If you're a new parent, then you don't need me to tell you that caring for an infant or young child is a surefire way to decrease your productivity at work.

Between the sleepless nights, the massive new responsibilities, and the anxieties that can come along with keeping a little human alive, it can be hard to focus on or prioritize work tasks.

In fact, one study found that having children lowers women's average productivity by over 17% and lowers men's average productivity by over 5%. (The disparity is likely because in general, the bulk of childcare still falls to women.) These numbers increase for people who have multiple preteen children.

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, however: That same study found that parents of children age 12 or older tend to be more productive than people with no children. This might be because children become more independent around that age and because parents have learned a number of valuable skills in the course of parenting a young child, including delegation, task prioritization, and organization.

If your child is still a long way from 12, don't despair. It's possible to be a good parent and be (at least semi-) productive at work even when they're younger. The following four strategies can help you do just that.

Seize small opportunities for productivity.

When you're a new parent, the odds of finding hours of uninterrupted time for getting work done are pretty much nil. So learn to seize small pockets of time as they arise.

There's a popular idea in the home tidying space that if a task will take two minutes or less, you should just do it right now. In the process, people often realize that a lot of tasks take less time than they'd thought.

The same principle applies here. If you find yourself with five or 10 minutes to spare, that may actually be all the time you need to cross some work tasks off your to-do list, whether it's finalizing presentation slides or sending off an important email.

Don't hold out hope for a huge chunk of free time; instead, try your hand at being productive in small bursts. You might be surprised by how much you can still accomplish.

Try to get some sleep.

I know, this idea might seem laughable. New parents are notoriously sleep-deprived, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it.

But it is important to seize any opportunity for sleep that does arise, because sleep and productivity are intimately linked. When you're chronically sleep-deprived, it's harder to concentrate, make decisions, think creatively, and maintain overall work performance.

So how can you get more sleep even with a new kiddo in your life? These tips can be helpful for new parents:

  • Maintain your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary. Practice all the basic sleep hygiene principles: Keep the room cool, dark, and quiet, and reserve the bed for sleeping and sex. That way, the time you spend in your bed is more likely to be restful.

  • Schedule in wind-down time before bed. If you've been caring for your child all day, it's tempting to use late-night hours to catch up on email, browse social media, and so on. But whenever possible, try to use that time for relaxation instead. Take a bath, read a good book, listen to soothing music... engaging in calming activities (and staying away from screens!) will help you wind down and drift off to sleep.

  • Be mindful of caffeine intake. If you're not sleeping well, it's reasonable to reach for caffeine. But pounding coffee all day can lead to a vicious cycle in which you're too amped up to sleep when you get the opportunity. So try to cool it on the caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

  • Don't be afraid to seek help. For some new parents, it is much more difficult to get some sleep. This is usually because of a condition called insomnia. If you find yourself in this situation, then don't hesitate to speak to a doctor or therapist near you.

Practice delegation.

If you're used to doing it all -- the full-time job, the housework, the car maintenance, and so on -- then parenthood will dispel any notion that it's possible to keep doing it all once you have kids.

The reality is that you simply can't be the perfect worker, the perfect parent, the perfect homemaker, and so on all at once. But what you can do is delegate.

Do your retired parents or in-laws live nearby? Delegate some childcare so you can spend that time catching up on work. Does your partner have a more flexible schedule than you do? Delegate some household chores to free up time for work-related tasks. Did your coworker offer to pick up some slack? Take them up on it!

If you've never asked for help before, this might take some getting used to. But delegation is a skill that will serve you in parenthood and beyond.

Learn to say "no."

While you're learning how to delegate, go ahead and learn to say "no" as well. You simply aren't going to be able to attend as many friend hangouts, business trips, or meetings outside of regular work hours -- and that's okay.

Saying "no" starts with giving yourself permission to not do as many things as you did before you became a parent. And then it extends to enforcing those boundaries with other people -- no guilt necessary.

While being a new parent can be daunting, here's the good news: In the process of juggling work, parenting, and other responsibilities, you'll be learning valuable skills that will assist you in your career once your child becomes more responsible for themselves. So take some deep breaths and know that the payoff is coming... in approximately 12 years from now.

Sep 24, 2019