A few weeks ago, I shared how 2018 didn’t go as I’d hoped, and how I was turning that failure into an opportunity for growth. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time examining how I manage my time, which has meant painstakingly logging exactly how I spend it. And as I sat down at the to review all that data, I had an epiphany: I know women can’t have it all, but I’ve been trying to do just that.
There I was at 9pm at the kitchen table sipping ice water and smacking my cheek to stay awake as I reviewed 14 days worth of data. I’d gone into it expecting to be disappointed with myself. After all, I’m dogged by this nagging feeling that time is constantly running away from me. It’s almost like one of those bad dreams where someone’s chasing you and instead of sprinting away, you feel like you’re running through taffy. Except in this case, I’m trying to run toward something instead of away. But while I’d expected to see days worth of wasted time, I found 16-18 daily hours of nonstop movement. I’d wake up at 5 or 5:30am, immediately get on email and not stop moving until 9:30 or so.
When I looked at the specifics of what I was doing, I was constantly bouncing back and forth between family and professional obligations. The dog needed to be walked, emails answered, content created, that blank space over the toilet in the powder room had to be filled so I ordered that thing we liked from West Elm…my brain was constantly pin balling between work and family. I was getting little smatterings of things done here and there, but never making any real progress.
Balance? WTF Is That?
If the women of our mothers’ generation were the ones who tried to be superwomen, we’re the ones who learned from their mistakes.
We know we can’t have it all. We witnessed our own mothers trying and feeling like they always fell short. In my case, my own mother flat-out told me to shoot for the stars, but also understand I won’t be able to make everyone happy and that’s okay. So why do I feel like I need to work full-time and still be there for every single sports practice, decorate and maintain our house like it’s about to be photographed for Architectural Digest, have six-pack abs, serve three home-cooked meals daily, and ferry our neurotic Doberman Pinscher to the behavioral therapist several times week? No one is holding a gun to my head and telling me I need to do this stuff! If anything, my family wants me to have balance. But what is that, exactly? Because I don’t know one mother – whether she works or stays home with the kids – who has it. So what are we going to do about it?
Learning Not To GAF
Admitting that we can’t have it all means truly internalizing what my mother tried to tell me all those years ago: “you can’t make everyone happy and that’s okay.” While we as women are told that we have choices, we’re also shamed when we don’t make everyone around us happy. You’re a nag if you repeatedly ask your husband to help around the house. You’re a bad mom if you skip your child’s soccer game. You’re unreliable if you miss an email because you were bathing your child. And God forbid you don’t lose the baby weight! Then you’re not even considered human!
When I looked at how I was using my time, I suddenly realized how many things I was doing not because I actually needed to, but because I was worried about disappointing someone else. In the words of the great Carrie Bradshaw, I was shoulding all over myself. I know I can’t have it all, but I feel like I should DO it all. So how do I stop that? Well, I’d be lying if I said I had it all figured out. But I’ve started with these five simple steps, and they seem to be helping.
5 Steps To Work Towards Balance In Your Life
- Start by figuring out how you spend your time every day. Keep a journal for at least a week documenting every thing you do. Every. Single. Thing. I used the notes section in my phone to track my time. At first, there was a bit of a learning curve as I reminded myself to document every task. But that ended up being helpful by itself because it made me more aware of how often I was multitasking, which is no bueno.
- Review your time logs. You’re going to go over them three times. The first time you do this, look at item and ask yourself Am I doing this to please someone or because I feel guilty? If so, delete it and DON’T DO IT EVER AGAIN. The activity you signed your child up for not because he cares about it, but because all the other moms signed up? Drop out and get your money back. The emails you send your boss every week recapping team progress even though she never asked you to do that? Ask her if it’s helpful. If not, stop sending them. The 20 minutes you spend taming your natural curls every morning so the other moms at drop-off don’t think you’re a slob? Just no.
- Go over your list a second time. This time, ask yourself Can I delegate this? Don’t assume a task is your responsibility just because you’ve always done it. For example, your partner might be happy to cook dinner or pick up takeout a couple nights a week. Your parents or in-laws might enjoy picking your kids up from school or sports. Or perhaps you can try an online grocery store or delivery service instead of personally shlepping to Safeway. It’s 2018. We have the Internet. There are options.
- Look at what’s left. These are the items that truly belong on your schedule. Look at how you’re performing them. Are you still bouncing between tasks so your attention is always divided? How can you draw better boundaries between work and family so you don’t feel so torn? For me, that means I do all the grocery shopping and errands on weekends so they don’t bleed into productivity time. And if I can’t get it done, I delegate it. Which means that when Scott eats more protein bars than Michael Phelps and runs out mid-week, he needs to buy them himself. And when James really wants blueberries on a Tuesday, he’ll just have to wait until Saturday. We have apples. He’ll survive.
- Pick a strategy and stick with it for three months. It takes at least a few weeks to break your old habits and replace them with new ones. And it’ll take even longer to see how your new strategy functions in a variety of circumstances. Personally, I’m thinking batch work might be a good way to prevent my side hustle from bleeding into my main hustle and keep my family time sacred. I’m also committing to turning text, social, and email notifications off on my phone so I’m not interrupted throughout the day. After all, if something’s really important, they’ll call.