We’ve all been there. Life gets incredibly busy, and it just doesn’t seem possible to get caught up. In this week’s episode of the Best of Both Worlds podcast, Sarah and I address a listener question along these lines. This listener, with a preschooler and a 6-month-old, was back at work with an 80 percent schedule after maternity leave. Alas, her actual workload had not declined by 20 percent, so she found herself feeling constantly behind at work, and — since she was making up work at night and on her day “off” — behind at home too. Wouldn’t it be nice if the world could stop for a week so nothing new would come in and she could deal with her backlog?
Alas, this is unlikely to happen. So in the meantime, we had advice for how to cope with these seasons of overwhelm…advice that I am needing a bit more now than I did when I recorded this episode! Newborns take a lot of time, and nothing else has magically stopped coming in. I’m trying to keep the relevant tips in mind…
Beware the part-time trap. In our listener’s case, the 80 percent schedule made some sense. She had a long commute, so working four days vs. five days did open up time. But if she was still working full time in four days, well, that’s not going to help the sense of overwhelm. Better to view the fifth day as a work-from-home day and get paid for it, or actually get a work reduction. Otherwise, you’re just subsidizing your employer.
Question everything. Our listener was pumping multiple times per day. I am sure that commuting an hour and then spending big chunks of time at the office tethered to a pump was not helping her feelings of efficiency. Breastfeeding is great, but there can be gradations of this. Maybe she pumps twice instead of three times, or she decides that she’ll do this for 2-3 more months and then stop, or else she decides that this is a choice and other things (like some of the early morning runs) will need to go until she decides to be done pumping.
Make sure you know your cards. Often, being overwhelmed comes from not knowing exactly what you have going on. Not only do you have a lot of work, you don’t even know what you don’t know. Many other listeners (over on Instagram) have been recommending writing everything down and making lists of tasks, deadlines, steps, etc. This can help people regain a sense of control.
Get help from your partner (or someone). Our listener didn’t mention a significant other, but I assume there is one since someone was staying with the kids during the early morning runs. If there is one, this person can be used as a resource too. If you have jointly decided that breastfeeding is a priority, then the person who is not lactating can take things off the lactating partner’s plate. In general, during times I’ve been overwhelmed (past the early baby stage), I’ve had my husband take the kids on the weekend. It’s amazing how much you can get done during an uninterrupted 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. stretch on a Saturday. When I was pregnant with kid #4 and facing down a book deadline, my husband took the other three kids on a trip with his extended family for a week. I logged 60 hours of work without kid responsibilities and felt quite relaxed. If your partner isn’t available, maybe it means hiring a few hours of weekend childcare. Not forever, necessarily, but if the point is to get through the next few months, it could be worth it.
Schedule a catch up day. At work, maybe she could aim to keep a day free of meetings and use this for crossing off lots of to-dos. Sarah recommended a personal retreat day, if there is PTO available, and using this day to think about things and designing good systems. (Or use her day off — skip the errands!)
Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Our listener is really in the thick of things. Life won’t always look like this. She will stop pumping. The kids will grow up and be able to entertain themselves on weekends. The lessons she is learning in time management now will serve her well when time opens up and she realizes she can basically conquer the world. In the meantime, changing your interior monologue from “I’m overwhelmed” to “I’ve got this” can go a long way toward helping you believe it.
What do you do when you want the world to stop for a week?