How to be productive as an overwhelmed mum

You know those days where you have so much you need to get done and you don’t have enough time and you are just completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to start so you don’t really get anything done?

I know them well too.

Having a pretty unpredictable day-to-day and having weeks where hardly anything can be done for whatever reason means I have found a system that works quite well for getting back on track.

Hopefully it will help you too!

In a perfect world, we would make a list of all the things that need to be done in a day and we would be able to complete them and move on with our lives.

The reality is though that motherhood is unpredictable.

Things happen like our children get sent home from school unwell, random things come up, your whole family catches something or there might just be a busy week or so full of appointments.

That means that our well-intentioned to-do list gets put aside to another day and suddenly we have a lot of things that need to be done or that need our attention and it all becomes very overwhelming.

So where do we start.

First…Check in.

So before you roll your eyes and skim this bit…hear me out.

I know you have a million things to do and you are against the clock – but it pays off to check in first.

As the saying goes ‘you have got to slow down if you want to speed up’. I’m not sure who said that but it’s true.

Check in with these questions:

  • How did you sleep last night?
  • Have you moved your body today? How about yesterday?
  • Have you eaten a tidy meal today?
  • When was the last time you had a glass of water?
  • Have you been outside today?

We underestimate how much of a stress effect these things have on us.

Don’t underestimate how much more stressed and overwhelmed you are going to feel if you are dehydrated and hangry.

Even slight dehydration will make you anxious.

If you are really pushed for time – just set a timer for 15 minutes (you have definitely got 15 minutes), make yourself a sandwich and a glass of water and go and sit outside in the sunshine to eat it and make a point of getting to bed earlier tonight.

Make a plan

Grab a piece of paper or the notes app on your phone and just brain dump all the things that you need to get done.

A good opportunity for that glass of water while you write!

Go through your list and either highlight/star everything that needs to be done today or separate it into two separate lists, one for today and one for tasks that are not for today.

It can be helpful as well for the next step to put like tasks together – for example, anything that can be done on your laptop or anything cleaning related, or phone calls etc.


If you are still a bit too overwhelmed to start because you don’t know what to start with, what helps me is to think if I had a phone call from the school to go and pick up Anest what tasks will I be glad that I got done today.

Anything that makes you think ‘I am going to have to do that tomorrow now’ and be disappointed it hasn’t been crossed off your list is a definite get it done first task.

person sketching on paper

Put your phone away

I don’t think we realise just how much our phones hinder us.

For most of us, we need to be contactable at all times (for emergencies for our child/ren) so turning our phone on do not disturb and chucking it in a drawer isn’t an option for us.

So for this step, turn the volume on your phone as high as it can go, and put your phone in a central location (away from your body) where you will be able to hear it ringing in all areas of your home.

If you still feel you can’t be trusted to not check messages you can mute message notifications without it affecting your phone ringing.

A really good app that I use if I am in a no motivation to keep away from instagram or my phone mood, is the Forest app. You set a timer which starts a tree planting and if you go on your phone it kills your tree. It does help!

Set a timer

You can use your phone timer if you don’t have a different timer (highly recommend getting one though, I swear by mine!) but LEAVE your phone in the central location once the timer is set.

The timer helps because it get’s you started and it also makes things a bit more fun.

It’s surprising just how much you can get done in an hour when you are trying to beat the timer going off!

Set your timer for an hour (or however much time you have) – I wouldn’t recommend going over an hour.

Batching your tasks together e.g. all email tasks together, all cleaning tasks together means you will be a LOT more productive.

Switching activities uses a huge amount of brain power, which means you are losing time and motivation if you are sending an email and then cleaning the bathroom and then sending another email and then hoovering – it’s not helpful.

Don’t overthink what you should start with just start.

clear glass with red sand grainer

Take a break

When you decide to take a break depends on you.

Either you take a break at the end of your hour – DO NOT go over an hour.

Or take a break at the end of your batch type.

For example, if you set the timer for an hour and you started with cleaning and 40 minutes in you had completed all your cleaning tasks you could decide to take a break there instead of waiting for the alarm to go off.

Personally I would choose to take my break there rather than doing some more tasks for 20 minutes because I feel that it helps my brain to switch to a different activity type and helps me be more productive.

Actually take a break

So back to the break itself, give yourself an actual break (or fully focus on the kids if you are multi-tasking).

If you are child-free or someone else is there to occupy the kids do something for you – do some breathing, make a cup of tea and stand outside in the sunshine for ten minutes, even if it’s not sunny go stand out there.

Read a chapter or your book, do a 10 minute puzzle, flick through a magazine.

Just make sure you are doing something for you.

Set your timer for ten minutes.

It might seem weird to set a timer for a break, but if you don’t set a timer what happens is that you clock watch and you are not actually resting if you are doing that.

You are still on alert.

So set that timer.

The break is important, don’t skip it to get more done because what happens if you skip it is you lose steam, and you start burning out and you don’t get half of what you wanted to do done – so just take the break.

TIP: If you are the sort of person who would be like ‘one more chapter and then I will start’ make sure your timer is in a completely different room (ideally a different floor) so you have got to make the effort to get up and turn the timer off and that helps you to leave the activity.

Not that I’m that person or anything…

book opened on white surface selective focus photography

Repeat the cycle

At the end of your break I suggest choosing what activity you are moving onto next.

Then once your 10 minutes is up, we literally just repeat what we have already been doing.

You need to:

  • Set your timer for an hour again.
  • Phone in a central location make sure it is on loud.
  • Power through for the hour or until the end of the batch tasks.
  • Take a ten minute break.

Keep repeating until you either run out of time e.g. the school run or dinner time or whatever time signifies the end of the day for you.

If you have a lot of tasks on your todo list, you can do this for a few days to get on top of things but what I usually find happens is if you do it for one day it tends to give you a big push on through your todo list and that allows you to go back to a more normal day to-do list wise the next day.

pen calendar to do checklist

I think you will have a surprise just how much you can get done when you put your phone away and use your timer!

I hope this is helpful and the next time you are overwhelmed with all you need to do, give this a go!

Let me know if you are going to give it a go!

Beth x

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