How to be Super Productive as a Parent 2

For many years, my obsessive drive to be super productive became my norm for living. I worked 40-50 hours a week at a job, then came home and worked another 20-40 hours on side projects. When all of the work was done, I pursued intensive play. Rarely was there a dull moment. With kids, this all changed. I still have that drive while I’m at work, but that’s only 40 or so hours per week. At home, I now find myself watching more TV, playing fewer games, and wondering what I can do to keep busy. I have even caught myself using the kids as an excuse not to do work that needs to be done.

It is easy to fall into these patterns because kids do require lots of attention and the minute I decide to do something, my kids are immediately demanding attention. I can be sitting in the same room with them – saying nothing, doing nothing – but immediately after the phone rings or immediately after I step out of the room to start some work, they are following me and demanding attention. Sometimes they want to help with the work, which is great, except they usually do not know how to do the work. Teaching them makes every job go much slower. And even if I teach them, they still have troubles completing jobs to my standards. So often I’m left thinking, “let me just do it myself.” And since I can’t do it myself when they are around, it waits until they go to bed or they start entertaining themselves in another room.There is a different way of viewing productivity with children, however. I see it and am trying redirect my energies to see it to fruition. I still can be super productive, but what I’m being productive with has changed. It is no longer just the immediate goal at hand. With kids, there are now two end products. The first is the project itself – sweeping the floors, cleaning the dishes, building a bird house, raking the leaves, designing a garden, planting a garden, weeding a garden, etc. The second end is my child’s growth into an autonomous man (or woman as the case may be) – to help them learn the skills and virtues necessary to live happy and successful lives. This new perspective on productivity is more akin to being a coach or manager.

“The virtue of productiveness is the recognition of the fact that productive work is the process by which man’s mind sustains his life, the process that sets man free of the necessity to adjust himself to his background, as all animals do, and gives him the power to adjust his background to himself.” – Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness

As with managers and coaches, being productive does not mean doing the technical work yourself. Being productive as a manager or coach means working as hard as you can to give others the capabilities and opportunities to excel with the task at hand. An effective manager does not do all the work himself. Instead he delegates. If an employee does not know what to do, it is the manager’s job to insure the employee learns the skills necessary by either showing them himself or sending the employee to training. If an employee does not have the necessary tools to do a job, it’s the manager’s job to acquire the tools. The manager must also review the work of the employee to ensure the objectives were met with the predefined quality standards. Occasionally a manager may have to settle disputes among employees, but an effective manager does it in a way that enables the employees to settle their own disputes in the future. The goal should be positive discipline.

As a parent, being super productive is very similar. A parent must work hard to give their children the capabilities and opportunities to excel at the child’s only job. That job is to learn and grow into a self-sufficient, rational, productive, and happy adult. Being productive for a parent means not letting the background control your life, such as letting the care of your children stop you from the care of your house. Nor letting the current skills of your children stop you from encouraging them to learn new skills. Rather, being productive means changing the background – helping your children to grow in skills, to accomplish projects, to become more autonomous, and to develop into the self-sufficient, rational, productive, happy adults that all children have the potential to be. With this new vision of productivity, it is much easier for me to be satisfied with my productivity at home by focusing on coaching and managing, rather than focusing on traditional ideas of productivity that have defined my life.

About John Drake

John Drake is an associate professor at East Carolina University. While pursing his PhD in management information technology and innovation, John learned the art of high productivity through setting difficult goals to achieve unending success. John is a student of Objectivism, an advocate of Getting Things Done, a parent of three, a husband, a writer, a business owner, a web master, and an all around cool guy. His professional site is at

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2 thoughts on “How to be Super Productive as a Parent

  • Carrie

    Hi John,

    This was a really interesting read for me. Please know that the following is written with a spirit of benevolence and respect, even if I seem to disagree with you!

    I have never wanted children, for the reasons you mention at the beginning of the article. I’m trying to understand and internalize the second half of your article, and I’m still having trouble viewing raising children as a productive activity. One reason is that in any of the “traditional” productive activities, the outcome is dependent upon one’s own effort. Thus, the degree of quality output is a reflection of one’s virtues that contributed to the end result. With child-raising, the ability to assess and measure your virtue seems hampered, largely because of the child’s free will. (“Good” parents should get some credit for raising good children– but the main credit belongs to the child. Likewise, “bad” parents inhibit a child’s potential, but an exceptionally strong-willed child can overcome a poor background.) So I’m having trouble understanding how a parent would self-assess? Would this mostly then be through introspection and making sure you had acted with integrity at all times with your child, independent of how the child turns out?

    The other thought I had (and again, please understand I do not mean this to be disrespectful), is that I have a nagging feeling that viewing child-raising as productive seems like a type of rationalization. I would feel somewhat demeaned if I knew I was capable of composing symphonies, but instead was stuck teaching beginner’s piano. Or imagine you are capable of designing bridges but are instead spending your time with Lincoln Logs. This is what parenting seems like to me (but again, I haven’t had children so do not know if that perception changes).

    Lately I’ve been thinking on these issues since most of my friends are now married and are just starting to have children. I’m seeing many of them “give up” careers and am really having trouble understanding how they can feel pride or self-satisfaction in doing so. I’ve always based my self-identity on my career and my traditionally-productive activities, and am struggling with basing identity on something that can’t be held up to the world as “MY” achievement.

    Anyway, thank you for this entry. I will think more on it, and if you have any other suggestions on how to change this jaded attitude I will be happy to read more. 🙂

  • John Drake Post author

    Excellent comments, Carrie.

    It might seem, especially in context of my earlier post about career coming before family, that I’m contradicting myself. Perhaps I am, but I think not. Since my wife has been the stay at home parent, it’s a bit harder for me to relate. However, this week I am playing Mr. Mom since my wife is out of town. I’m hoping my thoughts on this topic will strengthen as the week progresses 🙂 However, here are my initial thoughts.

    First, we’re looking at parenting from two different value systems. I have always wanted to have kids. And while I find greater satisfaction from my career, my kids are still a tremendous value to me. If you don’t see the value in having kids – don’t have any. It will be miserable for them and for you. Second, what do I get out of playing Lincoln Logs with my 4 year old? Well first, I don’t like Lincoln logs so let’s say Legos. I loved Legos as a kids and I love helping my kids discover the same passion. When I enjoy playing the most is when I have an objective or two in mind when I agree to play. Oftentimes it’s as simple as sharing a value together (like if you go to a concert or play a video game with your friends). Sometimes I strive to teach a lesson, like how to follow directions or how to experiment with different construction techniques. But I approach it from a rationally selfish perspective. I don’t sacrifice. But sometimes it requires me to rethink my hierarchy of values and sometimes relearn values that I had as a kids but forgot about.

    Something else to consider… how does a teacher or manager measure success? In both cases, you’re dealing with other people who have free will. Certainly a teacher cannot take full credit for one student success. But a teacher can take credit for creating an environment that optimizes the potential success of all their students. A manager cannot take credit for the worker of a single employee, but a manager can create and direct the work of his/her subordinates so that the finished product is successful. These analogies are much more akin to parenting. A good parent strives to create an environment for their kids’ success. My post on productivity is written with that in mind. So no, I don’t think it is a rationalization. Parenting productivity is about working as hard as you can to make an environment for success. This entails teaching, coaching, managing, arbitrating, and even sharing values with our kids.

    In the end, I would say raising kids is the opposite of your claim. It can be and should be seen as a symphony, not a beginner’s piano lesson. But even in a symphony, sometimes you have to tune your instruments, which may not be the funnest part, but necessary for success.

    Let’s keep the dialog going. It’s helping me to think through this too 🙂