Every woman has experienced that moment of revelation. It’s that point when you realise that the way in which you’re currently managing all those daily tasks really is like juggling balls, and you’re just about to drop them all. In my case that moment came as I was putting the finishing touches to a quiche, ready to go into the oven, stirring up a new batch of playdough, having a conversation over the phone with the electrician about a broken plug socket and trying to supervise my eldest son’s homework, stop son number 2 from sticking googly eyes on the cat, all while balancing my youngest son, then aged 10 months on my hip. I hadn’t even finished the pivot tables I was working on, so my report deadline of the next day, meant that I was (yet again) facing a very, very long night.
This pattern wasn’t just a once, off – this is what my daily life looked like. That night, when everyone had gone to bed, and everything had been tidied away and preparations for tomorrow made, I remember sitting on my kitchen floor, exhausted, stressed and in desperate need of coming up with a new way of working. I accepted that this is what my life looked like today, and short of selling a child and hiring a chef, there were a multitude of tasks that would never go away.
I had swapped my challenging, fast-paced career, where I was highly organised, always on top of things and at my creative, problem-solving best, for taking on a different role as mum of three, wife and part-time employee. I was beginning to doubt whether I’d made the right choice at all, as my very sanity was now in question. The only thing I knew is there had to be a better way of managing my daily life. I knew I was not alone in facing this issue – there are thousands of women who manage both family life and a career, but what would work for me?
As I sat there in the darkness, my mind racing, I thought back to all my accomplishments over the previous 10 years – I tried to objectively assess how I got through complicated deals and projects, that at the start, seemed to have no solution, yet by the end became a beautifully delivered report, with evidence to support a recommendation, that I was proud to present to my superiors. Slowly it dawned on me: I had used a process to achieving success, and one that had never let me down, no matter the challenges I faced along the way.
I grabbed a notepad and pen, and began to sketch out the process I’d followed to successfully complete projects in the past. The more I wrote, the more I realised that what was underpinning my achievements, was a sound and practical approach to prioritising and planning, with emphasis on checks and balances along the way, control for quality of output and scope to change when the need to be more agile arose.
After a solid hour of writing, I reviewed my notes and realised that I’d sketched out a Project Lifecycle: manageable phases for each part of the task, detailed planning and thinking like a Project Manager, wearing two hats at once – one being outcome focused (the big picture) and one being task focused (getting to grips with the detail). This meant that I had a more balanced view of what needed to be done and more importantly, I learnt to take out the distractions that, looking at the big picture, could either be delegated or ignored completely. I also realised that when I looked at the planning, it gave me great satisfaction that I could have complete oversite on my daily life and rather than feeling overwhelmed by seeing all these individual tasks on a grand list, I felt I could cope and that I could just get on with things, one at a time.
7 years later, my life is just as busy, if not even more action-packed, with more extra-curricular activities that my now older children participate in, more professional responsibility, and of course, I cannot get away from the fact that I am, at the very heart of it, a people-pleaser. I love to say yes when somebody needs something done and the old adage is true: if you want to get something done, then give it to a busy person to do!
However, the difference now is that I have a strategy to get things done: I am clear on what I need to do, and how I’m going to get there. I have learnt to prioritise and plan, to break down tasks into more manageable bites, to check in on how I’m doing along the way and allow myself the space to adjust when necessary (Project Manager, or PMs to those in the know, call this being agile – I call it being practical and being able to adapt to a dynamic, developing situation!). I am constantly learning on this journey and I realise now that the better I plan, the more time I save and the more time I save, the more my stress levels go down. And that’s good news for everyone around me!
I’m no magician – I can’t conjure up more hours in a day but I can use the hours that I have in a way that brings me a real sense of achievement and satisfaction of crossing off things on my list, knowing that I’m on track. There are still days that challenge but I stick to what I know works and I’m enjoying the journey. I feel I have more control over my life and while I can’t control the amount of homework my children have to plough through, or the frequent trips to the emergency room for the inevitable sporting injuries, I can control how I approach all these things that need to be done. I am more confident in my own efforts and far happier as a result. Now about those two dozen cupcakes for tomorrow’s bake sale…