How to get things done with a baby -- productivity for new moms

How to Get Things Done with a Baby

If you are a new mom struggling to establish daily routines now that you have a baby, then welcome, Mom Friend.

You are in the right place. Figuring out how on earth to get things done with a new baby in the house (or in your arms) is a challenge every mom faces.

The whole world seems to be pushing morning routines, evening routines, self-care, productivity hacks, and on and on, but for a new mom, it can be a struggle to even accomplish one task in an entire day.

The pressure to follow the right kind of schedule can be overwhelming and frustrating.

You know you need routines and you want to be productive, but you haven’t figured out how.

Don’t worry, Mom Friend.

I want to take that pressure off of your postpartum shoulders and share with you the ULTIMATE system to take care of a baby AND get things done.

If you want to learn how to organize your day without messing up your baby’s schedule, then stay with me.

Infographic: How to structure your day with a new baby using routines

How a Baby Changes Your Schedule

Before becoming a mom, I had no idea just how much I took for granted. Showering, brushing my teeth, leaving the house, getting in and out of my car, fixing meals, eating those meals, etc.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, my husband took on a full time job with full time school so that I could quit my job in preparation for the baby, and I remember complaining that I just wasn’t able to get everything done and keep up with the housework in my 700 SQUARE FOOT APARTMENT.

The memory never fails to make me roll my eyes and laugh at my naive, unsuspecting self.

Then the baby was born. Suddenly, I couldn’t just hop into the kitchen and fix myself lunch; I had to try and juggle a baby in one hand and the mayonnaise in the other. I could’t just take a shower; my baby cried if I put her down, even if she was asleep. I couldn’t just leave the apartment; I had plan around nap time and pack the diaper bag and plan nursing breaks and…

If I thought I was overwhelmed before, man, did I feel like I was drowning once the baby came.

The chores piled up, but my husband couldn’t help much between work and school. The entire morning would come and go, and I hadn’t been able to do anything more than marathon-nurse and change a couple of diapers.

I felt unproductive, inadequate, and stuck in the mud.

It made me terribly anxious and I had a really difficult time even leaving the apartment.

All I wanted was some ROUTINE, but as you might have noticed, babies don’t tell time.

Establishing Routines When You Have a Baby

The Importance of Routines for Mom and Baby

I can’t tell you enough how crucial it is to have some kind of routine. (You might well already know that, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the HOW soon.)

So many of the benefits for you, mama, are the same for your baby.

Routines help to:

  • Create structure
  • Instill security
  • Reduce overwhelm and fatigue
  • Improve sleep
  • Regulate appetite

What that means for mom is an easier recovery after childbirth, a better frame of mind to be able to combat postpartum depression and anxiety, and a greater sense of fulfillment in this new phase of life.

For baby, it means feeling comfortable and secure in a wildly new environment (vs. mom’s womb), being able to relax knowing that mama is relaxed, too, and his temperament may be more laid back/less fussy since he’ll be able to predict what comes next.

You’ll be able to find a rhythm to your days and focus on your parenting style rather than on what to do next.

The Hard Part About Routines with a Baby

The hardest aspect about establishing routines for yourself is that every day is different with a baby. Your baby won’t have diaper blow outs at the same time daily, and may feed for 25 minutes longer this time than the next, but reverse tomorrow.

Your baby might be sleepy for a nap shortly after she wakes up one day, but not want to sleep until almost noon the next.

The hardest part is that you can’t predict your baby’s needs on a timetable.

Does that mean you should try to force your baby into a routine of their own? Not in my opinion. I believe in responsive parenting, where the parent meets the baby’s needs as they arise, rather than according to the time on the clock. Research shows this is most healthy for mom and baby alike!

So how do you form a routine when nothing about your life is routine?

What typical approaches are missing

First of all, I want to acknowledge the difference between a routine and a schedule.

Usually, routine is a sequence of actions that isn’t necessarily based on a timetable.

A schedule, on the other hand, is a less flexible, often written plan, that relies on time to trigger actions.

When it comes to mom-life, though, a routine can’t necessarily always be the same sequence of events. Yet, you also can’t schedule everything according to the clock since babies don’t tell time. So to find a workable approach for us mamas, we need a hybrid that takes many of the elements of routines and schedules, but in a way that doesn’t depend on time or sequence.

You need a system that is flexible enough to fit easily around your baby’s needs, but structured enough to keep your day on track and productive.

So here’s what to do.

Create a system of micro-routines

With a baby, it’s just not practical to expect to get through a full-blown step-by-step sequenced routine without being interrupted 756 times. It’s just setting you up for aggravation (and explosive bouts of crying, depending on your postpartum hormones).

A typical example of a morning routine might look like this: wake up > morning hygiene > start the coffee maker > cook breakfast > read the news with breakfast and coffee > stretch and meditate > Bible reading/prayer/gratitude journal > clean up breakfast dishes > get dressed > do makeup > etc…

It’s a lot of stuff. We don’t really think about it when we’re in that phase of life because we get in the flow of things and don’t have many interruptions. The whole routine probably doesn’t even take that long on a normal day.

Add in a baby, though, and you can’t even wake up without an interruption.

That means we need our larger routines (morning, evening, self-care, housekeeping, work-from-home) to be composed of smaller routines that can be rearranged as needed. That’s where micro-routines come in.

You might not be able to get from your bed through breakfast, cleanup, and journaling without a hitch, but I bet you can get out of bed, put the baby in the wrap, and start the coffee maker. There’s your micro-routine #1. Each subsequent micro-routine can depend on your baby.

Does Baby need to nurse/feed right away? Maybe the next micro-routine is Bible reading and baby feeding.

If Baby is content in the wrap for a while, maybe you eat some breakfast and then tidy the living room.

Are you starting to get the idea?

How to visualize micro-routines

The “if this, then…” triggers might seem like a lot to keep up with in your head. Fortunately, you don’t have to. I made you a free printable kit to get you started. The original idea was the Morning Routine Designer, which helps you group actions based on what your baby is doing or needing in the moment.

That way, if say your baby falls asleep again soon after you’ve gotten up, you can look at your chart under that respective section and choose one of the items from your list. I won’t go into too much instruction here because the designers are complete with how-to guides for each routine. The pack includes the original Morning Routine, a Housekeeping Routine, and a Self-Care Routine.

daily routine designers for new moms with babies
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Of course, you don’t have to use my printables. You can pull out a notepad and create your own system! First, brainstorm a list of micro-routines for each part of your day, and then group those routines by what your baby needs.

I find that having a written reference (not a schedule!) is essential because mom-brain is no joke. Without a list to refer to, I stand around wondering what to do next and end up wasting prime time.

Organizing Your To-Dos: Getting Things Done with a Baby

So now that you’ve got the idea of how to build some customizable routines that are able to adjust to the flow of each day, the next step is to figure out how to prioritize your daily tasks and fit them in around your baby’s needs.

The first rule of a mama to-do list is…

Start small and add on later

One of the kindest things you can do for yourself as a new mom is to lower your expectations for what you can accomplish in a given day. Babies require a TON of attention, especially if you find yourself with a high-need baby like I did.

Because of that, set up only a bare-bones skeleton of the most important things you want to accomplish, and have a little reserve list that you can pull from should you find yourself with more time. One way is to organize a to-do list by must do, should do, and would like to do.

Prioritizing a to-do list

You can prioritize a to-do list by “A tasks,” the things you MUST get done in your day (the meat/protien of your list), “B tasks,” those less important things you really SHOULD do, but wont’ make or break your day (the buttery vegetable side, if you will), and “C tasks,” which are things you would LIKE to do (but are more of a dessert to your day).

You start by knocking out your must-dos, then move onto your should-dos, and if you have time, begin your would-like-tos.

The one issue I have with the must/should/would-like system (promoted by some serious productivity gurus) is that you’re not supposed to move onto the should do tasks until the must do list is complete. However, a lot of times, I might have the opportunity and ability to do something from my should do list before I’ve completed my must do list, yet I’m not able to tackle a must do right then.

For instance, my must-dos with a newborn might be “pick up groceries, vacuum apartment, wash dishes,” and my should dos could be, “do laundry, plan budget, read 20 pages of The Baby Sleep Book.

Let’s say I’m sitting on the couch nursing the baby and she’s fallen asleep; I know that if I get up, she’ll wake. My must do list isn’t finished, but I can’t do any of those things without moving and waking the baby, but I can do 2 of the 3 things on my should-do list.

All of that is to say, I like to organize my task list this way, but I don’t follow it religiously. If I can do a secondary task before a primary, I will do it. Ultimately, I’m just happy to be able to knock out something that needed to get done.

Create a To-Do Inventory

If I haven’t said it enough yet, every day with a baby is different. Because of that, I find it very difficult to predict what and how many tasks I’ll be able to accomplish in a given day in order to create a to-do list ahead of time.

As a college student, I was a planner. The instant I had access to my syllabi for the semester, I put every single assignment into my planner, broken down into the steps I’d take to complete them and when. That doesn’t work now.

I can’t sit down at the beginning of the week and say, “Okay, on Monday I want to iron all of hubby’s dress clothes and meal prep, on Tuesday, mop the floors…” Every time I try, I’m only frustrated when my week doesn’t go according to plan.

So what I do instead is I create an inventory (still pretty scant, mind you) of the things I need to do THAT WEEK instead of day by day. You can use this list to help populate your must/should/would like to list, or you can skip the daily list altogether and just pull from your task inventory. It’s completely what works best for you.

When I have a lull in my day, I can then just grab my list and see what will fit into my day in that moment.

Scheduling Tasks

There are a lot of different systems out there you can use to schedule actions and organize your day. One popular method is a time-blocking system.

With a time-blocking system, you set aside however many hours (usually 3 or 4) and then only focus on tasks that fit the theme for that block. Examples might be: a housekeeping block, a personal block, a work-from-home block, and an outing/errand block. These time blocks are then scheduled to fill specific times of your day, like “housekeeping, 8 am to 11 am.”

While I think this system is awesome when your kids are older, it just hasn’t worked for me as a new mom with a baby (or toddler).

What I’ve ended up doing instead is roughly scheduling 3 primary things: outings, meal times, and nap time(s). Like I said, these are rough times because things rarely go as planned with a baby. Around those, I fill in my day with micro-routines and I pull from my task inventory.

So for example, now that I have an older baby, I try to do an outing most most mornings starting at 10 am and getting home by 12. Lunch is usually around noontime. Then my goal is for naptime to start around 1 pm. Spoiler alert, that doesn’t always happen. Some days, she’s wiped out by 1 pm, other days, she’s not tired until 2 or 3. (For a newborn/younger baby I wouldn’t worry about scheduling naps.)

Whenever I have a gap between the time-oriented events, I look to my task list to see what fits with my baby’s needs in that moment.

That’s the beauty of having a loose to-do list and utilizing micro-routines. You can maximize your time with what you’re able to do in that moment and stay on track with your day without following a rigid system that doesn’t account for your baby’s needs.

How to be productive: tips for success

Embrace baby wearing

Baby wearing will help you SO MUCH. All of those things you couldn’t get done while holding your baby, now you can. Well, at least most of them. When my daughter was a newborn, she HATED to be put down. She needed constant contact all the time.

A wrap is easier to move in and is better for accomplishing more active chores. It is more secure when you have to bend over and pick things up, or use both hands to do something.

A ring sling is easier to breastfeed in (my opinion), but is a little less sturdy when doing a lot of moving around. You can’t really have both hands involved in a task. HOWEVER, I could simultaneously breastfeed and make coffee thanks to the ring sling, so that makes it worth every penny in my book. (It’s also a great tool for nursing a fussy baby to sleep, but that’s another post.)

If you have the means to get both, I highly recommend having both options on hand. If money is tight, you can always check secondhand stores like Once Upon a Child and Kid2Kid. If I had to start with one and get the other later, I’d get the wrap first.

PRO TIP: You can even baby-wear in the shower. I have this mesh ring sling that was made for water activities. There’s nothing relaxing about a shower when you have to listen to your baby screaming the whole time you’re in there, so you might as well enjoy the warm water together (even if you don’t get very clean).

Prioritize your baby

The newborn phase is so short. I’m not saying you have to love every moment of it (because you WON’T), but do relax on the to-do list and give yourself a ton of grace. Motherhood is a completely new way of life that you have to adjust to, and putting a lot of pressure on yourself to some ideal vision of a wife or mother or whatever is going to detract so much from this experience.

Focus on building a bond with your baby and taking care of yourself postpartum, and soon enough you will catch up the chores and you will get in the swing of things.

Include things you personally enjoy

Your to-do list and routines shouldn’t just be chores and baby care. It’s both acceptable and advisable to put things you enjoy doing towards the top of your task list as well. Make time to read fiction, crochet, call your girlfriend, read blog posts, whatever. Trust me, motherhood is going to stink like old boiled eggs if you feel like your life only revolves around taking care of other people. Do what you love every day.

For a while, things I enjoyed were always in my “would like to do” list, but because those things come last in priority, I never actually got around to them. Just because you enjoy it doesn’t mean it can’t go at the top of your list in your must-dos.

Keep the must-do list short

Don’t put more than 3-5 tasks on your daily must do list. (This isn’t counting your regular, daily micro-routines; I don’t consider those to-dos.) If I accomplish more than I expected, I pull from my weekly task inventory. This gives me a lot more of a mental boost than if I had piled a bunch of tasks on myself from the beginning and end up having to push them to the next day.

Ask for help

The #1 person who should be helping you is your husband (or partner). But that isn’t possible in all circumstances, like when my husband was working and in school full time. Even if your husband can pitch in, there will be significant periods of time where he can’t be there to assist you.

Get this through your head right now: you do not have superpowers. You do not have to do it all. You can and SHOULD ask for help.

If you’re not comfortable asking a friend or family for help with housework, ask them to come over and hold the baby so that you can do a few chores. They will be so thrilled, it will be as much a favor and treat to them as it is to you.

Putting It All Together: Using Micro-Routines and a To-Do Inventory to Get Through Your Day with a Baby

So what does all of this look like in practice? What are the takeaways here?

Let’s boil this whole post down into the key points:

  • Take your bigger routines and break them into smaller components that can be rearranged as needed.
  • Group these micro-routines by what fits best with each of your baby’s anticipated needs.
  • Download the New Mom Routine Kit so that you have a clear visual guide.
  • Each week, create a floating to-do inventory that you can pull from selectively according to what you can accomplish in the moment.
  • Optional: organize daily to-dos by what you must do, should do, and would like to do, but don’t follow the sequence too rigidly.
  • Schedule time-dependent events like meals, naps, and outings, but keep as much as possible loose and flexible so that it can easily fill in the gaps between scheduled events and Baby’s needs.

FREE Printable Routine Designers for New Moms

free printable routine designer workbook for new moms
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Finding a rhythm in your day is going to take some time. Having a baby (or babies!) is a HUGE change. You don’t have to be a professional mom the second you get home from the hospital!! Chores are going to get backed up, you’re going to have days where keeping the two (or more) of you alive is the only thing you accomplish, and you might well feel like the only new mom in the world who doesn’t have it figured out.

All of this is NORMAL. It’s normal! Give yourself an immense amount of grace this first year, and celebrate even the tiniest wins (like getting to brush your teeth). Your baby doesn’t care about how your house looks or whether you’ve showered lately. Your baby is just thrilled to have an amazing, attentive mama like you.

Tell me in the comments…What was your favorite routine before having a baby, and how has it changed?

If you found this article helpful, you should also check out:

How to plan your day around a new baby so you can get things done

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