A survey by Care.com found that one in four working moms cry once a week due to the stress of “having it all.” Beyond that, 80% of us feel stressed about getting everything done and 79% feel that we are falling behind.
I’m SO busy.
You would not believe my to do list today.
My house is a wreck – we’ve been running nonstop.
As a result, one in four of us cancel our own activities at least once a week in the name of getting more done.
I’ll just skip book club this one time.
I’ll catch that yoga class next week.
My nails can wait.
And naturally, we’re absolutely certain everyone else has it all figured out! But in truth, most working moms feel stressed about the competing demands vying for their time. We actually bond over this, remember? Think about how we swap stories about how behind we are or how much we still have to do before we can sleep.
I hear over and over again from the incredibly talented women who are working with me on life design that they just don’t feel like they get enough done in a day. They are feverishly searching for ways to be more efficient, more productive, more together.
It seems that productivity is the Holy Grail today, that she who gets the most done wins.
But does she really?
If you’re a working mom and you feel like you just don’t have it together, let’s cover a few important points.
1) Get some sleep.
The data on this is pretty clear. When we’re sleep deprived, we’re not operating at peak performance. Decision making is impaired, our reaction time is slowed, and our creativity is diminished. Maybe the reason you’re not getting enough done is that you’re working too many hours. This is paradoxical, and yet absolutely true. When we push through exhaustion to check a few more things off our list, each task takes longer and the net effect is an efficiency loss not gain.
Try a one week sleep experiment. Commit to 8 hours a night for a solid week and see what happens to your productivity during your waking hours. When you see how much more alert and engaged you are, it will be so much easier to protect this good habit! If you’re still doubting me, ask yourself if you can afford to be wrong about this. (Don’t wave off this idea until you’ve actually tried it.)
2) Decide what you want (now).
I’m drawing a tight distinction here – what do you want now. Forget what you used to want or what you think you are supposed to want or what you might want in the future. What do you want now?
Life doesn’t happen all at once. You can write different chapters with different pens.
Bronnie Ware, a blogger and author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that the regret she heard most often when she worked in palliative care was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second most common was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
If you’re running at full speed for work, sit yourself down and ask yourself why. What is it you want? Will the breakneck pace at which you are running (the very same pace that is preventing you from feeling like you’re productive and pulled together) deliver it? Or might there be another way?
For example, I want to have dinner with my family every night. Working through the dinner hour is often tempting and could be lucrative, especially with clients in different time zones, but I don’t do it, because I want that family dinner MORE in this chapter of my life. Before I had kids it was nothing to take a late meeting and I did it often. I’ll probably do it again when my kids are grown. But right now? It’s not what I want, so the answer is no.
3) Shape your schedule.
You cannot squeeze your life into someone else’s schedule.
Instead, you must shape your schedule in service to your life. Without this step, you will constantly feel like the toddler forcing the square peg into the round hole of the toy. It just doesn’t fit.
Mary Matalin, a former assistant to George Bush and a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before resigning to spend more time with her children, once wrote “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”
I offer that up fully realizing that most women cannot entirely control their work schedule.
But I’m challenging you to stretch your definition of what you can control? The time you wake up? The time you get to the office? The time you leave? When you’ll take meetings? When you’ll travel? Whether or not you accept a particular assignment or project? What time you go to bed? How many activities you allow your children to be in? How many boards you sit on? How much TV you watch? How much time you spend on Facebook or Pinterest?
And at work, try this experiment. Protect a space in your schedule that you’d normally give away – and then don’t explain why. Don’t get into a justification or rationalization discussion. Simply protect the space. You will likely find your colleagues work around your protected space without fanfare. Once you’ve successfully done this with one small space in your calendar, find others!
4) Reality Check your to do list.
Have you ever heard yourself say “It will only take me 10 minutes” and then find it took 20 or 30? This is a core issue at the root of feeling behind. Being unrealistic about how long things will take causes extra stress because we think our to do list will be finished today but we only get to 3. Work on being more realistic about what’s possible so your expectations match reality. This allows you to create appropriate space for the tasks you need to complete and experience the satisfaction of actually completing them. (Hint: When in doubt, instead of cramming one more thing IN, try taking one thing OUT.)
5) Redefine productivity.
If you take nothing else away from this post, take this. Some of the things you are viewing as impediments to productivity, are actually the most worthwhile ways to spend your time. Those things that light you up and bring you joy? Make room for them. You can’t spend all of your time on tasks that have a defined outcome. Sometimes you need to do something for the sheer pleasure of it.
A final note: In the words of Anne Marie Slaughter who wrote the seminal article on this subject, “I am well aware that the majority of American women face problems far greater than any discussed in this article. I am writing for my demographic—highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place.”