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How Being A Parent Made Me More Productive (A Decade Later)

New research shows that being an organized, efficient parent makes you a better employee, too, after you get though the toddler year.

How Being A Parent Made Me More Productive (A Decade Later)
[Photo: Flickr user Stephan Hochhaus]

As a mom of two teenagers, I put up with eye rolls, heavy sighs, loud music, and limited hot water for my shower, but it turns out my status has me winning when it comes to getting work done.

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According to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis that measured the output of nearly 10,000 academic economists, participants who were mothers of two or more children age 12 or older were more productive than mothers of only children and women without children. Fathers in the study scored high, too; those with two or more kids age 12+ were also more productive than fathers of one child as well as their childless counterparts.

A 12-Year Waiting List

These findings may seem like they debunk the notion that kids derail your career; however, they put you on a 12-year waiting list for productivity. As any sleep-deprived parent of a toddler might expect, the study found that having children initially lowers productivity for both moms and dads. Women are hit harder, though, losing an average productivity of 17.4%, while men lost just 5%. And it gets worse when you have more kids; having two preteen children was associated with a 22% drop in productivity for women, while three or more preteens in a household brings it down further to 33%. That’s the equivalent of losing two and a half and four years of work, respectively.

I can relate. After I had my first child, I went from being a staff writer at a large newspaper to a freelance writer working from home. I had steady work from the paper, but little energy to get much done. Once my son found a dependable nap schedule and I found my groove, things got better.

And then they got worse. Four years after our son was born, we had our second child. It was during this time that getting anything done–from writing to making dinner–felt like a miracle. Part of it was probably due to the fact that my first son was an easygoing child who would play with blocks and puzzles for hours, while my second child was, well, difficult. An obstinate nap skipper, he had frequent tantrums and outbursts, culminating in one memorable episode that involved the library and the (loud) phrase “Hey, stupid Mommy!” Eventually he outgrew his behavior issues and things got better again.

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While the study says parents of older kids are more productive, it doesn’t offer concrete reasons as to why. Christian Zimmerman, one of the study’s authors, offered the Washington Post this theory: “If you want to do research and be successful at it, being well organized is a significant component of that,” he said. “That may be all that is driving the results.”

I agree; having children forces you to become organized. When you’re a parent, you simply have more things to do. The only way to get anything done is to identify what’s important, prepare what you need, schedule the task, and execute. Then repeat. When my boys were young, I used a large calendar to plan out activities, meals, errands and my workflow. Without it, everything fell through the cracks.

My mom always says if you want something done give it to a busy person, and it’s true. When my youngest reached school age, my productivity soared. I believe it was due to the skills I learned as a mom. During the past eight years, I’ve started and sold a business, wrote a book on how moms can make life easier, and brought my freelance career to an all time high.

Launching a business, becoming an author, and having a successful career were dreams of mine before I had kids, but I never took the steps to actualize any of them. Now, I have better planning skills and a motivation to accomplish what I want.

I guess I should thank my kids for that.

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