Your head is full of ‘must-do’ noise, your usually angelic baby is screaming his head off, your key business supplier is going to be late with a shipment you needed yesterday, and your dry cleaner closes in 15 minutes and is holding your whole family’s wardrobe hostage..
Being overwhelmed is nothing new to moms, but many of us look at our reaction to it as a reflection of our personal aptitude instead of a plain and simple exercise in resource allocation. How many times have you felt overwhelmed because there are a million things to do, and then no matter how impeccably you handle the situation, you stop to berate yourself? “Oh my god, I was supposed to call so-and-so back before 5pm but I really didn’t have time. Oh and I would have spent more time meeting ‘x’ deadline, but I had to put out a kitchen fire so I only did the best I could..” Bad Mummy!
Seriously? Moms. We have things thrown at us all day long. And where I think even Patton would have given us a medal for violent execution, we stop to nag ourselves like it’s Olympic figure skating (And for artistic merit in a crisis, 5.8). Huh.
So the next time you start grading yourself during a disaster, be kind by banishing the inner critic and simply ask yourself these 3 questions.
1. Does it have to be done?
You know the 7 things you’re juggling right now? Which ones are essential? Have you inflated the priority of some tasks without realizing it, like creating archival files, or organizing a closet? What really has to be done? Can something be cancelled or put on hold indefinitely? Making the decision to put something down instead of waiting for something to fall is not only proactive, but a giant relief. (By the way, cancelling? Not failure.)
2. Does it have to be done now?
Ok, so now you’ve pruned the 7 down to 5 but it’s still too many things up in the air. Ask yourself what is time sensitive? What needs immediate action to be resolved? There is only so much any one person can do at one time. What can be pushed to even a few minutes or hours later, delayed a day, or even a week? Overwhelm usually results when everything happens at the same time. So if you can restore linear succession to your insanity, things can become manageable –and calm- again.
3. Does it have to be done, by me?
Now that you’ve gnawed your nails to the quick, and you still have at least 2 conflicting priorities, reframe the situation – without you in it. Can someone else pick up the kids? Can a courier leave a package without your signature? Will the drycleaner accept bribes to deliver? This question will help you flex your delegation muscle – something that doesn’t come easy to moms, but something we have to develop to save our sanity.
These 3 questions are the basis of the ‘Mummy Best Practices’ bible I have in my head. I learned them during the course of my graduate studies from my teacher and mentor Judith Gregory, and frankly, I have relied on them for the last 10 years. I know that they originated from some kind of management principles book, but I forget which one (sorry Judith). All I know is that these 3 little gems have helped me deal with every imaginable scenario – from changing an explosive diaper (does it have to be done by me), to making huge strategic decisions about the course of my business.
They don’t solve everything, but what’s important is that they do help diffuse the terrible urgency so common to daily crises, and that is where those overwhelming feelings come from. So the next time a bunch of random events decide to intersect within 30 critical seconds of your life, stop, and ask yourself these three questions to sort through the clash of ‘right now’ priorities, and keep your cool. They’re like the ‘stop, drop, and roll’ of putting out mummy fires. Priceless.