Why Productivity for Moms is So Elusive
It’s 9:30pm. You’ve just sung the final round of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as your beloved little star has drifted off to sleep. You have a mountain of work waiting for you as your second shift begins. Deadlines are approaching, and you know you are in for a long night.
It’s 1:30am. You stare, bleary eyed, at your laptop and wish you felt more motivated to finish the remaining tasks. It seems like everything takes forever to get done lately. Another 30 minutes goes by and you catch yourself nodding off. You reluctantly head off to bed because even though there is still plenty left to do, the kids will be awake in less than 4 hours.
It’s 2:15am. You crawl into bed, but can’t fall asleep. You toss and turn for another 30 minutes, wondering how you are going to meet your deadlines. Worrying about the kids. Wishing you could figure out how to juggle a little more. Trying to problem-solve how to be more productive so you can be more present.
The truth is, your productivity and focus are being stolen away by a nefarious little thief. Enemy, thy name is Fatigue.
What’s the problem?
Mothers are chronically under-rested. From the moment we bring home our little bundle of sleepless joy, our bodies adapt to the needs of our child. The sleep of our pre-kid days now seems indulgent. And we wonder if we were ever really tired before kids, because this level of exhaustion is a whole different game.
For moms who work from home, we seem to adopt a mantra of “sleep is for the weak” sometime after the first 10 days. The age-old advice we received to “sleep when the baby sleeps” is discarded as we do all the things when the baby sleeps. And as baby grows and stays awake longer, we do all the things when the baby sleeps – and also when he or she is awake. The next thing we know, our toddlers want to skip naps and hang out with us long after bedtime, because toddlers can smell desperation and weakness, and they eat it for breakfast.
Bedtime battles ensue, as we beg them to go to sleep, for the love of all that is holy and good in this world. Our brains are already exhausted from the sensory stimulation of the day, from the hundreds of “why” questions, from the meltdowns and tantrums, and “watch me”s and “mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy”s. We need them to get to sleep because we need the mental stamina to stay up and get more work done, though truth be told, we just want to go to bed too.
We become distracted parents, burdened with the worry and mom-guilt that we aren’t present enough or engaged enough, that we are missing all the beautiful moments, or that our kids are growing up with moms who are chronically tired, irritated and distracted by the thousand things on our mind at any given moment.
We worry about their development and their emotional health, we worry about their academic health and their social development. We worry because we are good moms, but we secretly worry that might not be true, because we are overwhelmed, exhausted and… what was I saying?
Why this sucks
Moms who work from home – whether we blog, run businesses, freelance or work a regular job – are a special breed of human. We have exceptional expectations of ourselves, and the chief one is that we can do everything ourselves. Everything. And we *want* to do it all ourselves. And we are often (usually) frustrated by the limits of our mere mortality.
Let’s think about it: We run a business (or two, or several), a blog (see previous), a household, and simultaneously are so finely attuned to the needs of our children that we often forget to get our own needs met, because who has time for that?
The result is we just keep trying to squeeze it in. We juggle. And we don’t often juggle well, I might add. We leave a trail of unfinished business behind us, each one a ball we’ve dropped at some point, all labeled with the word “failure”.
No matter how hard we work, or what we accomplish, we worry about all the things we didn’t do. We feel we have to choose every day who we are going to let down, because something is inevitably going to get dropped.
And probably the thing that sucks the most is that we feel like a shell of the person we used to be.
We “do” all day, but we barely have headspace to think actual thoughts. Our work quality suffers, and we have to try harder to focus on things that used to come easily to us. We develop imposter syndrome and begin to believe we really aren’t that good at anything anymore. We desperately search for productivity resources for moms, trying to find that one nugget of wisdom that will help us get back on track, but nothing is working.
Our kids are learning to respond to their own frustrations by watching us respond to ours. So on top of being tired and stressed and distracted, we have kiddos who are also vying for our scattered attention, and who struggle to process their own feelings of frustration by blowing up at us and wrestling with us for control throughout the day.
And we are just so dang tired.
Our emotional well is dry, but we just keep stretching and wringing and giving, and thinking if we can just figure out how to make this all work, things will get better.
But in the meantime, we also worry that our kids are growing up with a mom who hardly even recognizes herself in the mirror anymore.
How to handle it
The truth is, what you (and your kids) need most is connection and rest.
Your kids need a mom who is rested. They are learning self-regulation, problem-solving, and the fine art of not acting like a lunatic when they are at their wits’ end – from a mom who is chronically at her wit’s end. If we want to escape the crazy cycle, we need to model what we want to teach.
And the way we do this is to get some sleep.
Stay with me here…
If you were handed a magic potion that would boost your productivity, mental clarity, physical stamina, and emotional self-regulation, and improve your relationships while also making you feel happier and healthier with no adverse side effects, would you take it?
Sleep is the most magical of elixirs: A rested Mom is a more productive mom, a happier mom, and a mom who can connect more deeply with those she loves.
Done Like a Mother
Sleep is the best gift you can give yourself and your kids (and spouse). And it is the most magical of elixirs, because a rested Mom is a more productive mom, a happier mom, and a mom who can connect more deeply with those she loves.
How to get some sleep when you can’t get some sleep
There are a number of reasons you might not be getting enough rest. Below are the most common reasons, followed by the strategies to deal with them:
1. “But my children don’t sleep, how in the world am I supposed to?”
If you are the mom of an infant or have a kiddo with sleep issues, you may not physically be able to get a full night’s sleep, particularly if you are a single mom or if your partner works long hours – or days, weeks, or months – away from home.
If you are in the “sleepless kid” camp, what you need are some sleep hacks to squeeze in some sleep when you can. Depending on the age of your little one(s), here are a couple of options for the “desperately seeking sleep” mom:
- Invite everyone to snuggle on the sofa for family movie time. Give special snacks and designate a family snuggle blanket. As soon as they are engaged in the movie (or other approved content… I’m looking at you, Paw Patrol), give yourself permission to doze while everyone is safely snuggled with you. Even if you don’t sleep, you can go into PowerSave mode long enough to make sure your batteries last until bedtime.
- Safe play. Is there a completely kid-proofed room in the house? Give them some play time inside the room and take a catnap right outside the door. Again, this won’t give you deep sleep, but might be enough for a quick recharge.
- Cosleep. This may be a controversial one, but if your kiddo isn’t sleeping either, you BOTH need the rest. Give yourself and your child the gift of sleep first, even if that means sleeping in their room or inviting them into yours. Allow at the very least a week, though you may need significantly longer to catch up to the point you can both function. Once you are rested enough to begin the transition back to solo sleep, you can start afresh with implementation of the bedtime routine.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. There is a reason this advice has been handed down from generation to generation. Wise moms know from experience that you need to rest as often as possible and accept help when it is offered so you aren’t trying to mom from an empty tank all day. Your kiddos learn self regulation from you, and you need rest to self regulate well.
Action item: create a strategy to carve out a nap time for yourself if you aren’t sleeping through the night.
2. “Yes, sleep would be wonderful, but there is a you-know-whatload of effing stuff to do, and sleep is a luxury I can currently not afford.”
Your to-do list is longer than the day, and every day you are falling further behind. If this sounds familiar, then sleep is a necessity you can’t afford to miss.
The truth is, not sleeping may very well be the reason you can’t get caught up. The drive to keep pushing, keep trying, and keep working when you can barely keep your eyes open, is forcing you to work in an incredibly inefficient manner (read: it takes longer to do things and you can’t do them as well), which causes you to fall further behind, to become overwhelmed, to flounder and have trouble focusing, and to miss deadlines anyway, when your body forces you to rest by becoming sick or flat out fall asleep the second you sit down with your kiddo.
I’m going to suggest you do something completely crazy: When you get the kids to bed, treat yourself to an early night. This may mean buying yourself some extra time for deadlines (we will tackle workload and deadlines in another post).
Action item: Make sleep a priority until you are no longer exhausted. This will mean adjusting the priorities of work, home management, projects and goals until you are rested enough to resume your normal activities.
This is about triaging your own needs the way you would insist your exhausted kiddo get to bed early when he is “too exhausted to function”. If this is where you are finding yourself, and your motivation is slipping, the point here is to build up a “rest” bank so you can start functioning again from a healthy baseline. I’m going to suggest you give yourself an entire week of actual sleep at night, but if this is not a possibility, then at the very least give yourself one good night’s sleep, and try for more as often as possible.
Once you are working from a place of rest, you may even find enough focus to tackle your work during daytime hours, or you’ll at least find the work to be significantly easier and faster to get through so you don’t have to stay up so late to get it done.
3. “I haven’t had a solid night of sleep in so many years that now I can’t sleep at night even when I have the chance.”
If this is where you are, there are a number of factors that may contributing to this issue. Here are a few to consider:
Is your environment keeping you awake? Are you staying up to work and finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep once you turn in?
Set your sleep environment for optimal rest:
- The body sleeps best in a cool room. Turn on a fan or open a window, and aim for a room temperature of 60-67 degrees.
- Dress for comfort. Wear lightweight and non-restrictive clothing that won’t cause you to toss and turn or overheat.
- Give your bed some love. Invest in a mattress that loves you back and supports your body’s needs for sleep. Dress the bed for comfortable sleep: clean, high quality cotton sheets and the right amount and weight of blankets to ensure you’re warm enough but not too warm. Invest in a pillow you love. Add some essential oils such as lavender and chamomile to a spray bottle and use a light spray near your pillow to give your senses a calming, relaxing place to fall asleep.
- Eliminate all blue light devices from your sleeping environment. If you use a nightlight, use one with a warm amber glow. Blue lights, phones, tablets and computers cast a type of light that actually affects your circadian rhythm (tells your body not to sleep when it should).
- Minimize screen time. Place your phone face down on the nightstand, or better yet, keep it out of your room entirely. It’s tempting to bring your phone to bed, but scrolling and checking email before you try to fall asleep is the worst thing you can do for your sleep quality. Instead, bring a book to bed and read with a soft light, or journal with pen and paper until you are ready to turn off the bedside lamp and drift to sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine. Implement an evening routine to close out your day and leave you feeling equipped to take on tomorrow. Or the 1am feeding. Or the middle of the night visitor who crashes your room to sleep with you. And also tomorrow.
Action item: Create a sleep environment for optimal rest. Get the free downloadable guide at the end of this post for more ideas!
Diet and exercise.
Sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol can all interrupt your sleep patterns or alter the quality of your sleep. During the day, try to limit caffeine intake to the hours before lunch so it has time to wear off before bedtime.
On the other hand, alcohol may help you drift off to sleep easily, but it actually hinders your ability to get restorative sleep, which means you wake up tired and consume more coffee to get through the day, then go for another glass of wine to try to wind down before bed. It’s a vicious cycle.
And if you aren’t getting some fresh-air and strengthening exercise each day, you are storing up stressors all day that aren’t leaving your body.
Exercise not only helps you build endurance, strength and flexibility, but also helps you manage stress in a very healthy way. It helps you rest more deeply at night. It is also a great way to get your kids’ bodies moving, too, so they can reduce the stresses in their bodies and sleep more soundly too.
So what can you do? Get the kiddos outside and walk to the park. Or have a dance party in the living room. Whatever it takes, get your heart rate up and get moving. Get those steps in. Get your heart rate up in ways that don’t involve your children jumping off of the furniture or screeching angry tirades.
Reduce your processed food intake as much as you can and eat whole, fresh foods. Minimize your intake after dinner time so you aren’t diverting your resources to digestion when you are trying to sleep.
Action Item: Incorporate exercise and fresh air into your daily routine. Limit sweets, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods. Take care of your body the same way you would do for your kids.
If you are lying awake at night thinking about all the things that aren’t done, about things you wish you had done differently, about your child’s behavior and development, about decisions to be made, or wondering how you are going to get through everything that has to be done tomorrow, congratulations, you have children.
But if anxiety is keeping you awake at night frequently, then it may be time to tackle the underlying issue(s).
Anxieties, fears and worries can steal your peace, joy and rest when they force you to lie awake at night thinking of all the things.
- Keep a journal. Write down the things that are coming up most frequently for you. Are they within your control or outside your control? Many find it helpful to pray about those concerns, and others find meditating on affirming thoughts can help you feel more equipped to face those worries. If you’re worrying about things that are within your control, use your journal to brainstorm solutions or ways you might handle the situation. If you are worrying about things that are outside of your control, use the journal to think through how you might manage your responses to various outcomes, or to release those worries by writing them out and letting them go.
- Phone a friend. This might mean a group text, or a park playdate, or a zoom call from the back porch while the kiddos are sleeping. Talk to your village and lean on them for support. Sometimes we imagine we are the only ones dealing with our particular circumstances. Just being brave enough to speak your worries aloud can not only take away their power, but also give you the chance to receive some wisdom and encouragement from others who know and love you.
- Talk therapy. If anxiety is keeping you awake at night and/or affecting your daytime activities, a therapist can help you sift through those thoughts and feelings in a way that is healthy and meaningful so you can work through them and create strategies to deal with them effectively.
- Seek medical care. Sometimes anxiety or depression can become so all consuming that it makes sense to consult with your physician to determine together whether medicine is part of the solution.
Action Item: Lean on your village. Whether it’s a group text thread or a family member, bestie or therapist, talk and get support and encouragement from those you trust.
Even when every other condition is ideal, sometimes there are underlying health issues that can interfere with sleep. Stress, anxiety and depression are the most common culprits that can cause insomnia, but chronic pain, some medications and certain medical conditions can also keep you awake or reduce the quality of the sleep you do get.
You may be wrestling with hormone changes or even a medical issue that is causing you to overheat at night. Hormone fluctuations, pregnancy, menopause, thyroid issues and other health conditions can disrupt your body’s thermostat and cause you to overheat easily, which disrupts sleep and prevents you from feeling rested even when you do sleep.
If you’ve already addressed diet, exercise and optimal sleep conditions and are still waking up overheated (or are sweating all night), then it may be time to check in with your doctor to find out what is going on.
Action Item: Check in with your healthcare provider if you are losing sleep due to chronic insomnia, night sweats or hot flashes.
The problem (why productivity for moms is so elusive):
- Your productivity suffers when you aren’t rested.
- Work takes longer and you’re more prone to errors when you are exhausted.
- Your relationships suffer when you aren’t rested.
- Your kids are more prone to misbehave when they know you are tired, and you are more likely to lose your cool as a result, when you are exhausted and depleted.
- Your confidence and self-worth suffer when you aren’t rested.
- You are more likely to experience mom guilt, feelings of failure, impostor syndrome, anxiety and self-doubt when you are running on empty.
The solution (the secret sauce that improves your productivity):
- Make sleep a priority for everyone in your home. Let non-essential projects go until you can reach a minimum threshold of restedness.
- Carve out rest time during the day if it isn’t possible to sleep through the night.
- Create an optimum sleep environment (get the free guide!)
- Identify your sleep obstacles and work to eliminate them.
- Take care of yourself with the same love and care you take care of your kids. Feed your body well, get some fresh air and exercise every day. Process your big emotions and get help when you need it.
Crystal is an interior designer, blogger & writer, foster & adoptive mom, wife, worship leader and lifelong learner. She runs her interior design company from home while homeschooling her preschooler and trying to keep up with the laundry.