No surprise here: Having a baby, especially your first, is already a huuuuge life change. If you are experiencing a big change on top of that, like by switching careers, moving your family or going back to school, having a baby can feel even more overwhelming.

For me, when I found out I was pregnant I was still working on the last (and biggest) requirement for my doctorate degree: the dissertation. I figured I could finish work on the paper during my pregnancy… But, because of severe morning sickness, I was unable to progress on my research at all. Panic quickly set in after the baby was born and I realized all of the work I still needed to do in order to graduate.

After some discussions with my husband, I decided to hit the books HARD and I set a goal to finish before my baby, a sweet boy named Fitz, was 1 year old. But, even though I did some writing while on maternity leave, I still had a long road ahead. When I went back to work at my full-time teaching job, not only was I adjusting to being a working mom with a newborn, but with a graduate degree course load on top of it all. I can easily say that juggling work, school and having a baby made this the hardest year of my life!

I was so worried about was being too busy and preoccupied with my dissertation to fully experience of all of the changes during Fitz’s first year. To be sure that I was successful in meeting my goal of graduating before Fitz turned one and that I had important baby-mommy bonding time, I did some reflection and set some protocols in place.

Here are four ways to handle a super busy life and still enjoy time with your newborn…

1. Know your “why”

For me, my goal was to finish my doctorate degree so I didn’t stretch it out and work on it for years after my baby was born. I may have never finished it, or it could have just been weighing me down and taking me away from my family longer than necessary. I also wanted to finish it so that I could have different job opportunities that would eventually positively impact my family.

I reminded myself of my goals daily and wrote myself small encouragement on sticky notes in my office. How will accomplishing your goal positively impact your family? Remembering that what you’re doing will eventually pay off will help you stick with it, even when it’s tough to take time away from your sweet baby.

2. Plan your work time

Every weekend, I looked at the week ahead and blocked out times to write. As much as possible, I planned this time when I knew the baby was sleeping. Other times, I would take joy in the fact that Fitz would get some special alone time with Daddy while I worked. I also made sure that I was efficient with my work time.

Before the baby, I used to write in the living room while halfway watching TV. This distraction would make a task take about twice as long! After baby, I made a point to work alone in my office and I did not allow myself any breaks, which allowed me to maximize my work time. When can you best work on your goal? How can you increase your efficiency?

3. Prioritize your time with baby

Because I was so efficient during my work time, I was able to allow myself to totally relax and enjoy Fitz. I also tried to limit distractions, like texting other people, social media and Netflix to make sure that I was fully immersed in my baby. I let myself hold the baby while he—or we!—took a nap. I played with the baby, splashed in the tub with him and read books with him. This may sound silly, but I had to work to mentally block my dissertation out so that I could do these things and be fully present when I was with him.

Also, after working all day and then writing, I hated leaving him again—so my husband and I got in the practice of taking Fitz with us to almost everywhere we went. What are some ways that you can increase quality time with your baby?

4. Ask for help

This one was hard because I like to be in control and handle things myself. However, I quickly realized that taking care of a baby, breastfeeding, washing pump parts and bottles, doing extra laundry loads and enjoying time with the baby was impossible for me to add to my already jam-packed life. Asking for help was the only thing I could do.

This meant I had to work out with my husband some ways that he could do tasks that I normally did. I was also lucky to have a mother-in-law who was available to help us around the house and with the baby. Who can you ask to help take some things off of your plate temporarily?

I ended up defending my dissertation a day after Fitz turned 9 months old—three months ahead of schedule! Now that life has slowed done some, I find that the same principles still help me to enjoy life and find balance with my various responsibilities.

I’m so happy that I stayed focused on my goal to its completion, and I also have cherished memories of my baby’s first year. Whatever you are going through, some thoughtful planning can make the difference!