The ultimate life hack to be more productive

The other day I had another mom say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.” It’s true that I’ve been known to fit a lot into a day. I work, parent, volunteer, write this blog, and waste my fair share of time on social media. You’re in luck, though, because I’m about to reveal the secret to my productivity.

I’m half-assing it. And, now that my secret life hack is out in the open, I’m going to take it one step further and reveal how you, too, can learn to half-ass it in just three easy steps.

Step 1: Ruthless prioritization. I don’t half-ass everything. I’m highly selective. Step one is about deciding how much you care about something and then allocating your time accordingly. Here is where you get honest about what really matters to you—with no judgment. Is staying current on Justin Bieber’s love life more important to you than going for a run? Fine. Would you rather spend time training for a triathlon than sleeping in on the weekends? I don’t understand you but that’s also fine.

Step 2: Lowering your standards. This is critical, because as you complete step one, you’ll see that unless you’re gunning for a nervous breakdown, there’s not enough time for perfection across the board. This has been the hardest part for me. I was a perfectionist in the womb. The highest standards I’ve ever tried to meet are my own. I’ve noticed that this relentless perfectionism seems to be common among women. We assume that everyone is doing more than we are, and doing it better.

Which leads me to….

Step 3: Letting go of guilt. No one else cares that I made these pancakes from scratch or whether my kid’s socks match, so why should I? Guilt is a parasite that feeds off insecurity and sucks up our joy. It is a self-manufactured emotion, and yet one of the hardest to unlearn. This is where the ruthless prioritization from step one is key. If I’ve clearly established that holiday baking isn’t important to me, then there’s nothing to feel guilty about when I show up to the office cookie exchange with a box of Oreos.

To really make this concrete, I thought I’d share some things that I have recently half-assed:

1.       Halloween

If you drive down my street on October 1st you’ll see house after house of elaborate Halloween yard decorations involving giant motion-activated inflatable spiders, LED projected bat lights, and individual pumpkins carved to spell out H-A-L-L-O-W-E-E-N.  At my house you’ll see some of those polyester cobwebs you can buy at a gas station tossed onto a bush, and the last pumpkin they had in the bin at the grocery store with the rotted side turned toward the side of the house.

Halloween is a time when people really outdo themselves with adorable, homemade costumes for their kids. (See: toddler in the Popemobile).  My son, on the other hand, wore the same skeleton sweat suit costume this year as he did last year, just in a bigger size because it was already in my Amazon order history. When it comes to Halloween, I am not a Pinterest mom, I am an Amazon mom. If it’s not on Prime two-day delivery it can’t be part of my holiday.

2.       Cooking dinner

Once upon a time I loved to cook. I frequently made Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon from scratch. On a weeknight. I planned menus and visited three different markets for special ingredients. Now I’m just trying to survive without any major nutritional deficiencies in my family. The problem with dinner is that it happens every night. And let’s be honest, those “20 Minute Meal” recipes never account for the time you spend running to the grocery store for an ingredient you don’t have, or removing your child from the cat’s litter box and then bathing and vacuuming everyone and everything. Now I have three, fifteen minute (truly) recipes that I make on rotation, and no one gets to complain or they can order pizza.

3.       Keeping up with my personal email

My Gmail account currently has 1,432 unread emails. To be fair, most of them are probably Change.org petitions that I can’t figure out how to unsubscribe from. Somewhere in there, though, are also invitations to birthday parties, reminders to pay bills, and adorable pictures from your baby’s christening. I have missed all of those. There are just so many emails, all the time. If you’ve emailed me in the last two years and didn’t get a response, I’m sorry. Text me instead. I’m physically incapable of keeping up with email.

4.       Getting ready in the morning

I work in a fairly formal environment, so the good news is I can wear black every day and no one thinks I’m trying to be Goth or need some Lexapro. My hair goes in a bun 80% of the time. One day not too long ago I took the time to blow dry and style it before work. It was embarrassing how many compliments I got that day. Most of them went like this: “Wow, your hair!” As in, you have hair! Not just a weird knob on the top of your head! Whatever. Someday I will care more about this again, but not today.

You’ll notice that not on this list are my work (which I love), my writing, and my family. I try never to half-ass these things because to me they are the things; my top priorities. The only reason that I am any good at all at them, however, is that I do a lot of other things at the level of “barely good enough”. 

As I wrap this up, I’d like to remind you of a popular quote: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” If you have taken anything away from this post, it’s that this quote is bullshit. Whoever said it is a deeply unhappy overachiever whose friends and family hate them. Instead, I came up with my own quote, which I’ll leave here:

If you’re not half-assing something in life then you’re doing it wrong.