So how does your ‘master’ to do list look? Does it include a never-ending list of job deadlines, parenting responsibilities and domestic chores? The reality is that working parents have a seemingly endless and ever-growing to-do list or even multiple to-do lists. No wonder that research confirms that most working parents can end up feeling tired, in a constant hurry and stressed. For some, managing multiple priorities can seem overwhelming.
Technology has given us access to the tools we can use to organise our professional and personal lives but somehow these tools serve to remind us of the fact that we might not be getting enough done and may not be in control as we sit in bed scheduling meetings, phone calls, social media and business deadlines alongside school events, holiday activities and family commitments. We’ve all had that ‘stop the bus I want to get off” moment.
Our problem isn’t that we aren’t actually in control – it’s more about how the human brain functions. It is normal to feel overwhelmed when there seems to be so many multiple priorities to deal with.
The good news is that there are well established and simple techniques that every working parent can do to feel calmer and in control of those ever-present to do lists.
Begin with the end in mind
Good managers know that organisations work well when there are clear strategic, operational and tactical goals. There are targets that, when achieved, can be celebrated. Knowing where the organisation or team is headed they can be confident in decision making and enjoy the motivation that comes from working towards their destination.
Working parents don’t always do the same.
Too often we are working to get through what can often seem a daunting day ahead. Our heads go down as we ‘get on with it’ making our lives potentially seem relentless and stressful. It can feel as if those to do lists and schedules are in charge of your life rather than the other way around. Constantly feeling that we have too much to do can be exhausting.
If we take a leaf out of the good managers’ book and start thinking about the end results of being good parents and good in our professional lives you can put yourself back in charge. Knowing that your goals are to contribute to the success and growth of your organisation whilst raising healthy, independent, successful children provides a sense of confidence, motivation and self-determination. YOU decided on the goal and it is your goal you that you are getting closer to every day. And remember they are YOUR goals, not necessarily the goals of other parent’s. It’s achieving your own life and career goals that will motivate you when times seem tough. The more specific your goals are the more likely they are to motivate you.
With a clear view of what you are working towards you can rid your to-do list and schedules of anything that does not contribute to achieving your professional and family goals, focusing only on those things that matter, spending time and energy on those things driving you forward.
Keep an ‘it’s done’ list
It was when our very own David Tovey was speaking at a ‘Dealing with Multiple Priorities” event in Sydney that he was introduced to the work of Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. The Zeigernic effect states that people tend to remember and over fixate on uncompleted or interrupted tasks significantly more than finished ones. Outstanding tasks take up a lot of mental space and create negative emotions that can leave us feeling anxious. As a working parent, the list of outstanding tasks can lead to a great deal of anxiety. Whilst that to do list is necessary, it only fuels any stress we feel.
In Sydney, David met one person actually putting completed tasks, not originally on her to do list, on to the list so that she could put a line through it, showing it as completed. Why? Because it gave her a positive feeling of closure. Capture all those completed projects and remind yourself of how far you’ve come, how much has been accomplished in your professional and family life. Look back on the list from time to time to remind yourself of your achievements. At the same time keep all those ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ work-related messages as well as fathers, mother’s day, birthday etc cards (especially the handmade ones). They have the power to bring a smile, a warm glow and remind yourself why you do what you do.
Take a digital detox
Smart phones, apps, email and social media provide great tools BUT also can contribute to a feeling of never being off duty. Promise yourself that sometime in the next couple of days you will set aside a minimum of 30 minutes for a digital detox at home. With that time commit to focusing on yourself and/or your family. Have a ‘no phones’ at meal times rule when the kids are telling you about their day. You have work commitments, yes, but even the highest powered execs can switch off for 30 minutes without the world ending.
Just 30 minutes can make a real difference. Stress ebes away and you are back in control having made the decision to detox and executed it. Those schedules and to do lists are there to help you achieve your career, life and family goals. They don’t rule you, you rule them.
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