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Take a Load Off

Just kidding. It's invisible. What do you expect me to do?

I was talking to one of my good friends about the struggles of motherhood and the ginormous, and sometimes unthankful, load that we carry around with us on a daily basis - and I'm not talking about the weight of a 35 pound child on your hip. What I am talking about are the many checklists that we, as women, have in our heads that we strive to accomplish on a daily basis. This load is often referred to as the Invisible Load.

The Invisible Load is the mental weight of everything that needs to get for our families and around the house. It is not just the physical accomplishment of all those tasks, but also remembering what has to get done and by when. I started to write down a list of all the things I personally take care of and then I reached out to my friend Leah to validate that list. It took us 10 minutes to come up with approx. 50 things that contribute to this load and the list is nowhere close to being exhaustive (that was all I could fit on my page).

We were texting back and forth, listing all of the things we personally take care of for our families, and Leah made the comment, "We also have to manage the family calendar. You have your normal everyday load and then things that rotate with the seasons or are even unplanned, such as birthdays, holiday parties, field trips...". So I responded, "You are a project manager." As I spoke those words I immediately felt the weight of this full time job.

I was once asked in an interview how I would describe a project manager in 1-2 words and my response was, "Puzzle maker". In our minds we know exactly how the puzzle should look and each of the pieces are one aspect of the project that we need to manage and ensure gets placed at the proper time and location. When we translate those puzzles from multimillion dollar corporate projects to the home life, that can mean a myriad of things.

We wake up, make sure the kids get ready, pack their school bags, make breakfast, drop kids off at the bus stop, go on field trips, bake for bake sales, leave work to stay at home when they are sick, take them to sports practice, go grocery shopping, make dinner, pack lunches, clean up the kitchen, do laundry.... And for those of us women lucky enough to have a partner who helps out, we get some sort of relief - but do we really? Because most of the time we are still worrying about whether or not our partners will actually complete the requested tasks on time and to our desired quality.

Throughout my career as a project manager, I have found four important qualities that help contribute to my success:

1. Timeline

You have your lists and calendar embedded into your brain, your mind constantly working in overdrive to try and remember that one thing you forgot. And it will hit you like a moving car in the middle of the night. You will shoot up in bed and your stomach will be knots as your brain replays that one important thing that you couldn't forget. As a mom, we always tend to beat ourselves up as a result.

Before you beat yourself up, it is important to have a place to store all of these tasks. Make sure that you have a wall/desk/phone calendar that can store all of your to-dos (with due dates!) so that you can constantly refer to it. Make sure you update it on a regular basis so that anyone looking over it can also get a good idea of what milestones are coming up. This will ensure that you have a one-stop-shop for all that needs to happen in the home life.

2. Communication

My mom hosts a church picnic every year and she gathers a lot of the high school and 8th grade students to help out in exchange for community service hours, My siblings and I help out every year as well - we are essentially mini versions of my mom, her junior project managers, helping execute a successful project. We often have other church members (adults) joyfully give of their time as well.

One year a parent said to me, "What are these kids really doing? They are just standing around.", to which I replied, "Has anyone told them what needs to get done? Just because there is stuff to do, it doesn't mean that they know what that stuff is." They could know how to build a robot, but when it comes to parties have no clue what is required.

Part of communicating (and delegating, see point 3) means setting clear expectations: What needs to get done, who is involved and when does it need to be completed by? When you don't provide these three main points, this can leave everything open to interpretation. Again, never assume the other person knows what you are thinking. You need to be clear.

You cannot assume that, even in the home life, your spouse knows everything that is going on in your head that is required to get done for the week. Not only do you have to be able to list out what the upcoming milestones/deadlines are (on that beautiful calendar I told you to get) but you have to be able to communicate them in a way that your partner will understand. Visuals typically allow people to understand the multitude of things that are ongoing, where they might tune you out of if you try and list them all off.

3. Delegation

With communication also comes delegation. This means that you have to know your strengths and weaknesses (and those of your spouse!). After you list out what specifically needs to be done, you then have to assign different roles to each other to divide up the tasks. This is such an important step in order not to spread yourself too thin. This is part of what I spoke about in my previous vlog - we have to start learning to take a step back, engage our spouses for support, and accept the help we receive, even if it means our kids are eating PB&J two nights in a row for dinner.

You may notice that tasks overlap, which can mean one of two things: Either you need to solicit further resources to support (i.e. your mom and dad, babysitter) or you need to prioritize the tasks and potentially push one out or cancel. Make the decision and move forward, don't dwell on the fact that you might miss a five year old's birthday party as a result.

4. Time Management

In my opinion, this particular skill is key to living an efficient and active lifestyle. Being able to manage your time allows you to do more in less time. Some of the skills that come with being able to manage time properly are: organization, prioritization, delegation, communication and, most importantly, stress management. You will note that a chunk of those skills are listed above time management ;). If you know how to properly manage your time and your people, I can almost guarantee that your stress levels will decrease significantly.

A colleague once told me that they consider themselves to be a great planner: planning parties, projects, etc. they feel that they can apply these skillsets in many situations. I told them that they are great at at identifying everything that needs to be done and by when, but that the areas I see them struggling are communication, delegation and time management, three main components of great project management. They expect everyone to know what needs to get done and by when, without ever delegating any responsibilities because they try and do everything themselves. Not only that, but they would spend so much time on menial tasks that they would not leave enough time for the big ones, thus missing major deadlines.

These skillsets are all intertwined and cannot be mastered overnight. What is most important is that we are constantly reflecting on our situations, understanding our weaknesses and identifying ways to grow in these areas, and working together with our spouses. We can't do everything alone and we shouldn't have to. It really takes a strong person to raise their hand and say, "I need help, let's figure out a way to share the responsibilities.", because being a parent or homeowner should not just fall on one of the spouses. And if you are a single parent, I commend you for every day that you conquer.

The next time you think to ask a stay-at-home mom or dad, "What do you do all day?", you'd probably better run away fast because I give them full permission to bite your head off :) Remember that a lot of things they do are invisible to even most spouses. On a daily basis, I can guarantee they manage more meltdowns, tasks, and curveballs than you do in a week at your day job. So be nice.