Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Elaine McGhee, a mama with whom I share a common passion: helping new mothers return to work after maternity leave in a calmer, more empowered way. Both the Mindful Return Course and Elaine’s company, ThriveMomma, were born of personal experiences of doing the return-to-work thing the hard way…and being convinced there were better ways to do this return. Elaine is known for her time-management expertise, and I invited her to share here some strategies for managing time as a busy, working new mama.
Here are Elaine’s words of wisdom:
I used to think the only way to get better at juggling a busy work and home life was just to be a task completion ninja. The more I crossed off my list the better wife, mom and employee I was. And the more value I had as a modern women. Can you blame me? Society says be productive or you are lazy, and be active or you are gonna be fat. Nothing about the pressure from our parents growing up or social cues from our community says to “just take it easy, you deserve it.” And don’t even think about taking time for yourself away from kids and partner. How dare you be so selfish!
There was a lot of un-learning to do and teaching myself (and ultimately my daughters) how to stop the “doing” and ultimately to learn to be okay with the “being.” The key to this change was a shift in focus from tasks to the truth. The truth was that I could NOT do it all. I confess that on one more than one occasion I have sobbed in my husband’s arms saying “I just can’t do it all”. The truth would set me free and the only way to get to the truth was to pay attention to my feelings.
Truth-seeking was about getting in touch with how I FELT doing the myriad of tasks in a given day. No more faking that I loved to do crafts every weekend (to prove I was a good mom). This is not an intellectual exercise. This is practicing the art of trusting your gut and letting your feelings guide you. If this is feeling too woo woo for you, know you are not alone. We are taught geometry in school instead of how to trust our inner guidance.
As a busy mother, I began to rekindle this lost art of intuition. As soon as I became aware of how I felt in those moments, I was able to decide which tasks were for me and which I needed to stop doing, delegate or outsource.
Here are 4 ways to feel your way to better time management:
- Know yourself, know your priorities: The first step to knowing what you should do in your life is to look at yourself. Are you not even sure you know who you are anymore? I feel you. After having a baby, you have to redefine who you are as a mother, perhaps someone who has experienced trauma of birth or who is mourning the loss of a former pre-baby self. All super normal. This redefining can take years for some women. It’s ok. Knowing what you like, dislike, what you are good at and what brings you joy is the key.
Tip: Ask yourself, “what makes me as happy as my kids are when they are playing?” It could be dancing, writing, traveling, cooking, etc. Now find one hour in the next month do that! Being free and in pure joy will help you to get reintroduced to your true self again.
- Retire the to-do list: One of the first things I changed was to retire the epic to-do list. Those open check boxes were a tantalizing drug of completion = happiness. But they NEVER got checked off completely and they NEVER made me feel better once I thought I was done.
Tip: Create a list and stop when you start to feel anything other than content. At the slightest notion of anxiety, anger, resentment or even boredom…STOP. What can you get help with, what can you do later, and what can you say NO to?
- Make energy part of your hygiene: We brush our teeth, take our makeup off, and shower everyday (well most weekends J). Managing your energy throughout the day will help reveal the stuff that is sucking your energy and activities that boost your energy. Regularly being aware of how you are feeling throughout the day should be as routine as a Purel after a playground.
Tip: Pick a task that you do multiple times a day like answering a phone call, going to a meeting, washing your hands after going potty (my kids have ruined my brain). Put a reminder in your phone, post-it on the wall or lipstick on the mirror to check-in with your feelings in that very moment. You will start to see patterns in behavior and awareness of what drags you down and what lifts you up.
- Stop is way better than start: We cannot manage time, but we can manage our tasks. Tasks are the problem. We have too many of them and most of them suck the life out of us. Often the solution isn’t about starting something else, but it’s about stopping most of the crap we are already do.
Tip: Make a stop list. Write down a few things you can stop doing this week like checking email at 10pm, doing laundry every day or making kids’ lunches…hello summer! Circle one item on the list and STOP doing it. Look who can help do to that task.
Managing your time is about awareness of how you feel doing a task. This barometer will help you see the stuff in your life that isn’t adding to your quality of life, your family’s wellbeing or your happiness as a working mother. How do you feel about that?!
Elaine McGhee is on a mission to empower moms. From her own emotionally traumatic return to work after her first child (can you say HOT MESS ?!), the ThriveMomma support community was born. She blends research, expert collaboration, her own training in project management and passion for Mindfulness to help moms to thrive as a working mothers. Elaine holds workshops in Southern California and virtual coaching on return-to-work readiness, time management for busy moms and mindful living. Elaine consults as a Transition Coach for corporations to integrate and retain employees after maternity leave. She also enjoys volunteering the Postpartum Health Alliance Warmline.
What do your gut feelings tell you about how you are using your time? What time management strategies work for you? I’d love to hear from you in comments!
Want more strategies for navigating working-mama-land? If you’re heading back to work after maternity leave, take the Mindful Return E-Course. Next session starts soon.