How to better manage your nights and weekends—an excerpt from Allyson Downey, founder of weeSpring’s new book.
Excerpt from Here's the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood by Allyson Downey. Available from Seal Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2016
Managing Your Nights and Weekends
Cali Williams Yost coined the term “work+life fit" because she felt the idea of work-life balance was unrealistic. She told me, “Most people aren't intentional about how they're getting their work done and being a mother." She advocates mindful and deliberate planning in order to map out how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Your spouse or partner, if you have one, has a big role to play here. You're establishing patterns now about family responsibility that will impact the next eighteen years of your life.
Take advantage of the blank slate you have in your early days as parents to set norms of equal division of household labor.
In Chapter 5: Maternity Leave, I talk about specific ways you can do this, like the woman who with her husband created a Google calendar, assigning blocks of time to each of them. Every week, those hours needed to equal out between them—and they divvied up every hour that their child wasn't at daycare. It wasn't just about who was going to be home on what night, but also about who was feeding the baby breakfast and who was doing the middle-of-the-night wake-ups. One mom told me of her relationship with her wife: “We have the advantage of having no preconceived ideas about who has which 'role.'" Since neither had been socialized to think she was “better" or “worse" at baby care or wage earning, they divided things up in the way that made the most sense to them as individuals.
If you don't have a partner, lean on friends, family, neighbors— and hired help when you can afford it.
Take it from Rachel Sklar, a single mother and founder of e Li.st. “Any mom knows that you learn how to do things one-handed," she told me. “That's the metaphor. Being a single mom is one-handedness. You just get good at it." She also explained that support doesn't have to come from a partner. One of her friends put together a “sleep fund" for her, which she used to hire a doula without guilt about spending money on it. Other friends drop by
and lend a hand with the baby so she can get some work done. As someone who has always been independent, she's had to learn how to accept help and make the most of it. “You have to be organized about marshaling that goodwill."
According to Yost's research, 72 percent of people think they're being deliberate and intentional about managing their work-life day, but only 52 percent actually are. Managing your work schedule and time at the office only gets you halfway there; you also have to be mindful of all the other little details that make your home function.
One of my friends made the most of her time doing errands by turning it into one-on-one time with her toddler. “We're going on an adventure!" she'd tell him. “To the dry cleaner!" A two-year-old doesn't know that's a chore; he just knows it's time with mom focusing just on him.
For years experts have advised that buying experiences—or services—rather than things has a much more lasting impact on happiness. And when you invest in services like housecleaning or errand-running you're literally buying time for yourself.
I personally call it “arbitraging my time": figuring out how much my time is worth, and off-loading the things I can hire someone to do for less money. There have been plenty of days I've hired our (willing) babysitter to help organize our apartment or run some errands for me so I could work or enjoy time with the kids. Services like TaskRabbit make it easy to find people for one-off jobs.
Lindsay Cookson is a marketing director at Dolby Laboratories. When she went back to work, she realized how much of her day was lost to mundane busyness, and how hungry she was to get that time back, even if it meant scrimping in other places.
So she and her husband drafted a job description for a “family assistant" and hired someone to come over every morning for three hours.
The assistant gets all of the baby's food ready for daycare, including ensuring all the bottle parts are clean, preparing baby food, and packing a bag for him. She does their laundry and grocery shopping, picks up prescriptions or dry cleaning, and tidies up the kitchen. She then prepares dinner for the family to reheat when they get home.
Fran Hauser became a master at this type of delegating. “I learned how to let go in a big way," she said, both professionally and personally. She hired a personal assistant to cover anything administrative in her life. She admits it sometimes feels like a luxury, but it takes time-consuming and mostly mindless tasks off her plate. Over the holidays, her assistant wrapped her gifts and mailed out her Christmas cards, which gave Fran that time to spend with her kids or get ahead on work.
Another reason to outsource: 65 percent of the women I surveyed reported that their to-do list kept them up at night.
You're not just buying time by shedding some of the smaller responsibilities; you're buying sleep, and that's something many can't put a price on.
And as you'll learn as you read on, sleep (or the lack thereof) has an enormous impact on your ability to function professionally.
But delegating certain responsibilities to others isn't the only way to off-load them: there's always the option of eliminating some entirely. One woman said her biggest regret during maternity leave was that she didn't “let [her] house be a little more dirty." During my maternity leave, I realized that some of the things I was sinking time into for weeSpring weren't delivering much return. After I eliminated tasks and responsibilities that were nonessential, I brought that same mindset to my personal life. If you had to eliminate half your domestic chores, ask yourself what would make the cut. Ironing clothes? Dusting quarterly instead of monthly? Hand-addressing holiday cards? Going to the car wash? No one in my family can tell the difference between the grocery store rotisserie chicken and the one I painstakingly stuffed with lemons and roasted myself. If in doubt, stop doing the time-consuming stuff and wait to see if anyone notices. (They probably won't.)
In your nonparent life, you may have had very blurred lines between your workdays and your personal time. That creep of work emails and little projects that need wrapping up can feel much more intrusive once you need to fit it around baby bedtime or a nursing session. Some women find that they don't have the same drive for evening or weekend work. One woman told me that after her baby was born her “rabid 24/7 focus on
work had waned."