This is how billionaire Mark Cuban starts each morning: “My rise and grind is to get up every morning knowing how I am going to kick everybody’s ass, first of all, and then get after it.”
Once he sets his daily intention, he will “do [his] emails,” “catch up on all the news” and then start reading “all about artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, that is the wave of the future.”
We tend to valorize VC billionaires, believing they have something meaningful to teach the rest of us about wealth, success and productivity. As if they’re wizards who know arcane spells, their quasi-magical life hacks get regularly hyped by all the leading business-centered magazines and websites — Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc., Business Insider and CNBC. Productivity porn is meant to motivate us to become like billionaires, to act like them, to think like them, to value time and execute decisions like them and to presumably hustle hard and stack loot like them. But there’s a real danger in this capitalist philosophy, which values success as wealth creation no matter the cost.
Besides, if you truly wanna hustle harder and hustle smarter, the real time-maximizers to study aren’t the ultra-wealthy, they’re single moms. There’s no better exemplar of how to get shit done efficiently in the morning than a single parent, and especially, a single mom. (While single dads are certainly no slouches, they make up only 16 percent of single parent homes.)
Like many of you, I was raised by a single mom. Just like Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, she also got up at an ungodly hour. She was the director of a multimillion-dollar agency, so she was never slouching through her mornings. She was busy with work, and yet, she also had to tend to two young lives at the same time with no help. By virtue of her example, I saw firsthand what it takes to really “get after it” — no offense, Mark Cuban.
Curious to know what’s changed since I was a kid, way back when my mom made time stretch like it was elastic, I spoke with a few working single moms about how they balance their requirements as a parent with the responsibilities of their full-time gigs. Basically, how do they rise and grind and generate all of that Big Single Mom Energy?
“It’s easy to transition seamlessly from showering to meditation when you’re not stepping into the shower and realizing, Fuck, I forgot to snake the drain.”
Andi Zeisler, 46, author and co-founder of Bitch Media, parent to a 10-year-old son, Portland, Oregon: I remember years ago reading Martha Stewart detailing her morning routine and just being like, “Well, obviously you can make yourself a healthy breakfast at 6 in the morning because you’re Martha Fucking Stewart and you had time to make multiple batches of fresh juice and store them in your giant-ass Sub-Zero refrigerator. And of course you can answer all your emails on your drive into the city to your office because you’re not actually doing the driving.”
We tend to hear the morning routines of entrepreneurs because they’re already successful, notable people; there’s little to no acknowledgment of the resources or material help that allows for their seamlessly productive mornings — personal assistants, cleaning people, food-delivery services, etc. Like, I’m sure it’s easy for Tim Ferriss to transition seamlessly from showering to meditation or whatever because he’s not stepping into the shower and realizing, Fuck, I forgot to snake the drain. But that would definitely affect a lot of people’s ability to meditate for 15 minutes afterward.
There’s very little transparency about the circumstances that allow for productivity evangelism, particularly when you’re talking about straight male entrepreneurs. I’m admittedly not super up on my productivity geniuses, but I’ve never seen one who’s a man detail a genius morning routine that involves being responsible for children. Sheryl Sandberg was able to advise other women to lean in more at work because she had nannies and housekeepers and whatnot to take care of her children. After her husband died, she even wrote that thing that was like, “Whoops, turns out things are harder for single parents even when they have resources!”
Reading a profile of the morning routine of a male productivity genius, most people aren’t thinking about who’s taking care of his kids. But swap in a woman and the same people would very likely be outraged that she’s ignoring her kids to meditate or that she has the nerve to outsource their care. There’s a tacit acknowledgment that if you’re successful enough, you’re able to maintain completely separate spheres of work and family, and that has always existed more for men than for women. Even in heterosexual relationships that are ostensibly equal and where both parents are productive and successful, the woman is much more likely to be the one tasked with the invisible mental labor of the family — remembering to buy a present for your kid’s friend’s birthday party, keeping track of immunization schedules, knowing when field trips are, etc.
A typical morning in Zeisler’s life…
6 a.m.: Alarm goes off. Snooze.
6:10 a.m.: Alarm goes off. One more snooze.
6:20 a.m.: Wake up. Try not to look at news/Twitter.
6:21 a.m.: Look at news/Twitter.
6:25 a.m. to 6:45 a.m.: Make breakfast for kid, make and pack kid’s lunch.
6:45 a.m.: “Soft” wake-up of kid
6:50 a.m.: Serious wake-up of kid.
6:55 a.m. to 7 a.m.: Shower, get dressed.
7 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.: Make sure kid is eating, argue about how he can make more cinnamon toast himself if he wants it, gather own breakfast and lunch stuff together.
7:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.: Fix face, hair, etc., remind kid to brush his teeth, pack his homework and backpack, etc.
7:30 a.m.: Check email/Slack for anything pressing.
7:35 a.m.: Remind kid to walk dog. “No, I don’t know where your jacket is. Your jacket is not my responsibility.”
7:37 a.m.: Tell kid to stop lagging.
7:40 a.m.: “Seriously, stop lagging.”
7:41 a.m.: “No, I don’t have this thing I was supposed to sign for school because you didn’t give it to me.”
7:42 a.m.: Where are my glasses?!
7:45 a.m.: Pack dog food/toys to bring to the office.
7:48 a.m.: Get kid and dog in the car.
7:49 a.m.: I turned off the toaster and unplugged my flat iron, right? Better check.
7:50 a.m. to 8 a.m.: Drop kid at school while walking dog again, go to Plaid Pantry for coffee, drive to work.
“Sometimes it’s, ‘How do I get through this day?’ Sometimes it’s, ‘How do I get through the next five minutes?’”
Quinn Norton, 45, freelance writer, parent to 15-year-old daughter, San Francisco, CA/Luxembourg: The routines have varied a lot over the years. Plus, we were homeless for about four years. I tried to create as much normalcy as I could, but also I needed her to behave certain ways so that we could count on having places to sleep. I guess one of the things is that when you’re precarious and single momming, there’s meta-stable patterns, but routines are hard to depend on. Am I driving in from the East Bay or bussing over from the west of SF? Who knows?!?!
I will say this: The more you feel like it’s all going to collapse, the more you shorten your time horizon. Sometimes it’s, “How do I get through this day?” Sometimes it’s, “How do I get through the next five minutes?” Forgive yourself when it all goes wrong, and forgive other people, particularly kids. It will go wrong, even when you do your best, but tomorrow is another day. Remember that you’re on your family’s side. That needs to come first, even when you piss each other off. Enjoy the good moments, carefully. Learn what you can, and then throw out the hard times.
A typical morning in Norton’s life: I try to be in bed by 9 p.m. — and up by 5 a.m. I make batches of food on the weekends and on some weeknights, so she can grab and go. Sometimes I do that at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., before I wake her up at 7 a.m. Sometimes I also go for a walk and get exercise in. I wake her up at 7, then ask if she wants a five-minute snooze. She always does. 🙂 Occasionally I have other parents and/or other early riser friends over for breakfast. Often I try to walk her to school.
“Consistency is critical. But there’s a big difference between consistency and being rigid.”
Julia Huckle, 47, registered nurse, parent to 18-year-old son, Ottawa, Canada: I remember working at a lunch counter when I was in school and the older woman telling me to “always think and save your steps.” Basically, if you’re going somewhere, is there something that could go with you to save a trip later? Efficiency in movement. In nursing, I learned how to truly prioritize. As a nurse working with people with dementia, I learned that if you take that extra moment to approach things with the right attitude, share the right information and create a good space, you’ll work together in a more enjoyable way — and because of that, actually get it done faster than if you don’t.
Consistency is critical with a special-needs child, and as a single parent. But there’s a big difference between consistency and being rigid. Yes, things need to get done, but sometimes you have to seize the opportunities and do things in that moment — and therefore, out of order. This actually makes things more efficient. Consistency gives you what’s known, and you don’t have to think about it; seizing the moment means that you incorporate the natural flow of what’s happening, which creates time efficiencies and decreases disruption to the flow. Creating a rigid process decreases our coping skills, and therefore, our ability to handle any changes and variations when things happen that are out of our control. I try to remember that consistency could mean getting any chore done, but it doesn’t have to be that specific chore. That would be rigid.
When I adopted my son (he was 5 at the time), I had to learn how to pick my battles. I broke things into three priorities:
- Things that weren’t worth arguing about: I don’t really care if he does it.
- Things that I would negotiate about: It could be now or later, but it needs to get done.
- Non-negotiables: Things that just had to be done like him taking his medication.
I learned that in order to understand the differences, we needed to understand the consequences of each category and why each went where. True non-negotiables were very limited. This allowed us to not argue and fight unnecessarily and build a strong relationship with each other.
The most valuable thing I’ve learned about managing my time as a single mom, though, is to never forget to enjoy the moment. If I can make a task fun and enjoyable, then I’m accomplishing far more than just that task. It’s okay to stop and smell the flowers that my son wants me to, because ultimately, that’s what’s more important in life. Then we can skip happily down the street and still get to our destination at the same time than if we hadn’t stopped for that moment. Isn’t that the better way?
A typical morning in Huckle’s life…: I wake up at about 4 a.m. naturally. I listen for my son to wake up, but desperately try to go back to sleep. Sometimes I drift off again, but mostly, I just try to rest. It’s easy to think about things that can go wrong and anticipate the worst. I try to adjust my thinking and focus on the positive. This gives me a better attitude and mindset for the day, which then helps me be happier in my daily tasks and more motivated, which makes me more productive.
My son wakes up generally between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. I try to get him to go back to bed. Sometimes I’m successful, but it’s rare. I’ve taught him to take his pills (which I’ve prepared the night before) and to make me coffee. He bounces in and out of my room and back to the living room/kitchen. I make and pack up our lunches. (This I do with my son as I’m trying to teach him the task and how to make wise choices.) Then I shower, get dressed, put on makeup, etc. I also ensure I get my son showered and dressed, and
we have breakfast.
We manage behaviors — with a child with autism, ADD/ADHD, anxiety and disruptive behavior disorders, there’s a lot of anxiety in the morning. So I need to go over what’s happening that day, what’s happening next — time and tasks, over and over again. I’ve begun incorporating visual calendars and routines with pictures.
I do chores, like empty/load the dishwasher or dryer, do any leftover dishes and so on. I use any spare moments to set up the coffee for the next day. Then I do anything else that I can squeeze in quickly, so I don’t have to do it in the evening, or take away from when my son wants my attention, or an opportunity to do something fun with him.
“Eating, for me, is optional, but I always have coffee.”
Erin Jackson, 36, yoga instructor/small business-owner, parent to daughters (ages 5, 12), Woodland, California: I’m single, I guess. And I’m a mom. But I don’t identify as a single mom. It’s just me doing things my way. That’s unusual in this town, but it feels natural to me. I ask my dad for advice because he did a good job with my brother and I. Also, I vent to my mom and good friends who understand. Mostly, I just go with my gut and trust that I’m trying my best and doing what’s good for my kids.
I talk to my kids’ father about our kids as well. After all, they’re his kids, too. He didn’t really have parents. So he’s completely winging it. We don’t live together, so he’s not much help with the morning grind. I’m the boss. He shows up for fun stuff, and often walks my youngest daughter to school, which is helpful. But I’m their main parent. They depend on me for everything. He’s a bit like a third child. All in all, yoga keeps me sane because what I do on the daily takes superhero focus.
A typical morning in Jackson’s life…
7:11 a.m: My alarm goes off. I hit snooze. Sophie, my youngest, usually wakes up.
7:30 a.m.: Sasha’s alarm goes off. That means we really have to move.
7:40 a.m. to 7:50 a.m.: I usually hit snooze a few times and check my phone.
7:50(ish) a.m.: I get up to pee. Then I make coffee. Simultaneously, I make sure Sasha is getting herself up and ready. I have to watch Sophie get dressed or help her myself.
8 a.m.: Set out breakfast. Eating, for me, is optional, but I always have coffee.