COVID’s Impact on Women (Part I)—How to Triage Your To-Do List and Save Your Sanity

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

– Maya Angelou

Last month, the New York Times published an article following three working moms through their lives during the pandemic.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the gist:

Women are drowning, and society isn’t responding quickly enough … or even really acknowledging that it’s happening.

So this is the first in a three-part series addressing the crisis women are facing right now, and providing actionable tips for what to do next.

If you’re looking for advice on how to reach out to others for help during the pandemic, stay tuned—we’ll talk about how to approach your kids/partner in Part 2 and your boss/coworkers in Part 3.

To start, if you’re a working mom of any variety (single mom, co-parent, or primary breadwinner) and you’re also running your household, you’re not crazy. There IS to much to do.

For what it’s worth, you’re not crazy for feeling overburdened—and you ARE attempting to do more than any individual reasonably can and still stay sane.

That said, instead of focusing on the injustice of these circumstances, this series will focus on actionable steps you can take to get some immediate relief. 

I’ve protested plenty in my lifetime and right now, I’d rather focus on the solutions.

So, here are some practical, concrete steps to make things manageable—or at least less unmanageable—starting today. They should help you start shifting things off your back and in doing so, save your sanity.

STEP 1: TRIAGE

This is kinda like life during wartime, albeit the battles are with viruses, a constricted economy and archaic gender roles. So, the first thing to adjust is mindset, including how we think about and feel about math and limitations.

There is no magic formula that will add more time to your day.

So, given the limitations of 24 hours in a day, the quickest way to create the feeling of more time, more energy, and less stress is to remove things that don’t need to be there, especially during a pandemic.

That’s why we’ll start with triage.

To be clear, I’m not going to tell you to meditate every day or make self-care a priority—if you can, or if you do, great. And if you don’t yet or aren’t interested, that’s fine, too.

Adding MORE recurring tasks to your day won’t make you LESS busy, so when you create some space in your day, what you do with that extra time is up to you.

To figure out what CAN go, set a timer for 5-10 minutes and write down everything you do every day, once a week, and once a month.

I know that I’ve just asked for 10 minutes of your hectic day and this is totally worth the time. 

Write down everything you can think of. Things like:

DAILY

  • Walk the dog
  • Scoop the litterbox
  • Make breakfast/lunch/dinner
  • Shower yourself and get ready for the day
  • Get the kids ready for the day
  • Plan meals
  • Help kids with homework
  • Work for money
  • Read and reply to emails
  • Load, run and unload the dishwasher
  • Bring in the snail mail
  • Exercise

WEEKLY

  • Grocery shop
  • Yard care
  • Generate the weekly report
  • Volunteer for the PTA
  • Volunteer as a tutor
  • Write volunteer guest post for your favorite parenting blog
  • Take out the trash and recycling
  • Vacuum and dust
  • Laundry

MONTHLY

  • Pay bills
  • Reconcile checkbook
  • File papers

This is just a starter list—yours will include things not listed above and may not include all these suggestions. It’s YOUR list, this is just to get you started thinking.

Once you’ve completed the list, read back through it and look for anything nonessential you can scrape right off the top.

What is essential and nonessential for you and your family right now? 

That isn’t a trick question and it comes with zero judgement. Also, whatever your parents/neighbors/friends THINK are essential, or SHOULD be essential to you, may not be. 

Let them do them … you do you and yours. Stay strong in determining exactly what is essential to YOU

By the way, we’re not focusing on your kids’ extracurriculars here. Though if your child hates his tuba lessons, maybe now is a great time for a break.

We’re looking for any- and everything that doesn’t NEED to happen for you to survive this pandemic, and come out the other side relatively intact, happy and healthy.

Often, guilt and/or shame will tell you something is non-negotiable that totally is.

That messaging about being selfish by focusing on your own wellbeing and taking care of essentials only can be very powerful and convince you that something can’t go that absolutely should.

For example. Pre-COVID, you may have exercised daily, worked full-time, volunteered for three different organizations, AND had dinner on the table by 6:30pm every night.

That amount of activity outside of the home is possibly not sustainable now.

And all those conversations you’re having in your head about letting people down are very likely holding you hostage and keeping you stuck.

While painful, you definitely have the ability to interrupt those conversations AND what’s more, take the action required to excuse yourself from those commitments.

Here’s the truth—you’re either going to kill yourself by people-pleasing all your time away OR you’re going to have to navigate your feelings while making some tough choices.

Just imagine you were talking to your best friend instead of yourself and give yourself the same advice you’d give her about boundaries and taking care of herself.

This is totally a “physician, heal thyself” or “put your oxygen mask onfirst” process.

It may suck but the consequences of not doing it suck more.

Trimming the fat from your schedule is the first step in creating some breathing room.

So now that you know what you can (and need) to cut, take action.

The only thing better than good news is bad news fast, so rip off the bandaid and say goodbye for now.

Nothing is forever … and you can always pick up certain non-essential tasks when things ease up. Or you may discover that there are OTHER things you’d rather be doing anyway when you have more time.

Either way, once you’ve done this, move onto step 2.

STEP 2: IDENTIFY INEFFICIENCIES

Now that you’ve cut any tasks that don’t need to happen, take a closer look at the tasks that do.

Take a second pass through your list and flag anything that always takes longer than it should or doesn’t run smoothly.

Also note any of the stuff that you avoid doing because—for one reason or another—it’s always a pain in the ass—unpleasant, or inefficient.

Here’s an example. Going to the grocery store might be something you HAVE to do, if no one else can do it—and we’ll look at this in a future post to see if that is REALLY the case—or if getting groceries delivered isn’t an option.

For now, assuming YOU have to buy the food, the total time cost is an hour—between time spent driving to and from the store plus the time in the store.


But if shopping takes you 2 hours often because you can’t find your car keys or your wallet and you waste 15 minutes looking for them, and then you have to go to the store twice because you forgot your grocery list the first time and forgot to buy bread and milk . . . 

That extra hour is within your control.

Again, this is not an opportunity to feel bad about your lack of organization—it’s an invitation to proactively problem solve so you can get better at the things you must do.

So step 2 is about identifying ALL those tasks that always seem to take longer than they need to, so in step 3 you can simplify them to claw back all that lost time.

STEP 3: STREAMLINE

It’s possible in other places in your life, or your family’s, you are razor sharp in routing out inefficiencies and problem-solving.

It’s also possible that when it comes to your own habits, you don’t always level the same focus or demand for precision that you do elsewhere.

You don’t have to feel bad about that AND you also know that you already have the skills necessary to crush this step.

So, now that you know where the snags are—where you’re wasting time and your systems aren’t running as well as they could—the next thing to do is to fix them.

If that sounds like a tall order—when you’re drowning, it’s hard to get excited about refining a process when you feel like the entire enterprise is going under—that’s ok.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and find the home, meaning ONE HOME, for your phone and car keys and bag. Those 3 tasks could save you HOURS over the next few weeks alone.

Then follow these steps:

  • Pick the worst task on your list—the one that takes the longest and can save you the most time when you clean it up.
  • Write down everything you can think of that makes it a struggle.

    Using our grocery store example, that list might look like this:
    • Can’t always find my car keys/phone
    • Often forget my shopping list (or don’t make one)
    • Don’t check the fridge and pantry first for items before shopping
    • Don’t remember to take coupons, store credits or gift cards with me
    • Sometimes have to return to the store 3 times over the week for forgotten items
    • Forget reusable grocery bags, don’t get credit for them PLUS now have to figure out what to do with all the new plastic bags I brought home
  • For every snag, write down a solution. Here’s that list again:
    • Can’t find car keys/phone: Create the home for keys by putting a bowl or a hook by the door and put the keys in their home every time I walk in
    • Can’t find my phone: Establish a home for the phone in every room, so the phone is always where I expect it to be regardless of which room I’m in
    • Forget shopping list (or didn’t make one): Create a standing list of all your go-to items that you go through every week that you know you’ll need to purchase. ALSO, plan your menus for the week so you shop with those items in mind. Store both of these lists on your smart phone or print them up before you leave the house and take them with you
    • Go to grocery store 3 times a week for forgotten items: Either buy larger quantities so you don’t run out so quickly and/or the above lists will also cure the part about forgetting
    • Forget reusable grocery bags and have to figure out what to do with all the plastic: As soon as you finish putting the groceries away, return your reusable bags to your car OR near the exit of your home. Also use Siri or Alexa or Google to create a reminder list so you can say, “Hey Siri, what do I need to remember to take with me before I go grocery shopping” and she can remind you to grab your list(s) and your bags

You may also want to examine your budget and see if the net gain of those 2 hours can be offset by the extra cost for having your groceries delivered. That won’t be possible for everyone but it may be possible for you.

For more tips on streamlining processes, check out this post—it was written with businesses in mind, but the same principles apply to households.

This is where your posse can also come in handy.

You may be excellent at this by yourself, but if you’re not, invite your best non-critical and super positive friends to form a tiny workgroup.

A rapid fire brainstorming session between you and 2 or 3 other smarties could quickly identify ways to simplify these recurring tasks and possibly even tag-team or rotate among yourselves.

A fresh, objective perspective may be just what you (all) need to find the quickest, most efficient way to do these essential tasks each time they occur.

THE BOTTOM LINE

We haven’t talked yet about getting others in your household more involved but we will in an upcoming post. Step 4 could easily be DELEGATE.

COVID has had an unequal impact on women, who still bear most of the burden of raising kids and running a household, on top of working.

If you’re still employed and your kids are schooling from home—even part-time—you’re not crazy and you’re not lazy. There is TOO much to do.

So start there. Understand that it IS too much, that something’s gotta give, and that you’re not a monster or incompetent for having limitations. 

To make sure that what does give is NOT your sanity, start with triage. Pull out anything from your schedule you do not have to do. 

When you’re drowning, that means only keeping essentials in your lifeboat.

Next, identify anything you DO need to do, but that currently takes longer than it should.

Finally, find ways to streamline those tasks. You don’t need to organize your whole life/household—just focus on those tasks that are taking more time than they need to and stress you out.

And don’t be afraid or embarrassed to bring in your posse to help you brainstorm efficiencies. Where you only see reasons why something WON’T work, they may see the perfect reason why it WILL.

For a quick, free way to get your household running as efficiently as possible, sign up for our FREE 5-Day De-Stress Your Mess Challenge, starting on April 26!