How to Make a To-Do List with Kids
I mentioned in this post that my 10-min/2-hour work strategy looks a little bit different now that I have a child. I’m working on a post about my daily schedule, but right now I’d like to write about how I’ve modified by productivity strategy to fit the demands of being a parent.
For the purposes of this strategy, I’ll note that I work a traditional 40 hours per week; however, my daily routine is not your typical 9-to-5. 3 days out of the week I work a very early morning shift, before the “traditional workday” begins and my husband starts his work. I then care for my child until just after lunch. After lunch I work through the afternoon. The strategy below is what I use for my non-traditional days. (The other two days of the week my routine is more 9-to-5).
Back when I worked remotely without a child, I tended to wake up, knock out a few emails over a cup of coffee, and then do my most serious, deep work early in the morning.
This is part of my actual to do list.
These days, I’m rather more…sleep deprived. Instead, I’ve found that what works best is dividing my to do list into three categories:
Deep Work: work that requires the most focus, the fewest distractions, and likely takes at least several hours if not multiple days to complete. This is often “high stakes” work that needs to be done well if it is going to be effective. Examples of deep work: writing projects, lengthy design work, some forms of research, complex web design.
Mid-Level Work: work that can’t simply be fired off in a matter of minutes but that requires less concentration than multi-hour projects. Typically, I categorize any task that requires between 20 and 45 minutes as mid-level. For me, this often includes making simple graphics, creating email campaigns, editing short writing projects, or (the worst) data entry.
Easy Work: anything I can complete in under 20 minutes goes in this bucket. Obviously emails, but also submitting and organizing paperwork, some forms of basic research, reading professional newsletters…
[If you’re curious, I keep my to-do list in the most old-school fashioned way: I simply have a draft email with a list of tasks that I update continually throughout the day. A draft email is 1) easy to edit and 2) accessible on any device. I’ll do a post on this soon because I have a basic and easy strategy for my list.]
In a pre-baby life, I would have spent 10 minutes in the morning tackling as much of the easy work list as possible, then spent the morning on deep work. I might have done some emailing over lunch or post-dinner or whenever really. Now that I am sleepier in the morning and also know that I’ll have a chunk of quiet time in the afternoon as my kid naps, here’s what I do instead.
Earliest Morning: 10 minutes completing as much easy work as possible
Bulk of My Early Morning Shift: Mid-level work – I need to be thoughtful and awake, but I don’t quite have to be in the zone as much as I do for other projects.
Final 10-20 minutes of my morning work shift: Another speed round of easy work. I usually give myself 10-20 minutes, depending on how many things are on my list.
Childcare time! Lunch time!
Early Afternoon: 5 minutes completing as much easy work as possible. Like…rapid fire.
Bulk of My Afternoon Shift: Deep Work – here’s when I tackle those major projects! My son is sleeping. I’ve eaten two meals. I’ve often received important emails relevant to deep work projects.
Final 30 minutes of my afternoon shift: I first spend 10-20 minutes updating mid-level tasks based on received emails. Then I spend a final 10-20 minutes rounding out the day with as much easy work as possible.
I will also add that I do my best to schedule phone calls and meetings in the afternoon. I’ve done this for years, long before having a child, and I received the advice to schedule my meeting this way from two mentors. I try to “stack” phone calls and meetings on the same day and leave the other days for deep work. This might seem exhausting, but I swear it’s easier than having your calls spaced out during the week.
The reason the schedule above works better for me, as a parent, is because it allows me to do less arduous tasks in the morning, when I’m sleepier than I was pre-baby. It also gives me a chunk of early morning time to do work without much email interruption since most people aren’t working at that time. The afternoon, when I have more guaranteed quietness, is reserved for projects that need my full, alert attention. There is nothing like a child’s nap to make you crank out tough projects.
Work life before COVID-19, pre-child.
From a childcare perspective, I love, love, love this schedule because my son often sleeps through my morning shift or else he hangs out with my husband before the “traditional workday” begins. Then I spend the morning with my son – when I’ve found that he is most curious, engaged, and ready to tackle the world. These hours feel precious to me. In the afternoon, my son is sleeping. When he wakes, always before I finish my workday, we’ve been working on training our child to have independent time.
I know not all parents subscribe to this theory, but both my husband and I really believe that teaching our child to do some independent play will encourage and stimulate his imagination and make our lives in the long-run a little easier. If that’s not for you or your family, trust me, we don’t have any desire to pressure you into adopting our (untested) theories!
I hope this post is useful to folks working with and without kids. Upcoming related posts: a full post about my daily schedule including work and childcare, a tip for making deadlines work for you, a post about my old-school to-do list strategy, and, of course, lots of posts about why extending remote work benefits to employees expands freedom, support caregivers, and promotes happiness.