How Do You Do It?
I get asked this question a lot. Usually, I just reply, “Not very well” and laugh it off. I work full time outside the home in a demanding job, have a husband, four young kids, two dogs, several volunteer positions and too many hobbies, so I guess it is a fair question. I think it is meant as a compliment, but my mom guilt usually internalizes it and makes me think, “Oh, no. What did I forget?”
Normally, I am really good at keeping track of all the things I need to keep up with in my head, but recently I have really struggled to hold it all together at work and at home. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night asking myself, “Did you follow up with the unsuccessful applicant to let them know they didn’t get the position?” Or, “Did you assign what ingredients each parent is supposed to provide for the Preschool Friendship Soup activity?” Inevitably, the answer is “no.”
Things Fall Through the Cracks
On the grand scale, I probably accomplish 100 items per week off my “to do” list, but when there are that many things to remember, something always drops through the cracks. Sometimes, it is prepping the agenda for my Monday team meetings. Sometimes, it is getting a gift for my first-graders classmate’s birthday party this weekend.
When it is a meeting agenda, sometimes I can wing it and no one is the wiser. When it is “Twin Day” at school and my kid is the only one without a partner to match, I know someone is going to be disappointed. These are some of the everyday struggles of working parents trying to keep up with the never-ending demands on them and honestly, it isn’t fair.
But fair or not, you have to do what you have to do so you might as well try to employ some strategies to help you keep it all flowing. I often hear, “If you want something done, ask a busy mom because they know how to get things done.” This is why it is called “juggling the mental load.”
I am not perfect, but I do have to give myself some credit. I do get a lot done. And here are a few things I do to keep my loose ends from fraying too much, in the hopes maybe they will help you, too:
First, there’s an app for that.
Calendar is my best friend. I am an Android user, but I am sure other applications offer similar features. I use Google Calendar and if it isn’t on my calendar, it does not exist. Calendars are money for tired, scrambled mom brain.
Use multiple calendar accounts.
I use multiple calendars, one for our family and one for work. In Google Calendar, you can have a calendar associated with each account or you can make calendars specifically for special operations like “Girl Scout Troop 101.” I keep all of our personal events on a calendar tied to my personal account and all of my work events on my work account. I turn on both calendars on my account and I duplicate personal events to my work calendar when I need to build in travel time for personal appointments or to let co-workers know I will be leaving to pick up my kids.
Having them separate allows me to isolate one or the other when needed. I also have calendars for my positions on volunteer boards. That way, I don’t have to add those individual events to my calendar — I can just turn the whole calendar on or off.
Share your calendars.
I do a terrible job of keeping my mother and mother-in-law up to date on the kids events so I just share our family calendar with them. That way, they can look ahead and see if there is a choir performance or field trip scheduled. I also share the calendar with my husband and send him invitations to specific events, so he gets a notice when there is a parent-teacher meeting or sporting event he is expected to attend.
Build in false deadlines and recurring events.
This is the big one. I don’t just put my sister-in-law’s birthday as a recurring event on my calendar, I also put an event one week ahead to remind me to get her a card in the mail. I do the same for work. If I have a big report due on the first of the month, I set a false deadline for two weeks ahead, so I remember to build in time to work on it. The same thing goes for weekly obligations like making sure the trash gets to the curb or filling out my kids’ weekly reading logs.
I also use my calendar as a “lessons-learned” keeper. If I think, “Wow, it was super hard to get all the long-distance family members’ Christmas gifts in the mail on time,” I set a recurring event for next year that tells me to have everything wrapped and mailed by the 17th.
Add info to the events to make it even more useful.
Calendar the event and insert the address of the birthday party right when you RSVP to the invitation. If you order Christmas cards from a company you really like, put it on your calendar for next year as a recurring event two weeks before you need to send them out and paste the website in the reminder event, so you don’t have to go looking for it next time.
Finally, schedule time to think.
I know that sounds funny, but I put time on my work calendar at the end of every day to just think and download from the day what I did and what I still need to do. I make notes and take a few minutes to review what is on my calendar for the next day.
Speaking of notes, Google Keep (or any digital notes app) is also wonderful for busy moms.
Do you need to stop at the store, but forgot your grocery list? No worries, it is right there in your pocket. My husband and I share a pinned list in Google Keep we call the “Grocery List.”
It’s basically a checklist of groceries we each can access on our phones, so no matter who is stopping at the store, we always know what we need. When I am in the kitchen and I use the last of the mayo, I add it to the list.
Keep is also really helpful in keeping that Honey Do list at bay. When the kids break the bedroom door and we need some long screws from Home Depot, our shared list is there for my husband to check when he stops in on Saturday. I also use Keep to take down notes before I leave work, so I can focus on my commute rather than unfinished business, or to jot down “kid things” so my brain can actually rest at night because I know I dumped all the worry thoughts out of my head, knowing they will be there to look at in the morning.
I am a millennial and growing up I had a “planner.”
In the ’90s, these took the form of bound paper calendars for every day of the year with brightly colored dividers for the months and sections. If you were cool, there might have been neon and thought-bubble stickers for you to add things like dentist appointments, birthdays and special reminders. They had sections for contacts, notes, and to dos, but inevitably, not enough space for what you needed at the time.
Once, I lost mine and I basically could not function as a human, much like today when I drop my phone in the toilet. Thank goodness for automatic back up to the cloud. “Kids” today will never know the pain of losing the phone number of a crush you spent months working up the courage to get digits from.
Now, all the tools we need to stay organized live right in our pockets ready for us to use. You, too, can do it all.