It's Mother's Day this weekend, and across the U.S. fathers and children will be doing all sorts of thoughtful things to make mom happy. But what is mom doing to make herself happy? Often not enough, according to productivity expert Carson Tate, author of Work Simply. It's a problem she's experienced firsthand.

"After the birth of my daughter, I quickly returned to work. I spent the entire first year of her life working, traveling and building my business. Caught up in my own busyness and striving to achieve some idealized notion of success I painfully realized on her first birthday that I had few real, joyful memories from that year," she told Inc.com.

"It was in that moment that I made the decision to live differently--as a mother and an entrepreneur. I wanted to savor the small joys of each day, to be as present and engaged in this moment and to no longer let busyness drive my life," she says.

So how did she do it? She offers a 10-day challenge packaging what she learned from personal experience to get your schedule under control and create room in your life for what's really important--happiness. The plan is intended for mothers, but really it could work for anyone.

Day 1: Decline or shorten a meeting

This one is straightforward, but just because it's easy to understand, doesn't mean saying 'no' is always easy to do. To sort out which meetings can get the axe, Tate suggests you ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this meeting assist you in achieving your goals?
  • Does the purpose of the meeting align with the company's strategic priorities?
  • What contribution can you make in the meeting?
  • Will anyone even notice if you are not present?
  • Will this meeting be energizing, or will it suck the life right out of you?
  • Will this meeting be a rehash of the last five meetings you attended?
  • Is attending this meeting the best use of your time right now?

"If you answer no to one of these questions, decline the meeting. Every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else," she concludes.

Day 2: Get into a work flow

Flow--the state of working with absorption, energy, and without noticing the passage of time--feels great, but it's hard to achieve is you're being interrupted every 15 seconds. "To get into this flow, batch or group like tasks. For example, group all of your phone calls together, email correspondence, data analysis, or writing. When you perform the same type of task it is easier for you to concentrate and fully immerse yourself in what you are doing," instructs Tate.

Day 3: Stop shoulding all over yourself

'Shoulding all over yourself' sounds nasty and it is. "The shoulds are those voices in your head saying 'You should be doing this,' 'You should like that,' 'You should spend time on this,' and so on and so forth--endlessly. The problem with the shoulds is that they can easily become a runaway train, robbing you of joy and completely undermining your ability to get focused on what you need," insists Tate.

To kill these shoulds remember the acronym POWER, which stands for priorities (is this really one?), opportunities (does this 'should' actually create any?), who (who is saying you 'should' do this, really?), expectations (whose are your responding to?), and real (get real--what is this should really about?).

Day 4: Clear the mental clutter

It's hard to be joyful when you have an endless loop of to-dos and anxieties circling through your brain. Get rid of the chatter with a brain dump on day four.

"Think about everything you need to do, personally and professionally. Imagine turning your brain upside down and emptying out its contents onto paper, a whiteboard, or into the computer program of your choice. Once your to-dos are in the physical world your mind is free to think about things, not of things--exactly what it was intended for. As your mind begins to quiet you will find yourself able to be a little more present and to notice the simple pleasures in your life," Tate explains.

Day 5: Create a stop doing list

"As your responsibilities continue to expand, you keep adding tasks and projects to your to do list. However, as that list grows, you'll notice something--you're never taking anything off of the list, and THAT is the antithesis of joy," warns Tate, so day five is the time to "take a hard, critical look at your projects and tasks and ask yourself if each project is still relevant."

Day 6: Focus on REAL work

You've spent the first five days of the challenge cleaning up distractions and time sucks, but that's only half the battle. Joy isn't just about not doing irrelevancies; it's also about doing real, meaningful work.

"There is work--the routine, time-filling work most of us spend our days performing--and then there is your real work, the work that takes you one step closer to achieving your goals and bringing you joy. Reshape your task list to focus on the real work," Tate urges. "Ask, 'What do I need to start doing? What projects and tasks need to be added to my to-do list that will enable me to achieve my goals and bring me joy?'" Then get busy--but busy doing truly meaningful things.

Day 7: Work in vacation mode

"Have you ever noticed what happens before a vacation?" Tate asks "Your inbox is magically cleaned out, projects are wrapped up, and your desk is cleared off. The vacation is a hard deadline. As a result, you have to get the work done before you go. Consider working in vacation mode even if you are not going on a vacation by creating hard stops to your work day. For example, schedule a fun activity after work that has a hard start time--a movie, a play or a sporting event."

Day 8: Personalize your productivity tools

Tate's book focuses on productivity styles--she argues that there are four unique approaches to getting stuff done. Not all tools and tricks work for all types. "So instead of fighting against your natural thinking, learning, and communicating preferences, work with them. Identify your productivity style and then embrace it," she says.

Day 9: Decide what's good enough

You're almost done with your challenge, but there's still one huge obstacle to more joy you need to tackle --perfectionism. "Too much [perfectionism] deprives me of joy because I spend so much time overanalyzing and overdoing that I am never really in the present moment," explains Tate. "Do you know what good enough is for each of the projects on your list? If you have any doubts, ask a colleague, friend or significant other for their insights to keep you from falling into the trap of perfectionism. Do good work, and then stop."

Day 10: Recess!

Nope, you're not a fourth grader, but that doesn't mean you don't need a little recess in your life. Stop feeling you need to justify time for play--it's an essential, not a luxury.

"Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play, says that play is what keeps our brains flexible and is what enables us to innovate, create and solve problems in new ways. He has found that people who do not make time for play--in either attitude or activity--are often joyless, rigid, have diminished curiosity and, at the core are depressed. It is time to bring back recess and go play!" she concludes.

Your final assignment? "Disconnect play from any purpose. The true measure of play is how it feels, not what it produces. Lighten it up and lose yourself, even for two minutes, in the joy of play."

Are you up for this 10-day challenge?

Published on: May 6, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.