balls or weight machines. Exercise at a moderate level for thirty minutes five days a week or at a vigorous level for twenty minutes three days a week, and you're set! Trust me: I gave up my gym membership and work out in less time than ever before, but I'm the fittest I've ever been.
03. I get more quality work done in less time.
I love my job, but I also love being a mom. To finish everything I have to do within a limited time frame, I had to "cut the fat"—no more wandering to social media while waiting for my browser to load, no mindless water cooler chat, no more attending cocktail networking events that I didn't enjoy or gain valuable contacts from anyway.
Part of this is because I refuse to pay a babysitter to take care of the girls while I waste time at work. The other reason is that I want to keep work at work and honor quality time at home as a wife and mom. So I'm extra productive. I'm as direct and clear in my communications, expectations, and interactions at work as possible. When it comes to respecting the valuable time and resources of my colleagues, my boss, and myself, it's a win-win for everyone.
04. I go on better dates.
Rare are the days of impromptu boozy brunches and late nights at the local tapas bar. I can't call up a friend last minute to grab a bite and shoot the breeze. Nor can my husband and I while away evenings on Netflix. I'm now forced to do two things called prioritizing and scheduling. It's fabulous—you should try it if you haven't yet.
Not only do I get to spend time with the people I care about most, but every moment I have with them feels extra special. We treat that time for what we now recognize it is: precious and passing. I look forward to dates with my girlfriends and my husband with gusto. We plan with excitement, not blasé. From what we save on spur-of-the-moment sprees, we'll splurge on an occasional indulgence; I prefer it that way.
And because we know it will be another week or month before we see each other again, our conversations are deeper, we're more willing to be vulnerable, and more eager to listen to one another. I don't take our dates for granted the way it used to be easy for me to do. And I don't think it's just me: my dearest friends agree that our greetings are warmer and our goodbye hugs last longer. Because we can't be with each other as much as we'd like, we are fully present when we can be. It's a beautiful—and more memorable—thing.
The demands and pleasures of motherhood have not only inspired me to make better use of my time, but it has moved me to be more intentional with my life in general. When I say yes to one thing, I'm saying no to another; my children put a face and a heart to that yes or no. I've heard some argue that becoming a mom means giving up your life and having less freedom. In my experience, though, becoming a mother has given me the satisfaction and happiness of more fully developing abilities and a strength of character I didn't know I had—and reaping those benefits in my day to day. Would I trade that for sleeping in or a Friends marathon? Not a chance.
Photo Credit: Olivia Leigh Photography