Efficient or Overwhelmed?

· Time Management

A few months ago I was on hold with a telecommunications company when the recorded voice announced that the wait time would be three minutes. I thought, “Great. I can put my phone on speaker mode while I take a quick shower.” As I reflect on this now, I’m still not sure if this was a testament to my efficiency, or a pathetic reflection of how busy I was.

Statistics show that women, particularly those working outside the home, are more overwhelmed and less happy than they’ve ever been. As John Gray says in his book, Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice, “While men have shown little change in happiness over the past 20 years, woman’s happiness levels as measured on psychological surveys has sunk like a stone.” The reasons are clear.

  • Women in America are spending triple the time taking care of their children that mothers spent in the 1960’s.
  • While women have joined the workplace in droves, workplace culture, government policies, and cultural attitudes are rooted in 1950’s Middle America.
  • Mothers, even those working outside the home for pay, still do twice the housework and twice the child care as fathers.
  • “…men do one and a half things at a time. Whereas women, particularly mothers, do about five things at once. And, at the same time, they are caught up in contaminated time, thinking about and planning two or three things more.”

For years, like many working mothers, I came home at the end of my workday to start my second job… taking care of my family. I would plan, clean, organize, advise, listen, and respond to whatever came up during that day. Then, when everyone was sleeping, I would go back to my “day” job, dealing with the administration of my business and my family until I was bleary-eyed and exhausted.

By most measures, I was a great success. I was a published author who appeared on the Today Show, was written about in the New York Times, and was regularly quoted in the press. I competently and efficiently took care of my home, my business, and my family. But, one night, as I fired off one more late evening email (that was responded to immediately by another working mother), I started to question what success really meant to me.

I realized that, while I got great satisfaction from my work and my family, I was tired. I wasn’t always fully present for my children, I didn’t see my closest friends on a regular basis, and I often felt depleted. That’s when I decided to make some changes. In a series of discussions with my colleague and friend, Erica Keswin, CEO of Organization Performance Resources as well as a fellow Type A working mother, we decided to research women’s happiness and why women today are so overwhelmed. Together, we identified four prescriptions for a happier, more productive, less stressful life. These are:

  1. De-clutter Your Physical Space: When your physical space is organized and uncluttered, you’ll feel calmer in your home, spend less time looking for things you need, and save money by not buying things you have.
  2. Manage Your Time: If you eliminate non-essential commitments, minimize multi-tasking (it will take you 30% longer to get anything done), and invest time to create time saving systems, you’ll have more time to do what’s important to you.
  3. Invest in Relationships: Pay attention to the relationships that enrich your life experience. Eliminate those that are toxic and spend time cultivating those that make you happy.
  4. Make Time for Yourself: By taking care of yourself, exercising, spending a few minutes a day in quiet reflection or meditation, you’ll be a better version of you.

While I’m an expert at time management and maintaining a clutter free environment, I had not invested enough time in the relationships that were meaningful to me and I wasn’t taking care of myself. By making some small changes in how I spend my time, I feel happier and less stressed. I now meet a friend for lunch at least once a week, and I spend a few days with girl friends at a spa to really unwind once a year. I’ve stopped going to non-mandatory meetings in the evenings, and I limit evening social engagements during the week. I put down my phone between 6:00 and 8:00 PM to be present for my family. I also make an effort to leave my desk at 10:30 PM, so I can read for pleasure before going to sleep.

I’ll never achieve the perfect balance all the time; no working mother can. But, I’ve gotten much closer to the right balance most of the time. The result? I feel more peaceful, more creative, and less overwhelmed. Although, I have to admit… I wrote this article by dictating it into the microphone of my iPhone while in the back of a taxi.

Written by Barbara Reich · · Time Management
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