I have never been so overwhelmed in my entire life as I was the first few weeks back at work after the birth of my second child. Having a 4-month old and a (potty-training) 2-year old at home, a challenging job, food that needed cooked, a house that needed cleaned – all on zero sleep – was simply too much. I was doing too much. Absolutely. But nothing seemed optional. And so I hit rock bottom every night.
A few months later, after learning to reach out for help and wising up a bit to what was necessary vs. optional in this crazy mama world, I had a conversation with two friends – one who doesn’t have kids and one who does – that went something like this:
Friend without Kids: My to-do list really gets me down…I mean, everything on the list has to get done at some point. So I may as well work to find time to do everything.
Friend with Kids + Me (knowing glances, statement in near-unison): Oh, no. Everything on that list does not have to get done at some point!
There’s no easy answer to how to deal with that sense of overwhelm many working mamas feel…or Brigid Schulte wouldn’t have a written an entire, brilliant book with the same name. But I have learned a few time-management and mindfulness strategies that have restored some sanity to my days.
Today, I share two of my favorite strategies – ideas I picked up from Leo Babauta, on his great blog, zenhabits, that I incorporate into my life as a working mama:
1. Curate Your Days. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word “curator”? Yep – a museum. Think of an amazing art gallery and how the work on the walls is so carefully selected and placed. Now think of the museum’s entire collection, out of view from the public. And imagine what that storage space looks like. It must be pretty packed and chaotic, right? Now think about what the museum would look like if you took all that artwork and packed the walls with it. Forget white space around each painting. The important thing is every piece of art can be seen! What a beauty! What an impressive museum? Right?! I don’t think so.
The same holds true for that to-do list of yours. Yes, it’s true that some things (packing food for your baby for daycare; a shower every now and then, especially if you’re going to an office) are not optional. But more things probably are than you are willing to admit. Take those lists, and curate them. Think of how you can select the most important work tasks – those that will help you meet your goals and shine as an employee – and select your 3 top things to get done each day. Focus on those. Do those well. And leave the rest for another art exhibit.
2. Savor Your Moments. As everything goes whizzing by in a packed working mama day, it’s easy to collapse into bed with nothing but a blur for a memory of the day. While I’d love to be able to be in the moment all day, that simply isn’t possible. But if I put my mind to it, I can remember to stop, breathe, and sink into a few special moments each day that I’ll remember for a long time.
Every morning, I work hard to savor my shower. My husband has the kids, the sound washes out any sounds of kids screaming, the cascading water feels like a massage on my back. And after work, as I spend time with my kids before we eat, I sink into play for a few minutes and savor the time I have to watch my babies’ discoveries. Who knew my 1 ½ year old didn’t like playing trains sitting up – but instead with his cheek pressed to the carpet, so he can gaze into the steam engines at eye level? These are now the moments I choose to remember from the day. Choose to sink into. And love.
So while there are no quick fixes to mama overwhelm, there are ways to play with time. To make it slow down just a bit, so you can take in the white space. Sink deep into the train set or land of make believe with your kids. And cross those never-mind-don’t-really-need-to-happen tasks off your list.
To combat new working mama overwhelm, learn more about the Mindful Return E-Course here.