1.34pm: there we were, all standing huddled on one tile in the kitchen. It’s a regular scene in my house. I get home from work and attempt to eat something quickly, while Little Lady 1 asks me 100 questions and simultaneously tells me in an ear-splittingly loud voice about some injustice at Montessori (one of the kids coloured outside the lines or something), while Little Lady 2 paws at my legs, back arched, arms stretched, screeching at me until I pick her up.
I needed to make three phone calls, do a shop and make dinner. I had 12 unread Whatsapps, and I was dying to find out what excitement I was missing. The library book that I had attempted to return twice was still sitting on the counter, a good two weeks at a guess. I was getting indigestion from eating so fast. I could feel my stress levels rising. Why, oh why, we all had to be on the one tile, I don’t know; but it was one of those moments where I craved just 10 quiet minutes to myself before switching from work mode to mummy mode. But, there was a classic problem; no time. Which brings me on to what I want to talk about this month.
When we last spoke, I was feeling hopeful. This month, I’m feeling practical. Straight after the last blog, I felt that tips on managing time was a topic that would resonate with a lot of readers. But then began the month with a few extra speed bumps than normal. A plague of illness hit my household as bugs, coughs, temperatures - all “viruses”, of course - slammed us all. Work was unusually intense for both me and my husband; a few personal projects needed unexpected attention; there were family gatherings; and that was on top of the normal day-to-day demands of family life. There was depressingly little sleep. Some days I felt I was just about functioning. It wasn’t a lot of fun, if I’m honest. I certainly wasn’t in top form either, as a parent or as a wife, as I prioritised work and the basics of managing the kids, over everything else.
Each day I’d say to myself, "Today, I’ll start writing my next blog", but by the time I sat down in the evening I was so tired I just had nothing left in the tank. I’d do it tomorrow. The irony of giving advice on how to manage time from someone who couldn’t find time to write the article isn’t lost on me! And yet, I suppose it has made me want to reach out and see if I can help someone else who may be struggling with the endless 'To Do' list.
In fact, I’ve been working with a number of clients recently on this topic, and one of the questions I’m frequently asked in coaching sessions is: "How on earth can I get everything done to a decent standard, without feeling like a headless chicken and without letting anyone down?” Everyone’s 'everything' is different. Some want to focus on becoming more productive at work, perhaps aiming for a promotion; others want help with how they can enjoy calm(ish), quality time at home with their families; others need support with both sides. There is usually one commonality in all of them, however, and that’s a sense of feeling overwhelmed - just like I did that day on the kitchen tile.
I think it’s pretty reasonable that a woman going back to work after having a baby can feel pulled in many directions, and they deserve the support a maternity coach can provide. The great thing, however, is overwhelm can often be tackled. If there is a will to fix it, then it doesn’t have to stay the same - and a lot of it depends on your mind-set.
There are umpteen different time management tips and techniques that I could share with you, endless books you could read, or strategies you could apply created by time management gurus far more qualified than me. There is a lot of value in these tried and tested techniques, but unless you take a good long hard look at yourself first, they will end up being like the first week of a diet where you follow all the rules, it works, but then you fall off the wagon when you feel under pressure.
  • First up is the fact that it’s important to take responsibility. It’s easy, and human, to sink into the feeling of never getting enough done, but to change your circumstances you have to focus on what you can do and what you can change. In my case, what role did I play in how my month lacked balance and joy? What could I have done differently?
  • Look at the roles you play in your life: Mother, partner, daughter, sister, friend, and so on. Chart out what you need to prioritise on a monthly basis. This isn’t about time - you may spend lots more time at work than you do with your children each day. This is about priority. Which of your roles is most important that month, and what specific actions will you take to be the best you can be?
  • Stay in the moment: If you are at work, be at work. Give it all of your attention. But keep your boundary. I heard a new phrase recently which I liked called a 'hard stop'. My client had a 'hard stop' of 5.25pm, where she finished work to collect her son. Nothing got in the way of the hard stop. Similarly, if you are at home, be at home. Don’t check your work email or log on to Facebook when you’re meant to be spending time with your children. Anyone with children knows how much they love our phones and tablets. How could they not when they see us so attached to them?!
  • Accept the chaos. Accepting doesn’t mean giving in to it and letting it overwhelm you or doing nothing about it; it means not fighting it. Stop giving out to yourself for not doing more or better; stop being resentful of how busy you are and how much is on your 'To Do' list. Instead, consciously accept that this is a busy stage in your life. You may have a young family, a career, and multiple competing demands on your time. It won’t always be like this, but right now this is the situation you are dealing with. Acceptance can bring a huge sense of peace.
  • Ask for and accept help: If a family member or friend is willing to mind your children while you take time out for yourself, or tick a task of your list; graciously allow them to do this for you - and don’t forget to pay it forward.
  • Delegate: What can you delegate at work? This isn’t dumping trivial work onto a team member; this is giving someone less experienced than you the opportunity to learn. Take the time to coach them, be available to them, offer feedback and support. In the long run you’ll have a more productive team member and someone who has your back.
  • Don’t be afraid to confide in a trusted friend or a manager that you feel overloaded. We all need space to vent and to communicate what we are going through. Just be careful of your language - continually talking about how busy you are without taking any action to change it will only fuel your sense of being burdened.
  • And remember, if it’s Impossible to get through your To Do list, then change your list. Don’t set yourself up to fail. If it can’t be done then find ways to delete or delegate.
So, there it is. I’ve made my deadline with seconds to spare, but in keeping with my own advice, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that I delivered what I said I would and less on how I happened to get there this month. Because we’re all just doing our best!
Now, it’s over to you. Look at your 'To Do' list, and do the following short exercise:
  1. Which item is causing you the biggest headache, and what action will you take to tick it off?
  2. Which item can you delete today?
  3. Which item can you delegate?
Maternity Coach