You’d be hardpressed to find a modern-day working mum who doesn’t lead an overscheduled life. This week’s Material Mum Cherie Tseng shares seven tried-and-tested tips on how mothers can regain their sanity.
Hi, my name is Cherie, and I used to be an overschedule-holic.
As a full-time work-from-home mum who runs two-and-a-half businesses with two active kids in tow, I was a classic specimen of an overscheduled woman. My workday would start before the kids woke, then when they did, mummy duties kicked in and I would fit work (meetings, emails, conference calls, sometimes overseas work trips) in between. In between – yes, I still managed to squeeze out in-between time – I attended aerial circus arts class, met up with friends and generally attempted to have some modicum of a life.
We live in a time of hyper-connectivity where the lines between work and home have been blurred with instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp. Business can be done from anywhere, at any time – even if you are thousands of feet in the air, flying over the Atlantic Ocean. And if the usually all-pervasive WiFi cannot be detected where you are, there is still a myriad of things to do: play games, edit photos, type an email for sending out later.
Some of that mad rush to always be connected could be attributed to what mental professionals call smartphone addiction, the need to constantly be and stay connected. A 2012 Norton Symantec survey found that the average person spent 15 hours a week browsing and surfing, and about 12 hours a week socialising online. And those are figures from two years ago.
Others credit our obsession with “Life Hacks”, the blind pursuit to live your superlative life at almost all cost. There are tons of sites and ready resources for anyone with half an internet connectivity to find ways to improve themselves, be more effective/efficient/good-looking. Recently, a new “hack” was born: “Sleep Hack”, a mental and physical training technique that is supposed to help you function longer and more effectively on far less sleep (three to five hours) than medically recommended (seven to eight hours).
In short, there seems to be a mad rush to cram more in each day. We see that quite evidently in the many overscheduled kids of today who get shuttled from one class to another. Likewise, there are many overscheduled adults, with mums topping the list of crazy overachievers. Most of us pack an alarming amount into a teeny day in the guise of maximising our time; we run multiple errands, keep an insatiable to-do list, actively maintain both a real and virtual life and push ourselves to achieve a myriad of personal, physical and corporate goals. I know many friends who are stressed out, sleep deprived, and exhausted from their overwhelming schedule. My therapist friends will tell you that chronic overscheduling can lead to exhaustion, depression and anxiety.
Last December, after I pretty much fell asleep at a red light while sending my kids to class, I decided enough was enough. I needed to rid myself of this almost sadistic streak to live a superlative life. My mantra this year is to “Pare Down, Shape Up, Keep Pace, Live with Grace”. Six months into my new way of life, I have learnt seven invaluable lessons on how to better manage the overscheduled life and regain your sanity:
1. Acknowledge you have a problem
After I fell asleep at the wheel – thankfully I was stationary at the traffic light – I fessed up to my husband who was clearly none too pleased. He had been, after all, complaining I did far too much and that I needed to harness my inner Elsa and let it go. We sat down and looked at my daily schedule, helped me figure out what I could/needed to rework and we designed a game plan. So, find someone you trust, hold their hands and tell them you have a problem.
2. Ask for and accept help
I will be honest and admit that accepting help and delegating work does not come easy to me but I am pretty lucky to have help at home and an awesome team at work who are more than happy to pull more duty so I do not feel like I needed to micromanage. One simple thing we did was to remove me from all the email threads that were going about; instead, my heads of department wrote me a summary email at critical junctures and only looped me in if it was necessary.
3. Hard landscape me-time
I have loved productivity guru David Allen’s notion of a hard landscape in your schedule – something you have to get done, rather than something you would like to spend time on. So, I decided to hard landscape workout time and commit to joining an aerial (circus) class on Friday mornings with three other mummy friends. This class needed a quorum so we all needed each other to commit to class time. It meant re-routing pickup duty for me, but I’ve always managed to find someone who would be more than happy to help me out. I only had to ask.
4. Throttle your own bandwidth
Like many people, I was a slave to the multiple chat groups, deluge of emails and online connections. So I went with what I learnt from FastCompany on their article on successful people: I stopped checking my emails/chats first thing in the morning, or, for that matter, incessantly throughout the day. The logic was simple – when you do so, you risk being sucked into someone else’s to-do list rather than strive to accomplish your own.
5. Embrace the Beta life
The Beta life – like beta software that still has bugs and many flaws – is about being willing to accept that our lives are always going to have pockets of imperfections. This teaches us to be kind to ourselves and not get obsessed with the idea of perfection.
6. Take time to drink more water
I know this sounds crazy but take time to (re)hydrate – with water, of course. Health pundits speculate that more than 75 percent of us are chronically dehydrated and, thus, our body functions less effectively. A well-hydrated body is simply healthier and more effective and efficient. For starters, it actually gives you more energy and mental stamina. Since I started what some friends call my “crazy water boarding self-torture”, I’ve actually gained a whole lot more energy, which translates to higher productivity!
7. Embrace your whimsy. And frivolity
My sisters will tell you that if frivolity were a class in school, I’d flunk it. My busy life simply did not include time for such stuff, after all, there were things that needed to get done. And after thirty odd years of being a to-do list goddess, I embraced my whimsy. From dress-up circus graduation showcases to riotous karaoke sessions; from over-the-table food fights with friends to playing pretend guitar … I am now full-on whimsy – and lovin’ it.
Cherie Tseng is mum to two little boys: Quentin, four, and Evan, two. They love superheroes, pizza and going on pretend adventures with mummy and daddy to save the world. She runs a regional training consultancy, co-owns a Singapore-Myanmar business brokerage outfit and is an essential oil enthusiast. In her spare time, she crafts, makes diaper cakes and practices aerial circus arts. Cherie occasionally blogs at The Growing Tree Project.