Credit: Courtesy

I consider myself very fortunate to have been raised by two wonderful human beings. My mom and dad taught me much of what I know, and I see their lessons in so many aspects of my business, my parenting, and my home. During this Mother’s Day week, it seems fitting to honor Mom (and Dad), and the top five productivity tips they taught me. 

My parents embody all the positive stereotypes Californians associate with Midwesterners. They are the nicest and most hardworking folks you’ll ever meet. Ever heard the expression “Minnesota nice”? That’s them! The two of them modeled amazing attributes while raising my brother and me.

I started working in the family business when I was 13. My parents owned a variety store that was an institution in our northern Minnesota town. Think of a Ben Franklin or a five and dime: a store where our customers knew they could find anything that they couldn’t find anywhere else. I loved the feeling of working, earning money, and making a difference. My successes in life are the result of the countless nuggets learned and good habits formed through working in the family business. 

In no particular order, these top lessons are:

1. Write things down.  While growing up, I watched my mom write every kind of list imaginable to help her run her tight ship. Groceries, travel, work, shopping, and, well, the list is endless. You name it, and, guaranteed, she had a list for it. I remember as a young girl taking a cardboard box and turning it upside down in my bedroom, plunking a mug full of pens on it, plugging in a small table lamp, and calling it my “workspace” where I could write and think. You’re never too young to start good habits.

2. Verbalize, don’t internalize.  My dad said this over and over while we were growing up, and it got hardwired into my brain. We had a magnet on our fridge that said this quote; thus, my intense need to talk about EVERYTHING and process ALL details is inevitable. 

3. Prep as much as possible the night before.  I use this in my life, I force it on my husband, I push my kids to do it, and I teach it to my clients. If this feels a bit foreign to you, then here are some common the-night-before tasks: the next day’s clothes chosen, ready to wear, and hanging neatly and nearby for easy access; lunches made and breakfast decided; homework completed and signed off; backpacks, briefcases, and gym bags packed and by the door. After a long and exhausting day, prepping the night before can seem like an impossibility. It is so worth the effort to do it. Believe me. This is the true cornerstone of my productivity habits. 

4. Put things back where they belong.  This is a fundamental law of efficiency. My parents are very organized people, and this was instilled from birth in my house: Everything has a home. We all abided by this rule, and it worked really well. These days, getting my children to do the same is a work in progress, of course!

5. Do unto others as you’d have done to you. Better known as the Golden Rule, it was drilled into our heads growing up that you treat people how you want to be treated. This has a direct connection to my habits as a business owner. I try, at all costs, to treat people with respect and kindness, no matter what the circumstances.

The underlying theme to the five lessons my parents taught me is to work hard and play hard. By getting the tough stuff out of the way and the chores done first, you can better relax and unwind and play harder. I watched my parents have a huge social life, entertain all the time and each have their individual interests. I am so fortunate to have had such strong role models and terrific people in my life, and I am working very hard to carry on that family tradition.

We just passed the seven-year mark of losing my mom, and I miss her every day. But the lessons she and my dad instilled will live on forever. Here’s wishing all the hardworking moms out there a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend … unwind, relax, and cherish your world, organized or not!

Sara Caputo transforms how individuals, teams, and small businesses navigate workflow and increase workplace efficiency. Her work has been featured in Working Women, Success, and Forbes, as well as other national and regional publications. She can be reached at

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