As a working mom I tend to hear the phrase “having it all” a lot. Before kids I used to love the phrase. Hearing it made me picture this hip mom who could hold a conference call while simultaneously baking muffins and breastfeeding her baby. Now that I’ve experienced motherhood first-hand, I’m pretty confident if this mom exists, she has supernatural powers.
When I originally set out to discuss the stigma of “having it all” I wanted to write about the negative connotations of this phrase and how it puts undue pressure on moms to be perfect in every aspect of their life. After getting about three paragraphs in, I realized I was probably preaching to the choir and not actually helping anyone. Though it’s nice to commiserate with each other, I decided to turn the post around and offer a few tips I’ve learned throughout the years to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed with work and motherhood. On a good day I don’t feel stressed at all (okay maybe just a little stressed) and it’s those days I actually feel like I’ve got this whole working-mom thing down.
Create a Daily Routine
Over the past few years I’ve learned to embrace a daily routine. It may seem dull and repetitive to do the same thing every day, but routines actually help guide your day and keep yourself feeling together. Children also thrive in a consistent environment. As much as they love to push boundaries, they like knowing what to expect and what’s expected of them. After I became a twin mom my daily routine really kicked into overdrive. Having a set schedule for my day was the only thing that helped me feel sane.
Our daily routine is relatively simple, and consists of set times when the babies eat, play and sleep. During these times I’ve learned to be strategic and plan tasks around when my babies are at their best. For example, every morning I prepare breakfast for my twins and preschooler. From the time I place their food in front of them to the time they’re ready to start throwing their bananas and cereal on the floor, is approximately 15 minutes. I use the first 5 minutes to make myself coffee or tea and tidy up the kitchen. If I wasn’t able to fully get myself ready before breakfast I might use that time to quickly finish my makeup or style my hair. By the end of the 5 minutes my preschooler is undoubtedly calling for me so I sit down and drink my coffee while they finish eating. Another example of using the routine strategically is when I choose to take a shower. The babies are at their very best after drinking their morning bottle. Once they’re finished I place them on the bathroom floor surrounded with toys and quickly hop in the shower. On a good day I can even get dressed before they start to get bored ;)
Our evening routine is a bit more intricate and consists of dinner, bath, and bedtime activities. 4pm and later is meltdown prime-time but I’ve found sticking to our routine is crucial for keeping myself sane and keeping the kids from turning into crazy little gremlins.
Most recently I’ve started applying the routine technique to my haircare regimen. I’m liking it so far because I’m actually spending less time on appearance in the morning yet somehow looking decently put-together.
For the routine I’ll wash my hair on specific days and follow a playbook of hairstyles that are easy to execute. I like that I can choose to spend a decent amount of time on say, a Sunday to blowout my hair, knowing I’ll style it a certain way throughout the week without a huge time commitment. My inspiration behind trying this technique is from this post by Emily Schuman. She only washes her hair once a week and always looks fabulous!
Plan Your Work Week in Advance
Being the CEO of a small business with very few employees means I’m running the majority of day-to-day tasks. On any given day I’ll jump from product design to finance before jumping back to marketing strategies. In order to keep my mind focused and organized I like to outline my big projects and designate daily and weekly tasks for each project.
In order to organize my mind I start by making a rough list of big action items. A product launch or website update fall into this list. From there I make smaller lists within each bucket and continue this process until I’ve narrowed it down to specific tasks like following up with our manufacturer or editing product photos.
Once I know every little task that’s ahead of me, I can estimate the time it will take to accomplish each task and project as a whole. After prioritizing projects and tasks I’m able to fill in my weekly workload. I try not to overschedule myself or pile on so much that I can’t realistically get through it all. At the end of the week I assess what was accomplished and plan for the following week.
P.s. I always make sure to include time for miscellaneous tasks or pencil in a quick coffee break.
Grocery Shop and Prep Meals on Weekends
Meal prep and grocery shopping can be a huge time-suck. Before applying this strategy I used to scroll through Pinterest hoping to be inspired by something that: looked delicious, was easy to make and healthy to eat. I never found what I was looking for quickly and generally would get sidetracked before finishing my meal plan. Now I know better and use the following tactic to make meal planning painless.
I bookmark recipes on my computer and categorize them within a folder. Every recipe in that folder has been vetted and approved before it makes its way in. It does take a little time to find and try recipes but once you do it you’re able to pull from an archived list of dishes you like and are within your cooking capabilities. If I find myself cooking a certain dish regularly, I’ll go one step further and create a spreadsheet with the applicable ingredients. I store this spreadsheet on my desktop and quickly copy and paste ingredients into a shopping list when needed. This makes it very simple for me to quickly plan a few meals, auto-generate my shopping list and add any miscellaneous items before I head to the store.
After our weekly meals are planned and the groceries are purchased comes the meal prep. My twins are currently 10 months old and eating solid finger foods. The fact that there are two of them means we go through A LOT of food. In order to keep myself from steaming meat and veggies daily, I prep and cook their finger foods once or twice a week. The veggies are the easiest. I’ll select 2-3 different types (sweet potatoes, zucchini, cauliflower), chop them into bite size pieces, and roast in the oven until soft. After letting them cool I transfer to tupperware and store in the fridge for up to 1 week. I will also pre-cut melon or tofu and store in the fridge. Then when it’s mealtime I can quickly and easily prepare 2 plates for my impatient little monkeys.
Prepping in advance is also a total lifesaver if your kids go to school or daycare during the week. You can spend the time preparing lunches on a Sunday and then save yourself time in the morning or evening.
Tidy Throughout the Week to Keep Clutter to a Minimum
I have to admit this one slips past me more often than I’d like. In a perfect world I’d always be on it, never letting a dirty piece of clothing hit the bathroom floor, but in reality sometimes I’m just in too much of a hurry to land everything in the hamper or pick up after my three little ones.
When I am on top of my day I like to tidy the house as I go to ensure I’m not spending my entire weekend picking up. The concept seems simple enough but it can be harder than you think (especially with kids!). To help make the “tidy as I go” process easier I try to ensure my home is 90% put together before I go to bed. This way in the morning I can do the extra 10% and not feel like the chores are building up. In the evenings it’s hard for me to get up and clean after I’ve sat down, so every night I go through the same routine after putting the kids to bed. I wash dishes, put away toys, and collect any miscellaneous items from our living area and place them in the room they should be in. In the morning I can finish putting these items away if I didn’t get to it the night before.
On certain days I throw in a “deep cleaning” task. For example: I always mop the kitchen floor on Sundays. The same goes for laundry and bathroom cleaning. Even once a week is pretty darn good for busy parents!
Plan for the Unexpected
I’m a huge planner and tend to get anxious when anything deviates from the plan. Becoming a parent has taught me that you can’t plan for everything and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. It’s taken me a while to fully appreciate and understand the necessity of being flexible but now that I’m here it feels great.
The unexpected in my life tends to revolve around child care. Whether it’s a sick kid, school closure or some unexpected appointment, cancelling my day last minute can easily throw a wrench in my workflow. I’ve learned to accept it when it happens and try not to feel stressed out. The fact that I can take a day and care for my kids is something I’m truly grateful for. Now whenever I’m “just mom” for the day (assuming everyone is healthy) I utilize the time to do something fun and unexpected with my kids. We’ll head to the park or plan a lunch date. Anything that gets us out of the house and having fun is perfect. It’s hard for me to separate from work when I planned for a workday so getting out of the house almost resets my internal calendar and allows me to focus on my kids and worry about playing catch-up later.