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 productiveÂ employees than their peers, not less.
The study authors focusedÂ on 10,000 academics,Â andÂ measured their productivityÂ by analyzing how muchÂ research they published. The team determined that among their subjects, women experiencedÂ a temporary dip in productivity (15% to 17%) when their children were small. But over the span of a 30-year career,Â working mothers tended to outperform their peersâand moms with at least two kids were the most productive.
Lead author Christian Zimmerman, assistant vice president of research information servicesÂ at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, notes that there are limitations: âOne 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.â
And of course, as Ylan Q. Mui pointed out on the Washington Postâs 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 toÂ meet commitments.
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Still, against the backdrop of the ceaseless "women can't have it all" chatter, the results areÂ encouraging. Or as Jezebel's Tracy Moore concludes:Â for the average working mother,Â âthis study is vindication.â
Definitely,Â asÂ 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. YetÂ I'm still curious exactly how to accomplish thisâwith my sanity still intact.Â 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. Hereâs what theyÂ had to say.
Donât schedule meetings before noon
âYou 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.â
âMaryEllen Tribbly, founder of WorkingMomsOnly.com
Turn off notifications
âWhen you really need to concentrate, strip down to the bare electronic essentials: Put your cell phone on airplane mode. Set your Gchat to âDo not disturb.â Disable your desktop alerts. And only respond to emails periodically, rather than handling messages as they arrive. If anyone really needs you, theyâll hunt you down.â
âLaura Stack, motivational speaker and author of What to Do When Thereâs Too Much to DoÂ ($11, amazon.com)
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Follow the âone-minute ruleâ
âItâs 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.â
Make a game out of it
âAs a web producer, Iâm used to working on tight deadlines. So when I have a task that Iâm dreading (like my expenses, or unloading the dishwasher), I set a time limit: Iâll give myself 15 minutesâor 20 or 30âto make as much progress as I can. Sometimes it actually feels like a game, and Iâm competing to get the job done as quickly as possible.â
âPaula Rizzo, senior producer for Fox NewsÂ and author of the forthcoming Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed ($12, amazon.com)
Write actionable to-do lists
âFor each item, state exactly what needs to be done, starting with a verb. So for example, rather than jotting down âJoe â budget?â spell out âAsk Joe for budget numbers.â And rather than scribbling âBirthday party thing,â write âEmail teacher to get a headcount for the party.â Hours later, you wonât waste time or brain power deciphering cryptic notes, and youâll be more likely to take immediate action.â
Say ânoâ to requests that drain you
âThe most insidious myth women are brainwashed to believe is, âIf I donât do it, nobody else will.â This is simply not true. Practice declining favors and requests that distract you from your priorities. The toughest part: Learning to say ânoâ to the people you loveâânoâ to doing all the laundry, all the housework, and all the errands.â
âVickie L. Milazzo, author of Wicked Success is Inside Every WomanÂ ($15, amazon.com)
Break for a good laugh
âHumor puts your brain in a more optimistic state, which helps you manage stress. But you donât 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.â