In the movie, (now available on DVD), “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” main character Kate Reddy (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) lays in bed at night unable to sleep. She’s going over what she calls “The List.” Like many women juggling the demands of motherhood, career and a personal life, Reddy must stay organized.
I know how she feels. Between my demanding job as a ski patroller, my role as a step-mom, my active lifestyle and my job as a caregiver when my husband needed a liver transplant, I’ve walked the front lines of a hectic life. But I wouldn’t give any of it up. Each aspect of my life is a priority, each part a piece of my identity.
If you, too, strive to do it all, here are a few tips to help you stay organized:
- Keep a list. Not only do lists keep me organized, I also gain pleasure from the simple act of checking things off. Whether making travel plans to spend the winter in the French Alps or scheduling my stepdaughter’s next dental appointment, making and checking off items on my list ensures that I don’t forget anything.
- Relax. Remember to give yourself time to slacken the reins, even if that means scheduling time to do so. There’s a time to push through and a time to step back. Find ways to slow down. In my job as a ski patroller, when I feel overwhelmed, I volunteer for a long, remote task that takes me away from other people. I hike along the ski area boundary, resetting the rope line, thereby getting exercise and a beautiful view at the same time. I also get to be alone with my thoughts. I revel in those moments when “no one needs anything from me”. When I find those moments, I remind myself that right here, right now no one is asking me for anything. I’m free to do my job, to breathe at my own pace, to do what I need to do. Relish the moments when no one needs anything from you.
- Find your power source. For some this might be exercise, for others meditation or taking long walks. I recently started practicing yoga, finding both peace and energy. I also gain power by spending time with friends that allow me to be myself. For others, this might be curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Find something that gives you power and do it. Don’t apologize or feel guilty. You need this.
- Refill your own well. This is like finding your power source, but a little more involved. Each of us has a well, dug out shovelful by shovelful from our accumulated experiences. Hardship digs deepest. Crisis brings the biggest spade, scooping out large chunks of our heart. But then, we are left with not just a regular hole, but rather a well that can be filled with life-giving substance. The more adversity I’ve overcome in my life, the more capacity I have for gratitude and joy. When I watched my husband waste away from cancer treatment and infection as he waited for a liver, my heart ached for him. Today that place of heartbreak is now filled with gratitude. Give your well a chance to fill. Some find the best way to fill their own well is to give to others, since the very act of giving of ourselves fills our own heart. By giving freely, we can receive freely. Whatever fills you honor it.
- Don’t burden the kids. Be age-appropriate, but be honest. When my stepdaughter was six years old, she couldn’t fully grasp her father’s sickness. When a bird hit our living room window, she gathered the stunned bird into a basket and we watched it carefully. She asked me if it was sick. She wondered if the bird had hit the window because it had a liver disease; she asked me if the bird had cancer. Kids have an amazing capacity for understanding. I explained to my stepdaughter how the bird had probably just zigged when it should have zagged, hitting our window instead of flying to its nest. Then I explained that her father would get through his illness. When the bird flew away, she hugged me. She told me that her father would learn to fly again too.
- Get through it in small increments. Don’t try to take on everything at once, or you will get overwhelmed. When I get busy, I make a plan, and then get down to the individual steps. When I’m not sure of my next move, I just ask myself “what is the next right thing” for me to do right now. Then I do it.
Managing a busy life is never easy. Even those like Kate Reddy, who do it all with beauty and aplomb, struggle at times.
Give yourself space, honor your own well and cut yourself just enough slack to stay afloat!