“Work with all your heart, because-I promise-if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.” 

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I’m on maternity leave right now, and it’s been a rare break in my entrepreneurial career. Never have I taken this much time off before, and it feels needed, indulgent, and a little scary. I find myself with anxious thoughts like: Will my clients be there when I return? Will I have time to work with a newborn? What if it just all goes to hell in a hand basket?

Me and baby Libby, making use of nap time for some business reading.

That’s when I am reminded of countless moms who have returned to work after having a child and how they say you just find a way to get more done in a shorter amount of time. As I type this (one hand on my keyboard, one hand bracing my little one-month old’s head) I’m reminded of some productivity tools that help me stay focused (as if the promise that my kid will wake up from a nap ANY MINUTE isn’t enough motivation).

These free tools can help anyone, new mom or not, and are ones I’ve relied on while building my business and will continue to rely on as my business and family grows. These are mostly related to computer work, but that’s where I spend the majority of my working life. 

So I give you my favorite FREE productivity tools: 

 

Turn off the internet — Here’s a low tech way to get some work done! Turn off the wi fi on your laptop or computer and you can avoid that online shopping/social media/internet blackhole (or be reminded when you get that ‘no connection’ error page). It’s so easy to fall into this accidentally, especially for me first thing in the morning when I’m going through email and then after lunch when I’m not quite ready to get back to work yet.

If you need your wi-fi for actual work stuff, but you want to block specific sites (reddit? woot?), use a little app called Self Control. You can easily add and remove sites from the blocked list and keep yourself far from social media meltdown. I like to keep a list of sites saved and blocked on Self Control that I know are my downfalls, like Amazon and Facebook.

Isolator — this is an app that makes everything else on your desktop go… dark. It really helps for writing tasks or project planning sessions when all you really need is one screen in front of you, and you don’t want to see email or the 20 tabs you have open in Google Chrome. It’s great for *isolating* your vision down to the task at hand and eliminating distractions so that you can execute your task list like a boss!

Momentum — this is a little splash page that opens every time you open a new tab in Google. You can type in a greeting for yourself, and then type in a main task for the day. It’s a great reminder to stay on task each time you open another tab. There is also a mini to-do list you can keep in a lower right corner; checking off each item is pretty rewarding.

Essentialism — This book by Greg Mckeown is THE book on getting things done. He outlines strategies for only taking on what you really want to in the first place, so your to-do list doesn’t get out of control. McKeown also talks about how to decide what to do next – always asking yourself the question “What is the most essential thing I need to do right now?” The answers you come up with might surprise you.

I think the principles in Essentialism can extend to work beyond the computer too. Asking myself what I absolutely NEED to do next helps me when I have a big block of time ahead of me (Sunday afternoon, for example) and I imagine myself getting more done than I actually can in the span of my few free hours. With this question in mind, I get less distracted, I prep for the week ahead, and I usually do a couple cleaning projects. Sometimes the answer to this question is actually taking a bath and reading a good book or pouring myself an adult beverage. Hey, we’ve all got to take time to relax and NOT be productive, especially when it comes to replenishing our creativity stores.

Me and baby Libby, planning our days together. 

Planner – I use a paper planner because I like to write things down. I’m particularly fond of the Get To Work Book. I love that it has three spots at the top of each day where I can write down my three essential goals/tasks for that day. It also has three weekly goal boxes, so that I have overall goals for the week in mind. Another great feature of this planner (other than the snazzy word/quote illustrations at the start of each month) is the Reflect and Goal Set page at the end of each month. I think it’s really important to recognize what you’ve accomplished, assess what isn’t working, i.e. what to let go, and make a plan for what still needs to be completed. But using a digital planner works too! I also am a huge fan of Asana

Getting all that out of my head and on paper is huge for my mental clarity.

These are the tools I use in some form or another that really do help me get more done!

I think really, the most important message for me is going to be (like Liz Gilbert says) to just keep showing up for work, everyday, and doing the best you can.

Take these productivity power ups and go forth and conquer!