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Productivity in the Nutshell, Part III

At the end of March, I gave some practical advice based on how I am most productive. I wrote about priorities, opportunities, and inspiration. All good stuff. But there is more to my personal recipe for productivity that isn't common sense. It might not even be sensible at all. But it works for me.

Being productive under pressure requires some different tools than being productive in ideal conditions. Having a baby and working (especially if you can't stomach the idea of placing your child in daycare) is totally insane. But I have survived it for a month, in fairly good condition. Here are a few of my nuttier secrets:


1. I consult my horoscope.

Or the Tarot cards. Or a magic 8 ball. Or my cookie fortune. Whatever. I don't do it because I believe in occult powers. I do it because I don't. A horoscope is completely unconnected to my real life, and it's vague enough that I can fill in the blanks and start reflecting upon my situation, drawing upon my own intuitions. When I get overwhelmed with competing responsibilities and start to feel paralyzed, I read a horoscope and imagine myself following its advice for the whole day/week/month to which it applies. For example, it might say, "Spend time outdoors on the 12th." So I imagine myself doing nothing on the 12th until I get my garden weeded and watered. And maybe I will do it and fulfill the prophecy and feel great about it. Or, I might imagine the same thing but feel uncomfortable because I know that what I really need to do on the 12th is prepare a presentation for work the next day. If there is something else that I truly need or want to do more than what the horoscope suggests, it always bubbles to the top of my mind when I imagine following the celestial advice. In essence, the horoscope (or other telling of the future) is an arbitrary focus point that allows me to get my bearings. And it's different every time, so I don't get stuck in a mental rut.


2. I get somebody else to do it.

All those things I bragged about doing last month? I didn't do a single one of them by myself. Obviously, Mr. G had a little something to do with making the baby. And he kept me well fed, nurtured, and supported throughout my pregnancy, which benefited the health and wellness of our child even before she was born. And now, he is an expert diaper changer, bottle feeder, and baby entertainer. My parents have been a huge help with the baby too, especially my mom, who takes care of her one day a week while both Mr. G and I go to work. If not for my husband and parents being with Nux Gallica some of the time, I would rarely get the chance to do my exercises in peace, shop, cook, bake, or garden. I can fit in a 15-minute workout during Gallica's morning nap, and I can wedge her in the top of a shopping cart filled with blankets, and I can wheel her around the house and yard with me in her stroller. But there are days when I just stare at her and cry because my back hurts from picking her up and she demands constant attention, and I am a complete mess until I call my mom to come over and rescue me so I can run an errand without a squealing, pooping, wiggly baby in tow. Humans are social creatures. Being strong doesn't mean doing everything alone. Nux Gallica is better off having more than one, or even two, main caregivers, and just about any mundane task is more enjoyable when it's done with or for someone else.

3. Sometimes, I lower my standards.

Do you know how long you can go without sleep? Or a shower? Or a haircut? Or sex? Neither did I, until I had a baby! Sometimes, it's okay to let things slide--and be okay with it--when you're accomplishing something major. I try not to "make up" days that weren't as productive as I'd hoped. If I missed my 15-minute workout, I'm not allowed to do 30 minutes the next day. If Monday is lawn mowing day and I didn't get a chance, I'll leave the grass until next week--or until someone else does it (see #2 above). Each new day is a chance to start over, not a time to do penance for the sins of yesterday. Perfectionism just gets in the way of productivity.

4. I am unreasonable (within reason). 

Building off of the last point, I sometimes ultra-prioritize one thing for a set period of time and flip the bird to everything else in my life until the task is complete or the set time is over. NaNoWriMo is a great example of this way to get something done. Pick one overarching goal for the day, week, or month, and let it shoulder everything else out of the way. Another example of this is what I did for Nux Gallica's first six weeks of life. I sent out an e-mail to all my friends and relatives telling them that if they wanted to come see the baby, they would have to bring food, wash their hands, and make it quick. I didn't want a crowd of visitors driving me up the wall and risking my newborn's health, especially when she was born in the winter amidst a robust crop of contagious disease outbreaks. Most of my relatives and friends were glad that I was taking such good precautions, and they were happy to stop by for short visits, bringing casseroles and clean hands. A few relatives got into a snit and didn't come over at all. That worked for me, too. My parents said, "Uncle So-and-So will probably hold a grudge for the rest of his life and never come to see her." "Oh," I said. "Good." It seems harsh, but I don't have the energy to deal with ornery, bothersome relatives who don't understand my child's needs (and mine) in the delicate postpartum time, and I would rather piss off adult relatives than expose my newborn to illness. I normally don't try to be rude, but when I know my priorities, I don't have to apologize to myself or anyone else for defending them.

Nux Gallica is big and strong and healthy now, which is my proudest success of the year. I realize this has a lot to do with luck and genes and what spiritual people might call grace, but it also has something to do with the way I (and her father and grandmother) take care of her. It helps to remind myself of this often, so I don't rip my hair out with frustration at not being able to do much else right now. Some people might think the way I go about things is crazy or stupid or rude, but I get the results that matter to me. And the joy of raising a happy, healthy child outshines any faux pas or inconvenience.


Here is my thriving daughter in the arms of my grandmother, her great-grandmother, also known as "More Grandma."

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