When you hear the word “mom” you get a clear picture in your head of what a mom is. Strong, tough and nurturing. Someone that puts your needs above their own. After all, moms do it all. And when you hear the words “working mom” this image gets kicked up a notch. They’re the backbone of the family. They also kick ass in the office.
Working moms often take care of everyone around them, but at the expense of their own heath and sanity. We often hear stories about working moms who are frazzled and tired from getting pulled in many different directions. To keep home life and work life functioning at top notch, working moms need all the energy they can get. We can help.
It’s our opinion that the greatest habits a working mom can build are:
- Setting boundaries
- Calendar planning
- Getting sleep
- Planning meals
- Scheduling personal time
- And asking for help
All of these things work together to give hard working moms the automatic intuition and drive to get everything done. But building them each, one by one, can take some time. If you’ve read The ONE Thing then you know that it takes, on average, 66 days to build a habit. (Rewiring your brain and muscle memory isn’t easy work.) We suggest that you go about tackling each one individually and sequentially to ensure your success.
1. Setting Boundaries at Work and at Home
We’ve said it before and know it to be true. On any given day, working moms get pulled in a thousand different directions. Our child’s teacher doesn’t know that we had a big meeting come up on the same day as the class field trip. And our co-worker doesn’t realize they scheduled the team bonding event for the same evening as a promised celebratory family ice cream trip. That is, unless we tell them.
It’s up to us to set boundaries for our job and our family. And it’s reasonable to do so. After all, not many people will ever tell us to stop working to get home to our kids or to not take on an extra project. Likewise, no child will ever willingly let a parent choose a conference call over playtime. This is why it’s important to talk with the people that matter in our work and home life.
Be honest. Outline what your ideal work and personal time look like. Doing so will do wonders for helping that getting-pulled-everywhere feeling subside. For instance, perhaps you explain to your boss that you would like to leave your office at 5 p.m. every night to pick up your child at daycare or to get dinner on the table. And if duty calls, you’re willing to get back onto the computer after the children are in bed. This isn’t an outlandish request. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, does it. That’s right, one of the busiest women in the world drops her children off at school every day and leaves work at 5:30p.m. to have dinner together.
Or maybe you need to explain to your children that “working from home” means that when you are sitting at your desk, you are in work mode and not to be disturbed. It’s hard to keep from ever getting distracted, but with a little practice, you can limit your interruptions.
Whatever boundaries you set, stick to them. When you are supposed to be working, work. When you are supposed to be at home, be present. During the work day, this may mean less water cooler talk or fewer calls to check in on the kids. At home, you’ll have to ignore the email notification to spend time with the people you left work to see – your family. But remember, you’ve put your boundaries into place for a reason. Keeping them will help you be more productive in the hours you’ve set aside for each commitment. Don’t get us wrong, conflicts still arise at times between our two biggest responsibilities. But if your expectations are clear and you’ve received buy-in from your manager, co-workers and family, you’ll find the pushback will be far less frequent. Even better, we have energy to spare at the end of the day when we aren’t being run ragged by conflicting priorities at work and at home.
2. Become a planner
To get energy levels up when we need them, working moms need a plan to follow. Think of it as taking a bird’s eye view of the week and even month ahead. We call this time blocking. You’ll call it life-saving. And even if you aren’t organized by nature, it’s possible to achieve order in your life by laying out what you need to get done and when.
You’ll start time blocking by laying out the vacation times you’ve been wanting to take first. Yes, vacation time gets planned first. Vacation time is recharge time. After all the work you do at home and in the office, you deserve to be able to take the time off you need to replenish your battery.
Next, block off time for your most important tasks. For working moms, this will be a combination of both professional and personal tasks, whether it be knocking out a big professional goal, a family obligation, or even taking time for yourself. These are the things that can’t be compromised. Using this time the way you laid it out is essential to keeping the ball rolling on both fronts. The time that hasn’t been blocked out on your calendar is for everything else that may arise. As parents, we need to be realistic with our time, as Jim Karas, author of the 7 Hour Energy Surge says, “Otherwise you’ll try to cram too many obligations into too little time.”
By planning our days and weeks ahead, we remove as many surprises as possible. That being said, moms know that the best laid plans often go awry. There are times we need to flex our flexibility muscle, and that’s ok. We can keep our expectations in check by recognizing that life is often messy. Things can’t and won’t be perfect. By doing our best to plan our time with the understanding that an occasional call from the school nurse may interrupt our project time, we won’t find ourselves drained by disappointments. That’s a good thing for anyone’s energy level.
3. Improve your sleep’s quality and quantity
Most moms understand the importance of sleep for their children. However, it’s safe to say that many moms – especially working moms – get far fewer shut-eyes than they should. Sleep is a key attribute of having the energy we need to be at our fullest potential. And a lack of sleep can seriously impair us.
In fact, a recent study found that sleep deprivation makes it harder for brain cells to communicate with each other. As the researcher explains, “It takes longer for [a person’s] brain to register what he’s perceiving.” This means that when we’re tired, we don’t react to things the same way as we do when we are rested. Whether that means spacing out at our desk all day or making some bad calls behind the wheel of a car, being overtired can cause all-around sluggish behavior and even dangerous mental lapses.
If you aren’t getting enough shut eye, it’s important to make it a priority. First, determine when you need to wake up and then set your ideal bedtime 7-9 hours earlier. And if you’re not getting close to this amount of sleep, make it a goal. Scary but true, experts think many of us have actually forgotten “what being really, truly rested feels like.” Once you know the time you’re aiming to get into bed you can plan your other activities around it. For instance, avoid stimulants like caffeine in the evening and turn off the TV and computer at least 30 minutes before bed. Then, turn your phone to a nighttime setting where it stops getting alerts after a certain time. Give yourself permission to sit down and relax. While you may usually be busy at night, allowing yourself time to unwind prepares you for a better night’s sleep. And when you wake up feeling rested, you’ll have the energy to do far more the next day.
4. Think ahead about good food
You didn’t think we were going to get through a blog post on healthy habits for working moms without mentioning the importance food plays in our energy levels, did you? All too often, we’re overworked, overstressed and spread too thin. It’s no wonder things like the snack machine in the break room or pizza delivery sounds great. After all, it’s been scientifically proven that junk food looks even more delicious to overtired people. As researchers explain, our “sleepy brains associate junk food with reward and pleasure.”
But raiding the candy aisle or pulling up to a fast food joint isn’t the solution for keeping our energy levels at their peak. It actually does the opposite. The body burns carbs and sugar faster than other nutrients which leaves us tired. Instead, start your day off with the right foods and then keep feeding your body the nutrients it needs to stay at its best throughout the day. Good breakfasts should have a combination of good carbs, protein and fiber. A Greek yogurt parfait, hearty oatmeal, or eggs and fruit are smart choices for giving our bodies what they need to sustain themselves all morning. Your other meals and snacks should also include foods that have fiber, protein and fat in them.
This all sounds great, but once you are in the trenches at the office and at home, follow-through can be tough. That’s why we recommend planning ahead for the week. Time block some time every weekend to look at your schedule for the week ahead and plan accordingly. When you think about what to eat in advance, you’re much more likely to incorporate healthy foods. Then, shop for as much of it as possible and prep your food for the work week while you’re still in weekend mode. This might be hard to do at first, but it will become a habit to live by. When a weeknight evening rolls around and you only have to heat up an already-prepared dinner and pack up the containers of lunch for the next day, you’ll reap the rewards in both energy consumed and time saved. That’s a win-win.
5. Incorporating exercise into everyday activities
Exercise is important. Not only does it give us more energy to work with, but it also keeps the mind sharp and our willpower battery full.
Finding time to work out isn’t easy for anyone. But add a job and kids into the equation and it can quickly feel impossible. Luckily there are ways to incorporate fitness activities into our busy lives that don’t need a ton of time.
Great, nonchalant activities:
- Using a timer to get up from your desk every hour to walk or stretch.
- Walking around your living room while watching TV.
- Grabbing everyone together for a quick game of catch, hopscotch, or jump rope.
- Switching out your desk for a standup desk.
- Switch out your seat for a stability ball.
While it may not feel like you are training for a marathon with any of those options, you’ll be far more active than if you stayed seated all day. And that’s key. No matter how long and stressful your workday may be, find ways to get moving.
And if you need another reason to get your body up, consider that finding ways to keep yourself from sitting all day has been found to increase energy, improve mood, and lessen feelings of fatigue. Clearly, an active body is a great step toward a healthy body.
6. Scheduling time for yourself
If you ask most moms, the general consensus is that finding time for yourself is hard. And like working out, add everything else you have on your plate to it and it can seem like wishful thinking. However, taking time for ourselves is a necessary part of being healthy and balanced. And, more importantly, it’s something that’s possible for everyone.
Finding time for yourself comes down to planning and using our time wisely. A lot of the time, this looks like knocking out two birds with one stone. Find ways to combine your activities so that you can do two things at once.
Moms need their exercise and they need to time to step away and socialize with friends. But they don’t have to be done exclusively. Plenty of working moms we know schedule a group run early on Saturday morning. That way, they fulfill two big needs before their families even want to leave the house. That doesn’t mean they don’t get to hang out at any other times, it just means they know that they’ll have at least one moment every week when they can relax and be with friends.
Other moms we’ve spoken to get their “me-time” by planning dinners with friends far in advance and trading off this time away with their partners. Yet another mom we know committed to her “me time” in a monetary fashion. In other words, she signed up and paid for a weekly exercise class and didn’t want to lose the money by failing to show up.
No matter what you want to do with your “me time,” using open communication to plan it goes a long way toward creating a good outcome. Other people can’t help if they don’t know your plans. So tell your spouse how important it is for you to exercise with a friend or work it out with your boss so that you can leave the office for lunch one day a week. When people know what your goals are, you’re much more likely to get a helping hand.
Do you know what else doesn’t know your desire for me-time? Your brain. We know how it is. No matter how busy we are, our brain is still throttling at full speed, bouncing all sorts of thoughts around our head. We have a lot to keep track of on any given day. Making sure none of these thoughts fall through the cracks is draining!
Give these thoughts an outlet. Keep a pen and paper handy at all times, even by your nightstand. This way, no matter when a thought may pop up, even in the dead of night, you won’t lose it. Instead, you can jot it down and eliminate it from your brain. By doing so, you can be assured that thing you need to remember for the following day or week won’t get lost during a non-stop day, much-needed shut eye, or time out for yourself. A clearer and quieter brain means a calmer, more relaxed body!
7. Ask for help
As much as we’d like to think we can, no one can do it all. That includes working moms. And when we feel like something is about to fall through the cracks, the healthy option for our psyche is to take a step back and enlist help.
Asking for help doesn’t come naturally to anyone. But for moms, it seems to be even harder. For some reason, we expect ourselves to know everything and handle everything with ease and grace. Recognizing that this isn’t a realistic picture of life is the first step to establishing a habit of asking for help. Help can come in all forms, but if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. And when we don’t lean on others in times of need, we make our work and home life far more complicated than it needs to be.
On the work front, consider hiring a virtual assistant to take some things off your plate. Virtual assistants are an excellent option for tackling tasks that take us away from our core priorities. These are things that need to get done, but not by you. You can save large amounts of time by having someone else handle things like going through your email, making sure bills are getting paid and expenses are getting filed, and keeping your databases up to date.
If you need help on the home front, try expanding your network to include the following:
- Personal concierge: The help you need when you can’t be present for life’s requirements, such as waiting for the contractor to arrive or starting on some overdue spring cleaning.
- Personal assistants/Errand runners: Can save you valuable time doing those things that there aren’t enough hours in the day for, like picking up the dry cleaning or cupcakes for your child’s class party.
- Babysitters: For those times when duty calls or when you need to free up a couple hours in the day.
- Housekeepers: So no one has to worry about who did the laundry or if the trash got taken out.
- Dog walkers: This is a big one for people with pets—a dog walker can save a lot of time and alleviate a lot of stress when you can’t make it home in time to take the dog out.
When you have trusted help on speed dial, you can have the flexibility that is necessary to stay balanced and in a healthy frame of mind.
Some of the most important help that working moms can get comes in the form of advice from other moms. Let’s face it, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to child rearing. Just when we think we’ve gotten the hang of the parenting thing, a new challenge comes along that throws us for a loop. But as the saying goes, good parenting takes a village. When we freely share our experiences with other parents that may be in the same boat as we are – or look to those parents that may have older children and dealt with a similar issue in the past, the wealth of knowledge we can gain is invaluable. When we are honest about the struggles we face as parents, we are more likely to get the help and support we need to be the best parents we can be.
No matter what career choice any of us have made, it’s important to realize that “mom guilt” is a natural feeling. We’re hard pressed to hear of anyone that hasn’t experienced it. In fact, some may say that it’s a parent’s rite of passage. We may always question our decisions when it comes to our children – and that’s okay. After all, we want what’s best for them. At the end of the day, a happy parent is conducive to happy kids – so taking the time to be your most balanced self is a good way to ensure that they feel content too. What tips have you learned along the way that have helped you be the best version of yourself for your family? Sound off on our Facebook page!