You’re a working mom who often feels stressed out. You’re exhausted. Maybe you feel like you’re not giving what you want to give to your kids and to your job. Maybe you also feel like you’re regularly running around and yet nothing really gets done. Maybe you don’t have enough energy. You certainly don’t have enough time.
Lack of time is a top stressor for Katelyn Denning’s clients. The moms she coaches feel like they don’t have enough time for their work, their kids, chores, projects and for themselves.
Maybe this sounds all-too familiar.
Working motherhood may be tricky and sometimes complicated. But it doesn’t have to be hard, according to Sarah Argenal, a mom to two boys who writes, speaks, consults and leads interactive trainings on work/life balance, intentional living, and connected family relationships for busy professionals at www.workingparentresource.com.
“Being a working mom can be an adventure, a fulfilling and enjoyable experience—albeit with challenging moments peppered throughout,” Argenal said.
Below you’ll find a variety of practical suggestions to help you minimize stress and savor the adventure.
Track and analyze your time. Denning suggested checking out Laura Vanderkam’s writing, which includes powerful time-management books, such as Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done and I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. (I love her work, too.) Vanderkam has a time-tracking sheet you can download at her website.
Denning has worked with many clients who discover that they actually have more time than they think they do, especially when they focus on an entire week (versus a single day).
“If you look at a single day as a working mom, it can feel overwhelming with everything that you have to do,” said Denning, a mom of two and a coach for new moms just returning to work, helping them set priorities, tackle mom guilt, and simplify their lives so they can enjoy working motherhood. But when you look at your week, you might realize that you have several open evenings or mornings for meaningful activities.
Tune in. “The longer I’m a mom, the more I realize that being a parent is all just one continuous evolution,” Argenal said. Every new phase her kids go through sparks new challenges and opportunities for growth. For everyone. Which also can feel disorienting, she said.
Argenal has found it helpful to regularly check in with herself. She suggested doing this especially “when you’re feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or like you’re doing it all wrong”: How are you feeling? What’s on your mind? What’s stressing you out, or draining you? What triggers you? What energizes you? What makes you happy? What do you need? How can you give this to yourself?
Be bad at things. “I don’t mind that I choose to be ‘bad’ at dinner parties,” said Sarah K. Peck, the founder of Startup Pregnant, a website for women entrepreneurial parents, and host of The Startup Pregnant Podcast, an interview show digging into the lives of working parents. She makes 8-minute pasta with butter because what really matters to her is being with friends (instead of waiting until she has the time and energy to prepare a big, fancy meal).
“Pick a few things to care about, and then make sure you’re getting ‘D’s’ and ‘F’s’ on your report card in other areas,” said Peck, a mom to one son and expecting her second.
Denning also helps her clients identify and prioritize what’s most important to them (versus doing something because they think they should). For instance, maybe you love making home-cooked meals or maybe you feel pressured to. Maybe you love yoga, and it’s vital for your well-being, and thereby a non-negotiable.
Rethink work hours. Is it possible to adjust your work hours so they work better for you? Can you work from home some days? When Peck was growing up, her dad worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and did school pick-up. As an entrepreneur, Peck sets her own schedule and doesn’t have a commute.
Focus on your energy. “[W]hen I have more energy, I can plan and deliver from a place of enthusiasm, instead of feeling depleted,” said Arianna Taboada, a maternal health expert, author, and owner of a consulting firm that helps female founders intelligently design maternity leave plans that meet their business model and personal needs.
Recently, she realized that she feels more energized after sitting quietly with a book than after taking exercise classes. So, today, she carves out time to read two to three times a week.
Do less. “What works for me in this season of life—parenting a toddler and being the sole breadwinner—is: constantly find ways to do less,” Taboada said. Right now, this looks like not traveling for work more than three times a year, having her son in one activity, and doing only one “event” on weekends.
Argenal is also selective and intentional about her time. She used to say yes to everything: from reviewing a friend’s manuscript to taking on last-minute work projects to handling most of the housework. Which only left her drowning. “Today my family, my health, and anything else that fulfills me as a person gets my precious time, attention, and energy. Everything else—household chores, relationship drama, work ‘emergencies’—is delegated, minimized, automated, or eliminated from my life altogether.”
Don’t wait until you’ve got more time. Many of Denning’s clients put off projects until they have plenty of time to work on them. But the key is to start. “You’ll be 5 minutes further along than you were before and eventually those add up to a completed project,” she said. “Besides, when was the last time you actually had a significant chunk of uninterrupted time?”
Denning also suggested setting a timer to see how long tasks actually take. They might take less time than you think.
Experiment and reevaluate. “The routines and priorities that my clients set today, don’t have to be forever,” Denning said. “I encourage them to always reevaluate and change as their circumstances change.”
Taboada does quarter-long experiments: “[I]f one way of doing things isn’t working, I make some small tweaks, try them for a quarter, and assess.”
Create a ta-da list. This is what Denning calls a running list of tasks you’ve accomplished. “We tend to look only at our looming to-do lists and all that we haven’t done. When you think about all that you do, from getting dinner on the table, taking care of your kids, paying bills, washing laundry and even catching 10 minutes to read a book, it’s pretty amazing.”
“There are things beyond your control that really suck in today’s society,” like finding daycare coverage and commuting between work and school, Peck said. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming just getting from place to place.
Taboada also noted that our social institutions and structures don’t make it easy to be working moms. “I believe what will change that is larger socio-cultural shifts, as well as finding the small ways we can maintain and survive with the resources available in the meantime.”
And by making some changes and tweaks, you can not only survive as a working mom. You can thrive, and you can flourish. In all spheres of your life.