On parenting and productivity: An interview I didn’t have with my son

Alongside many other things, as many of you know, I’m also a parent. The fact that I live with my 5-year-old son does shape a fair amount of how I structure my days, how I prioritise what I do, and how I think about life and its manifold meanings[1]. Now, every day, all the time, all around me on social media, in newspapers and magazines, and in books, movies, and television series, intelligent (and less intelligent) things are being said about parenting. Many of them are true; many of them are nonsense; many are a bit of both, and many are neither[2]. I’m not going to tell you how to tell which from which – you can easily do that yourself, using common sense, some fact-finding, the laws of logic, and a good dose of sound mistrust towards those who claim that the grail of parenting can be found in their children’s room.

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At the same time, as most of you know, alongside many other things, I’m also a consultant and a coach[3]. In this role, I like to stay in touch with whatever the latest articles, books, websites, and blogs say about leadership, organisational development, and all other topics relevant for how individuals work with and in the institutions they’re connected to. Much of what is out there is true; much is nonsense; much is a bit of both, and much is neither. I’m not going to – wait, I already said that. Anyways – through links on one of my social media pages, I recently came across an article on “15 surprising things productive people do differently”[4], “based on actual research […] and on interviews with […] billionaires, Olympic athletes, straight-A students and over 200 entrepreneurs”. Enticed by the dense body of thorough evidence obviously underlying the results and enchanted by finding yet another helpful list, I clicked on and read it.

Then, something strange happened: The more I read, the more I heard myself having an interview with my son – the main 15 points of which I want to share with you here[5].

[Me:] “So, son, tell me: What is the prime secret of how you organise your day?”

[Son:] “I focus on minutes {#1}. Do you know that there are actually 1,440 minutes in every day? It’s so important to get every minute just right. Like, you know, when I put on my jacket reeeeeaaaaallllyyyy slow – you know how many minutes that makes? Amazing, right? Or, the other way around, when I brush my teeth – three minutes are gone within no time. Or when we have to catch a bus – the less minutes are left, the more interesting things pop up right and left – it’s like every minute is multiplied by gazillions, there’s something written on the wall, there’s somebody’s socks lying on the walkway, there’s a cat, there’s a plane, there’s a kid with a train, a balloon, a rotting leaf, and, look, is that a thief? And then…”

[Me:] “Thank you. I think I get it. Then, tell me, how do you know what to do at every single moment?”

[Son:] “What to do? What kind of question is that? Are you expecting me to write a to-do list? I don’t need a to do list {#3}. How silly would that be! All the important things are in our wall calendar, like swimming lessons and piano lessons. And birthdays and holidays, too. And then there are the things that just happen every day, like going to kindergarten and coming back. And then, of course, there are themes for certain days of the week {#12}, like Tuesday is toy day, and Friday is pre-school day. Und am Samstag kommt das Sams.[6]

[Me:] “Aha. Right. I see. So what do you do when you have to do things you don’t like so much, like, let’s say, tidying your room?”

[Son:] “Oh, that’s easy. First, I say “no” as much as I can {#9}. You know, I really don’t want to things I don’t want to do. So I have to say “no”. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t work, like when you say it has to happen.”

[Me:] “So, what do you do then?”

[Son:] “Then, I try to find somebody else who can do it for me {#11}. I can ask you, or the nanny, or somebody who just happens to be around. Quite often, they’ll do it for me. Sometimes, I need to offer them something in return, like that time when I promised my friend that you’d make a hat for him if he puts away the planes. That works well.”

[Me:] “And if nobody wants to do it for you?”

[Son:] “Then I do a good chunk of it, and then I stop {#10}. When you see that I’ve started doing something you’ll usually help me with the rest. It’s like, you know, I put four cuddly toys way and say: ‘Look, I’ve already put four cuddly toys away – can you put the last one away?’ – most of the time, that’ll work.”

[Me:] “Err, I guess you’re right. Okay – let me see… – Oh, yes: Tell me something about what is important to you.”

[Son:] “Important? Oh, there are so many things that are important – at the same time, it’s really a different thing every day. Every morning when I wake up, something really important is on my mind straight away. As soon as I get out of bed, I start with my most important thing immediately {#2}. Sometimes, I need to build a spaceship, sometimes, I need to read a book. Then, I need to travel to Africa with all my dolls and lots of luggage, so I need to pack all my backpacks and suitcases and schlepp them to the other end of the apartment. Then I need to compose an opera and make all the costumes. Or…”

[Me:] “Yes, sure. You start with the most important thing immediately. Do you have any rules how to go about it?”

[Son:] “Well, first, I go to the toilet. Because if I don’t, I’ll have to interrupt myself later, and I don’t want that. Then, I have a look whether you’re already awake. If not, I’ll wake you up so you can take a shower. Or read a book to me before I start with my really important thing. Then I start with what I want to do, while you’re taking your shower. It’s really the same thing every morning {#14}.”

[Me:] “What about getting dressed? Or breakfast?”

[Son:] “Getting dressed? Breakfast? I already told you about what I don’t want to do. You asked me about what is important to me.”

[Me:] “Yes. Sure. Okay. – One thing we haven’t really talked about: Other people…”

[Son:] “Other people? Well, the most important thing is that they don’t disturb me. When I’m playing, I really don’t want to be interrupted. You know, coming to think of it, maybe you could ask me for things only, let’s say, three times a day? So I’m interrupted only three times a day {#7}? That would be so great. And then when people come to visit, especially friends of yours – I think we could stop that altogether. Or, if you absolutely want them to come, maybe you can all just stand in the kitchen for a really short time? So I’m not part of any of your conversations {#8}?”

[Me:] “I’m not sure…”

[Son:] “Don’t worry, I’ll always come over to grab some food {#5}. But there’s nothing worse than having to spend hours on things you haven’t chosen yourself – it’s just so boring. I want to enjoy what I want to do, and you can enjoy what you want to do. Everything else is just not fair.”

[Me:] “I’m not sure…”

[Son:] “I want to go to bed when I want to go to bed, and I want to eat what I want to eat. Like, for example, no peas. Never, ever. I want to play when I want to play as long as I like, and when I want to take a break, I want to take a break to talk to you, not matter what time it is and whether it suits you or not. I don’t think about time – I do what I like and what excites me {#15}. And also, it’d be nice if you don’t always remind me about how I’ll feel in the future – how do you even know? I know what I like right now {#4}, and I can tell you. If you listen, that is. And all other things, I can write down in my notebook. You know, I have that yellow notebook that you bought for me last weekend? Now I have a notebook {#6}, where I can keep notes.”

[Me:] “Thank you. That was helpful.”

[Son:] “Really? Okay – can I now watch an episode of Chloe’s Closet? Or maybe two episodes? Or three? Pleeeeeeaaaaassseeee? If you allow me to watch three, I’ll clean up my room afterwards. Promise. Big promise. Pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaassssssseeeeeeeee???”

[Me:] “But only three, okay?”

Note: Chloe’s Closet is an animated children’s series in which Chloe and her friends (and toys) go on magical adventures by entering the closet in Chloe’s room[7]. Of course, this is of no relevance to executives interested in increasing their productivity. They – as opposed to kids like my son or Chloe and her friends – touch things only once.

It’s okay to not have a rule {#13} – planes don’t have a seat row 13, either.

Safe travels!


[1] For those of you interested in the more colourful aspects of my parenting avatar, you’re welcome to also follow the (German) blog nichtmitabsicht.de that I recently started together with my sister. It has more photographs than this one and less intellectual baggage [retrieved Feb 1, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[2] This is probably just as valid (or so I assume) for with most topics broadly covered in the media universe that surrounds us.BACK TO TEXT

[3] Just in case you haven’t seen it, my professional website is www.bucketrider.org [retrieved Feb 1, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[4] You can read it here, although I’d like to underline that it is not a must to read it if you want to understand what follows [retrieved Feb 1, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[5] For ease of reference, I’m adding numbers in curly brackets behind each main statement; the order is somewhat confused, blame that on my lack of interviewing skills.BACK TO TEXT

[6] Apologies for non-German readers – this is a German children’s book classic by Paul Maar [retrieved Feb 1, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[7] The official website is here [retrieved Feb 1, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

One response to On parenting and productivity: An interview I didn’t have with my son

  1. Leo

    How true – the focus of kids on the moment, on whatever matters right now, is so much stronger than the Focus of adults. Sometimes that might be the only Thing we should remember. Focus on what really matters, forget the rest and move on!

    Like

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