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Boom: A new study shows working moms actually outperform their peers at work.

Catherine DiBenedetto
November 18, 2014

For any working mom who has wrestled with guilt for leaving the office before her boss, or for calling in sick when her kid has yet another cold, a recent study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis provides some awesomely reassuring news: Women with kids are actually more productive employees than their peers, not less.

The study authors focused on 10,000 academics, and measured their productivity by analyzing how much research they published. The team determined that among their subjects, women experienced a temporary dip in productivity (15% to 17%) when their children were small. But over the span of a 30-year career, working mothers tended to outperform their peers—and moms with at least two kids were the most productive.

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Lead author Christian Zimmerman, assistant vice president of research information services at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, notes that there are limitations: “One can conjecture that the decision to have children may be taken by those who know they will fare well in organizing their time. They may also care more about excelling professionally to provide for the family.”

And of course, as Ylan Q. Mui pointed out on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, the subjects represent a narrow subset of working women who likely have good benefits, and can afford resources (like nannies and after-school programs) that allow them to juggle everything and continue to meet commitments.

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Still, against the backdrop of the ceaseless "women can't have it all" chatter, the results are encouraging. Or as Jezebel's Tracy Moore concludes: for the average working mother, “this study is vindication.”

Definitely, as a new working mom adjusting to the demands of caring for an infant on top of a full-time job, this is exactly the encouragement I need. Yet I'm still curious exactly how to accomplish this—with my sanity still intact. So I went to a handful of experts, all female consultants and authors (some of whom are moms, too) who study the habits of the highly productive for their best tips. Here’s what they had to say.

Don’t schedule meetings before noon

“You are at your best first thing in the morning, so it makes sense to tackle your most challenging and important tasks then. I set boundaries to protect that window of time. Phone calls, meetings, and other interruptions can wait until after lunch.”

—MaryEllen Tribbly, founder of WorkingMomsOnly.com

Turn off notifications

“When you really need to concentrate, strip down to the bare electronic essentials: Put your cell phone on airplane mode. Set your Gchat to “Do not disturb.” Disable your desktop alerts. And only respond to emails periodically, rather than handling messages as they arrive. If anyone really needs you, they’ll hunt you down.”

—Laura Stack, motivational speaker and author of What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do ($11, amazon.com)

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Follow the “one-minute rule”

“It’s simple: I do any task that can be finished in less than 60 seconds as soon as it arises. The chores are so small (file a document, answer a quick email, read a piece of snail mail and toss it), but the payoff is big. Keeping those nagging tasks under control makes me feel more serene, less overwhelmed.”

—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project ($9, amazon.com) and the forthcoming Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives

Make a game out of it

“As a web producer, I’m used to working on tight deadlines. So when I have a task that I’m dreading (like my expenses, or unloading the dishwasher), I set a time limit: I’ll give myself 15 minutes—or 20 or 30—to make as much progress as I can. Sometimes it actually feels like a game, and I’m competing to get the job done as quickly as possible.”

—Paula Rizzo, senior producer for Fox News and author of the forthcoming Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed ($12, amazon.com)

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Write actionable to-do lists

“For each item, state exactly what needs to be done, starting with a verb. So for example, rather than jotting down “Joe – budget?” spell out “Ask Joe for budget numbers.” And rather than scribbling “Birthday party thing,” write “Email teacher to get a headcount for the party.” Hours later, you won’t waste time or brain power deciphering cryptic notes, and you’ll be more likely to take immediate action.”

—Maura Thomas, author of Personal Productivity Secrets ($22, amazon.com) and founder of RegainYourTime.com

Say “no” to requests that drain you

“The most insidious myth women are brainwashed to believe is, ‘If I don’t do it, nobody else will.’ This is simply not true. Practice declining favors and requests that distract you from your priorities. The toughest part: Learning to say ‘no’ to the people you love—‘no’ to doing all the laundry, all the housework, and all the errands.”

—Vickie L. Milazzo, author of Wicked Success is Inside Every Woman ($15, amazon.com)

Break for a good laugh

“Humor puts your brain in a more optimistic state, which helps you manage stress. But you don’t have to wait for someone to make you laugh. Take a break to visit your favorite funny blog (like Funny or Die or The Onion), or share a silly photo or clip with a friend or colleague. (Talking animal videos always work for me!) The world is filled with reminders of things to worry about. We need to balance our brain chemistry by seeking out regular doses of fun.”

—Heidi Hanna, PhD, CEO of the consulting firm Synergy, author of The SHARP Solution ($14, amazon.com) and Stressaholic ($14, amazon.com), and founder of the nonprofit Beyond-Funny.com.

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