I asked on Instagram recently if the people who watch my stories have any blog subject requests. A sole suggestion was made… ‘juggling everything [exploding head emoji]’. I could almost feel the overwhelm through the screen. I know this woman has three children and I suspect ‘everything’ in this context is about being a mum, a wife and her own person. So here it goes… Spoiler: I don’t have the definitive answer. But I think it begins with challenging some assumptions.
Every year the ‘Calendar Stall’ appears during the run up to Christmas in our local shopping centre. Year on year, the number of ‘Mum calendars’ appearing on the racks seems to increase and for me, this feature of kitchens everywhere sums up the overwhelm pretty well. Titled ‘Supermum’, ‘Do-it-all-mum’ and ‘Mum’s Busy Day’, the pages are illustrated with cartoons of frazzled women and have text in ‘fun’ fonts. The calendars have a column for everyone in the household, sometimes even pets! In the calendar world, mums exist to make sure everyone is in the right place at the right time with the things we need and ultimately… they are responsible for no one ever forgetting anything. Ever. ‘Cheery’ wall calendars are sold as the project management tool of choice for unpaid work done by a workforce of women increasingly feeling overwhelmed by the mental load. Perpetuating the idea that this is our job. Whether you are a man, woman, put-upon child or anthropomorphic pet, IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO DO EVERYTHING WHEN YOU LIVE IN A HOUSE WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be.
The ‘stuff’ matrix
A basic tool shared universally on time-management and personal effectiveness courses is the Urgent-Important Matrix. It helps you figure out how you spend your time and then prioritise the tasks that are in the areas which need your attention. Tasks that are not important and not urgent should be eliminated. Makes sense, right?
What, if we looked at our to-do list and our busy timetable another way.
1. Is this stuff important to you?
2. Do you enjoy it?
Essential stuff: staying alive and out of jail
There are things that are important or essential to us. Basic biological function stuff – like eating, sleeping, exercising, hygiene…. (Although it’s amazing how much of this is sacrificed at times in our lives, particularly when living with newborns.) There are also the things that are an important part of your moral and legal responsibilities in life. Voting. Medical appointments. Registering the birth of a child. Renewing your passport. Big stuff.
The stuff that life is too short for
For those things you don’t enjoy and are not important to you, let them go. Don’t waste one more minute of life worrying about it. You have permission. You can have mine if you want it. I’ll even write you a note. If you don’t want to write Christmas cards, if you don’t want to be responsible for taking your child to their fourth chosen sport every week and if you don’t want to go camping in November; then don’t. Occasionally, it will disappoint people you love, but you must allow yourself to have freedom from the constant overwhelm or you will burn out.
The messy stuff in the middle
Then there are so many tasks that vary in importance depending on your stage of life and your experiences. Playing a sport, reading fiction, car maintenance, being on time for appointments. You have to prioritise what you really need to do with the time you have – and there will be hard choices. Maybe as a family you can work through all this together and find consensus?
Deciding what stays and what goes is helped by thinking about what you really enjoy. We share the chores out based on who likes what: I don’t like doing the food shop, but I do like making my way through ironing in front of Netflix and making a nice pile of folded clothes.
Once you have shared jobs out across the household, how can you reduce the time it takes and what about the stuff that no one wants to do? Can you look for a budget for help? We pay for help with cleaning in the house, but we choose to run one car. We don’t argue about cleaning at weekends anymore and Leo gets more quality time. I work with a Personal Trainer because I want the time I allocate to exercise to be effective. We have a ten-year-old TV, no Sky packages and no games consoles. I am fortunate to have the means to even consider these choices but if you have any expendable cash for treats and luxuries, you can make it work for you. And you must not care an iota about what anyone else thinks about paying somebody else to do something you ‘could’ do yourself. What they think is none of your business. I ‘could’ cut my own hair but I did it once when I was eight and it took a looooong time for that four inch gap in my fringe to grow back.
Getting the job done versus doing the job yourself
There are some pay offs to be made to not doing all the work yourself. Some of it won’t be done. And some of it will not be done like you would do it. Some of it might look worse than before your dearest loved ones began. But you can’t interfere or you undermine the whole process. You need to learn to be comfortable with a job being done badly (try to say ‘differently’) by someone else rather than being done by you. You will learn to appreciate it, which is easier once you have had a cup of tea and half an hour to read a book. Plus, practice makes perfect.
You are probably doing an amazing job, in a really crap year when we have home-schooled, turned our kitchen tables into desks and cancelled all the fun things that usually make it all bearable. So, give yourself a day off. Or four. If the entire country can press pause for a few months, then you can abandon the to-do list and throw that sodding ‘Mum’ calendar in the bin.