Remember life before kids, when finding time for tasks or downtime was as effortless as slotting it into your calendar? Then kids turn up and suddenly your time is consumed by the juggle of childcare, housework and work outside the home. With family events, nurturing friendships and life admin to factor in, even corner cutting household chores like a boss and learning to say ‘no’ doesn’t always give you enough time to do everything you want, or believe you need, to do, let alone take a little time for yourself.
It’s no secret Aussie working mamas are suffering from time stress. Employed women with children are working upwards of 69 hours per week on paid and unpaid work and caring duties, according to the HILDA Survey*, and experts are warning that our health and families are at risk too.
I learnt this the hard way.
From the day I became a mum, the pressure of parenthood rolled along like a snowball gaining momentum. I experienced one life transition after another—returning to work, adjusting to the juggle of work and home duties, relocating across the world, a second child, caring for ailing loved ones. Always too much to do and not enough time. Argh! Anxiety crept up on me unexpectedly till the routine of life became so vast and overwhelming I experienced burnout and my first anxiety attack.
It would take time and a fresh approach to life and time management to get my derailed train to happiness back on track. The internet was a treasure trove of advice. ‘Breathe’, reminded the mindfulness gurus; ‘Tips for time management’, offered wellness experts; ‘Invest in self-care’, encouraged psychologists. Helpful, but didn’t solve my problem.
I was in a rut. I recognised the patterns I’d fallen into, but with only short bursts of available time and so many distractions, implementing change felt too immense and overwhelming. Then, inevitably, making little progress increased my guilt and stress levels. Without motivation I was unable to move forward. But how to find motivation? With so much good advice out there, what to focus on and where to start?
I’ve since been introduced to Dr Maria Gardiner and her strategies for finding motivation^. Maria is a psychologist and researcher whose work helps graduate students and researchers tackle large, time consuming projects with ill-defined deadlines, few rewards or rewards that are a long time coming. Projects that demand lots of effort but invite little to no positive feedback. Sound like parenting much?
What I learnt the hard way, Maria and her collaborator, Hugh Kearns, have defined in three clear steps with psychological research to back it up.
Three top tips to start the ball rolling when you’re overwhelmed by the juggle
Step 1 – Set tiny steps
We’re not just talking small steps—we’re talking baby steps. Anything bigger can be overwhelming. Research shows that action leads to motivation so it’s crucial to get moving. Taking three deep breaths every day when you wake for instance, could be the precursor to a morning meditation ritual. It worked for me! Remember, the stars don’t need to be aligned for you to start—you just need to start. Allow others to help if you need it, or share your goals: sometimes just putting it out there can be a great motivator.
Step 2 – Set deadlines
Allocate a deadline for each of the tiny steps you plan to take. Be time specific. Continue at this pace or build up, setting shorter deadlines or more steps. If it’s time for yourself you desperately need, try introducing a few minutes of an activity you enjoy into your day at a set time, and keep it up till it becomes a habit.
Step 3 – Build immediate reward
If you’re following these steps to make time for yourself, say getting back into exercise, then the reward will likely be in the task. But if you’re applying this process to help with another aspect of your life, like looking for work or moving forward on a project, you’ll want to establish a reward system to incentivise your successes. Updated your skills on LinkedIn? Grab yourself a cuppa. Made that follow up call to your new networking contact? Take a (short!) scroll on Insta or, even better, a stroll around the block.
Although I sometimes still feel overwhelmed by the juggle, approaching my life in this way has helped me achieve better health and time management. What I realised in my search for motivation was that as a working parent juggling the shit out of life, I no longer have the luxury of waiting for the time to be right to start or I’ll be forever waiting. So now, wherever I am, I take that baby step forward. Might be tiny, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Written by Vanessa Geerling. Vanessa is a former communications and marketing executive and stay at home mum whose world is rocked by beautiful prose, exotic places and authentic people. When she isn’t tending the kids, she’s editing web content for Circle In, DIYing for days and nurturing her soul meditating, singing out of tune and getting lost in a good book.
^ Waiting for the motivation fairy Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns, Nature Vol 472 April 2011