Any working professional, parent, or adult can tell you they have a lot going on. Life is busy and we move quickly. Working parents, in particular, are in a constant state of context switching between professional, parental, and household responsibilities, and it creates serious overload. It sure helps to have a supportive partner, but there is plenty of research that suggests women take on a lot of the “noticing” about all the little to-dos and it can be overwhelming. I tried to explain it to my husband once, and all he heard was that he’s not pulling his weight (which he is), so it was very reassuring when I came across this article a few months ago.
But what’s a working mom to do when you just can’t shut off the noise? And even if you could, what about all those to-dos that still need to be done? Below are some tips for managing (and coping) with the working mom overload.
Take Care of Yourself
No seriously. Take care of yourself. You are not efficient at home or at work if you aren’t rested, energized, and happy. Do whatever you need to do to find time for self-care. Starting with the rest of the things on this list.
Stop Being a Perfectionist
This is totally a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I’m probably worse at this than anyone reading this. So this is as much for me as it is for you. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is that in life, a 92% is an A. We don’t need to do everything at 100% all the time. It just isn’t possible. And if it’s not 100% it doesn’t mean it’s crap. There’s a wide spectrum between perfect and crap, so choose something closer to perfect but don’t drive yourself insane trying to get all the way there. And if something CAN hit closer to the crap side of the spectrum (I’m looking at you, school bake sale!) then go for it. Don’t waste energy on things that don’t matter (as much).
Easier said than done? Focus on just one thing you can let go of this week. Then challenge yourself to do it again next week. And the next. Until you can breathe a little easier. Don’t worry. In no time, you’ll have gone back to your perfectionist tendencies and will have to do this all over again.
Identify Shortcuts and Execute
This could be as major as setting up recurring grocery deliveries or as simple as using your lunch break at work to run errands, but it’s important to identify where you can save some time and take things off your plate. Is laundry your biggest time killer? Look into a laundry service or see if you can add it to your housekeeper’s tasks. Does cooking take up all of your weeknight time with your kids? Try a meal delivery service or consider hiring a mommy’s helper to help make dinner and/or school lunches so you can spend more time with the kids. To streamline my trips to Target, I consult my cabinets as well as my calendar at the beginning of the month so I can cover diapers, birthday presents, and school snacks in one trip, rather than going back five times a month for one or two items. Because we all know you never leave Target with just one or two items!
This is important at home and at work. It reduces the effort of trying to maintain a running list in your mind of things to do and minimizes the frequency that you’ll find yourself frazzled trying to meet a deadline or caught without the right ingredients for your family’s dinner. I use different methods for organization at work and home. At work, I have both a handwritten checklist and I also utilize my email inbox as a priority list. At home, we use Google Drive to keep lists and spreadsheets that are always updated in real-time, and we’ve recently been experimenting with the Amazon Echo to create shopping lists. For now, the Amazon list is a spillover for the things we think about while preparing food in the kitchen. We share calendars and set reminders. It takes some time to set up systems if you don’t already have them, but it is totally worth a little effort at the outset for the peace of mind knowing you’re not dropping any balls.
Sometimes, what worked last year (or last month or last week) isn’t working anymore. Spend some time every few months reassessing your situation. Did you think a nanny just didn’t make financial sense but a new promotion at work leaves you with less time but more money? Maybe it’s time to try it out. Are you feeling like with some more time under your belt or maybe a new manager, you can revisit an alternative work schedule that may allow you to spend more time with the kids? If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, remember to reassess. Even if you can’t make any major changes, the self-check-in is important to recalibrate your priorities every now and then.
Take It All In
If you’re anything like me, you mostly feel like you’re kind of free falling through life, flailing like a maniacal bird trying desperately to catch the wind before hitting the ground. But if you can stop flailing for a moment and trust that you’re not going to hit the ground, take a moment to look around at the beautiful views around you: a loving spouse who has your back, healthy, thriving children soaking up all that you’re willing to teach them, a career that is probably far more successful than you give yourself credit for, supportive friends and family begging you to let them help you, and a home that you fill with laughter and love daily. There’s a lot of background noise associated with maintaining these. But if you really stop and look at it, if those pieces of your life are all there, isn’t that what it’s all about?