Juggling career and family and outside interests and just plain life is hard for everyone, but still: men have it easier. It’s not fair but it’s no less true. Knowing that women face added pressure — from others and from themselves — is one thing. Knowing what advice to give is another.
Fortunately, I know someone who does. The following is from Felicia Spahr, a leadership coach who helps ambitious, professional women perform at their best and become better leaders. Here’s Felicia:
If there’s one thing that makes women feel like they have to do everything–from taking care of the kids to picking up the slack for their co-workers–it’s this: guilt.
Women get messages every day about what “success” looks like, and it’s usually a woman who seems to be “doing it all.” She has a demanding job, kids at home, a supportive husband… and we lavish praise on her because she seems to be doing everything right.
But what goes on behind the scenes is far from the highlight reel we often see.
What we don’t see is how “successful” women know how to delegate what isn’t truly important. We don’t see how they hire help to take care of the kids or clean the house. We don’t see how they take time to relax and recharge–and perhaps aren’t “doing it all” as much as we think they are.
But most women don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, so we’re constantly made to feel like if we don’t manage to do it all, and have it all, that somehow we’ve failed: As a wife, as a mother, as a boss.
Instead of feeling like you have to spend your day being ‘busy’ and putting out fires, here are three ways you can re-design your day so that you have time to do what matters, and energy to focus on them.
1. Figure out what to focus on.
Often, we’re caught in this cycle of overwhelm: What do I focus on when there are so many things I want or need to do? How do I fit it all in?
It seems like we’re being pulled in a million directions, and there’s no time to discern between what’s truly important. And yet when we’re confused, we’re told to just “suck it up and do it” or get it on our calendars already.
But what happens if “sucking it up” creates more stress because we’re not acknowledging new information that changes our situation? What happens if every minute is scheduled but something more important comes up?
A good first step to to figuring this out to ask yourself two key questions: What am I really trying to accomplish? What are the specific steps I need to get there?
The key is to get clarity on what the bigger picture is so you’re not just a robot checking tasks off a to-do list; often where we get stuck is when our to-do list is too big and too vague. Like when we write something like “Work on (deliverable).” If you see that on your calendar during a high-pressure day, it can look daunting.
Instead, break a major task down into smaller, doable components, like “Schedule 15 minute meeting with X to talk about requirements.”
That way it’s easy to know what to do right away — and then what to do next.
2. Delegate and ask for help.
This is one of the hardest skills to learn, no matter how long you’ve been in a management or leadership position. We’re afraid of losing control.
But we’re also afraid of losing our identity.
When we’re so focused on doing it all, being busy becomes a part of who we are. So it’s not that delegating is in and of itself hard, it’s the questions you ask yourself after you delegate that is the real challenge: “Who am I if I’m not putting out these fires every day? Who am I if I’m not busy all the time?”
Start by taking a very small step. Instead of feeling like you need to delegate everything, delegate just one, low-stakes task. You can write it out like an easy system for someone to follow, like this:
- Step 1: Do x.
- Step 2. Do y.
- Step 3. If A happens, do B
- Step 4. If B happens, do C
- Step 5. Done
That way the tasks are easy to understand, it’s clear what the person you delegate to will do if problems come up… and you don’t waste time having to clean up someone else’s mess.
3. Make time to rest and recharge.
We hear advice all the time about how important it is to take time to relax and stop thinking about work.
The problem? Doig that is easier said than done.
In a culture where we value hard work and effort, relaxing can feel like we’re doing something wrong. Especially for women, relaxing can feel self-indulgent, even luxurious, and that leads to feeling guilty about taking any time to be “off” at all.
The more guilt you feel, the less clear your priorities become. The less clear your priorities become, the more overwhelmed you feel. And if there’s no scheduled rest time, the cycle just continues.
So how do you learn to rest, guilt-free?
Instead of feeling like you need to take a two week vacation–which can feel overwhelming–why not take a 5-minute break today? Find a secluded space in your office to sit and take a few breaths. Or go outside for a short walk and feel the sun on your face. Or write down a few thoughts you’re having.
It may seem trivial to take a break as small as 5 minutes, but it’s more important to build the habit than it is to overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to take a huge chunk of time away from work to rest.
As I like to say, baby steps equal long-term success.
And the next time you think you have to do everything for everyone, stop to ask yourself this question: Is that what will help me achieve what’s most important to me?
Then follow these steps to free up your time, get more energy, and actually feel like you got what matters done.
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