Driving from the office to home, most women don’t breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, we gird ourselves to take on a “second shift” complete with all its competing demands.
In other words, we assume the unpaid job of what a BuzzFeed News article last year deems a “household management project leader.” And before you think this experience only happens in traditional or conservative home-life situations, let me say it’s alive and well in my liberal part of the country.
In fact, I’m a prime poster child for a married, career-focused female raising kids and dealing with the mental load that comes with classic gender expectations. As a UN Women report points out, women tackle 2.6 times the domestic responsibilities as men.
My husband and I attempt to share the physical load of managing a household, but sometimes I feel stressed and overwhelmed when the mental load piles up. The key for us is finding the balance through give and take. Lean in when one partner needs extra help, and take personal time when the burden subsides.
Managing a household is hard work, and just like an office job, you need to protect yourself and your partner from burnout. For me, that means being fluid enough to make adjustments to a changing situation.
Bringing agile home
At the office, my marketing team’s process is based on breaking down large tasks into smaller ones, assigning them in manageable and prioritized chunks, and adapting as necessary. This is known as an agile philosophy, and I’ve been able to use it just as much to ease the stressors in my home life. For a working mother, being flexible helps streamline a mountainous to-do list, making life a whole lot less complicated.
Consider my son’s last birthday party. In years past, I would have followed a systematic, step-by-step approach to seeing it through. Along the way, I probably would have allowed items to pile up, turning the final week into a maddening rush to get everything accomplished.
This year, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the mental load, I created personal task lists for my husband and me and prioritized the chores. First was creating an e-vite for the party. I was in charge of decorations and party favors, while my husband handled the food and the cake. Order party supplies too late, and you run the risk of them not getting delivered on time. Order the balloons too soon, and they might deflate before the party.
We had four weeks to prepare for the party, and each week was committed to completing a few tasks. We didn’t have 20 things to do this month, but rather four things to do this week. Approaching it from this perspective made pulling off the celebration a lot less stressful.
Combat "task paralysis"
McKinsey & Co. defined agile marketing as “using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating results, and rapidly iterating.” It works in your personal life, too. By following these tips, you can keep things manageable and avoid burnout.
1. Break big projects down into smaller tasks
My friends and I planned a trip to Croatia this past spring. Planning an international trip is complicated, but with a group of eight opinionated adults, it gets even more so.
Luckily, our process at Pantheon helped me understand that setting smaller, measurable goals would make the overwhelming task much more manageable.
When Pantheon had the opportunity to publish a landing page that compared and contrasted WordPress versus Drupal, it was a daunting goal. But we took a one-step-at-a-time approach rather than waiting for a big rollout at the end. We started with an infographic before creating a landing page and an interactive quiz — and, eventually, animation. At that point, we wrote blog posts and social media posts to drive traffic to our page. It made the entire experience more immersive over time.
Similarly, when preparing for the Croatia trip, my friends and I broke it down into manageable tasks. First, we needed to agree on travel dates, the itinerary, and lodging. Then, as a few of us took on the task of booking rooms, another group set about reserving rental cars. We used data — ratings from travel websites like Trip Planner and Yelp — to inform our decisions.
Once we arrived in Croatia, we repeated our selection process for finding activities and places to eat, learning a bit about everyone’s preferences as we went.
2. Study past events to map out plans
After switching to an agile marketing process, the effort to bring co-workers from other teams into our meetings was intentional. We all have a vested interest in the performance of Pantheon’s website, so every week, we meet with other departments to see what is working and what needs to be adjusted.
Likewise, the holidays are a great time to evaluate how to prepare your family for the chaos to come. Talk to your family members about what they did and didn’t like about the previous year. Maybe attending the local parade felt like too much to tack on, but everyone is game for watching it on TV before the extended family arrives.
I’ve done this with my family regarding memberships to local parks: Did you enjoy going to the zoo, or is there somewhere else you’d prefer we go?
We’re part of a social club in the community for families with young children. We meet twice a year to review what’s working, what could be better, and how we want the group to operate moving forward. By reflecting on what occurred in the past, it opens opportunities for improvement in the future.
3. Measure the impact of your decisions
Recently, we sought to improve the user experience on Pantheon’s pricing page. A new layout was tested, but it didn’t really drive engagement. Rather than scrapping the design, a member of the team suggested we add a data layer to personalize content. That helped drive the interest and clicks to hit our goals. One minor adjustment was all we needed.
Sometimes, reviews reveal unexpected realities. Maybe your special pasta dinner wasn’t so special after all. Sure, it can be tough to hear criticism about something you worked so hard on, but take the family’s opinions into consideration the next time you make it.
You don’t have to scrap the recipe. Little changes will produce new results and garner refreshing insights. Try some new spices or vegetables next time. Keep making tweaks until you develop a meal that the whole family loves.
4. Embrace change
Too often, I see people burn out because all they can think about is the end result. They make big plans and expect everything to go perfectly. When something goes wrong — and something always goes wrong — it will totally throw them off and ruin the experience for everyone.
Voltaire popularized the idea of not letting the perfect be the enemy of good. Be realistic about what you’re capable of accomplishing and learn to adapt when things don’t go as planned. Your guests will appreciate an engaged version of you serving carryout dinner on paper plates much more than sitting down to a Pinterest-perfect tablescape served by someone who is about to lose her mind.
You might never be able to totally ditch the feeling that you’re the main project manager for your home life. And you know what? That’s OK. Just use some agile thinking, and many of your apprehensions will melt away, leaving you time and energy to work on your relationships and, most importantly, yourself.
As the director of brand and digital experience, Sarah Fruy leads the strategy, goals, and road map for Pantheon’s public-facing website and branded content. Fruy joined Pantheon with over 10 years of experience in the marketing, digital publishing, and online advertising industries.