Staying Productive As a New Dad

productivity-guide-cover

Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

productive-new-dadI do not claim to be an expert at juggling a career and a kid, but in the (nearly) three months since my daughter was born, I have been learning fast. I do not get as much time at the office as I used to, and I need to be able to focus on my family—not my work—when I am not working.

Compartmentalize

I was used to working in short bursts throughout the day. I would work for an hour or two, then slack off for a while before picking up work again later. No more.

Now, if I want to get work done, it has to happen at the office or after my daughter is in bed. If I slack off while I am at the office, I cannot get that time back in the evening. So, I am learning to buckle down and work for long stretches. I still need breaks to stay productive, but I make the most of the time I have.

Purge, then organize

A lack of organization is a recipe for failure and ethical problems.

Most people start intending to get organized, but run headlong into the size of that project and give up. Do not get organized. Instead, start by eliminating things you do not need in your life, from your dresser to clients and other obligations that are no longer benefitting you. Once you have done some purging, get organized.

Organize your sock drawer if you like, but I mean you should organize your life. With so many things on your mind, what you really need is a way to drop your work completely, then pick it up again. You cannot enjoy your kid if you are thinking about work, and enjoying time with your kid is the higher priority, here.

I hate syrupy, new-agey productivity systems. That is why I love David Allen’s Getting Things Done. GTD is not so much a productivity system as a how-to guide to creating a system of your own. My system allows me to stop thinking about work completely when I walk in the door to my house, then pick it up again when I sit down at my desk to work. In between, I can spend time with my wife and daughter without work nagging at the back of my mind.

Stop multitasking

Multitasking is a myth. The human brain works best when it is focused. This becomes apparent when trying to mix formula and warm a bottle with a three-month old in your arms while trying to participate in a conference call. Chances are good the formula will spill, the baby will get upset, and the call will get disrupted.

Instead, focus on one task at a time. Do it until it is done, or until you get to a stopping point. Then move on.

It gets easier

While you and your partner—if you have one—are starting to figure out how to care for your newborn, you may think it will be impossible to reach anything like your former level of productivity. You may never again be a 14-hour-a-day workhorse, but you will get the hang of being a parent, and that will make it easier to get back to work.

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  • Totally agree about GTD. My son is 20 months old now, and I only started this kind of radical prioritization a few months ago. Made a big difference. The first thing I did was to purge my e-mail inbox, which was one of several “to-do” lists I was keeping. I took a couple of long nights and either responded, defered (by converting mail to an Outlook task), or deleted.

    Next I consolidated all of my different to do lists into a single list in Outlook tasks. IMO, the “system” (such as Outlook) is much less important than the act of consolidating all of the different list into a single list somewhere, and to make sure everything is out of my mind and in the list. This eliminates that nagging feeling that there’s something else I should be doing, either while I’m at work or when I’m not.

    With my inbox at zero and all of my tasks on a single (prioritized and categorized) list, I’m much (much) more productive. As you say, I can’t work the 14-hour days anymore. But I’m finishing more work — and more higher-priority tasks — than I did when I worked longer hours.

    The big net benefit is that I can spend a little more time each day with my wife and son, and it’s made a big difference in my life. I wish I had started earlier (and kudos to you for starting when you did)!

  • I am also a father juggling a solo practice and two young children. One of the things I’ve done, and you alluded to it a bit, is to separate my work into three categories: (1) things I must do away from my family (client meetings, networking, court appearances, etc); (2) things I prefer to do away from my family (legal writing, etc); and things I can get done at home during a quiet moment (admin stuff, etc). This has really helped me focus and prioritize my time at the office. And it has also helped me truly “be” at home when I’m at home.

  • Take a look at Private College Tuition and open up a 529. That should give you enough motivation to get organized!

    Congrats again Sam!

  • Mitch Jackson

    Guys- 15 and 8 and…my lovely wife of 21 years is also my partner at the practice. So far so good but it’s been an exciting ride. Could probably charge each of you big bucks for all the tricks and tips we’ve picked up and learned over the years. All I can tell you is that every moment is special and so far… each year is better than the last. Call me for any “Senior Partner” questions! As one of the wisest men I’ve ever known (my father-in-law the milkman- actually a dairy distributorship owner/retired) will tell you, take care of yourself first (if you’re not happy and healthy, then you’re no good to anyone), next comes your family and friends, and then your practice and clients. This order has worked very well for us for more than two decades and 15+ years with the kids. Congrats to all! Mitch (www.TrialLawyerTips.com)

  • Sued.com

    My wife and I have a five month old. It is definitely life altering, but we wouldn’t change a thing. I agree with the organization tip. Thus far, there has been absolutely zero time to do anything work related once I get home. This has actually been a positive for me as well. While at the office, I work twice as hard, am more efficient, and am much more focused than I was before. I will hang on to your “It gets easier comment.” Thanks.

  • Congrats on the baby and on playing an active role in your daughter’s life.

    However, I think I speak for most nursing moms that multi-tasking is not a myth. Since this is a public comment section, I won’t go into detail how many times I fed my daughters and took phone calls, tapped out briefs or read through pleadings but suffice it to say it was routine. Perhaps that is another benefit of nursing a baby – the ability to multi-task (of course I realize that this solution doesn’t help you…)