Are you a full-time working mom? Do you have young kids that need lots of your attention and drive your crazy from time to time? Do you find it is hard to balance work and life? Are you an expecting parent who feels a little unsettling about how having a baby is going to change your life?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, this article can offer you some tips, especially if you are a working mom in higher education.
I will share with you three tips of how being a mom has actually made me at least two times more productive than when I was a single. Sounds contradictory, right? Before I start listing my reasons, please let me share my background with you.
I got married in November 2010. And I got pregnant in the same month. Our first baby boy, Aidan (which is a combination of my name “Ai” and my husband’s name “Dan”) joined our family on August 24, 2011. At the same I was in my third year of being an assistant professor at my school. I was climbing the tenure ladder. Some friends advised that I should not have a baby until I got tenured. But, I did anyway. For those who are not familiar with the tenure-and-promotion process, it is a journey of moving from the assistant rank to the associate rank. By becoming an associate professor, you will have this so-called “job security,” meaning that your school, in theory, can never fire you. By being an assistant professor and a young mom, I was struggling with producing publications, doing teaching and service at my school, and taking care of a baby. Life was not easy.
Fast forward to September 27, 2014, our second baby boy, Evan, joined our family. Life became even more hectic than before.
I am definitely not the most prolific published author in my field of communication. In fact, I’m far from it. However, I am proud of what I have accomplished so far. During first six years at school, I played a critical role in creating my school’s Public Relations track; launched a student-run public relations chapter affiliated with a prestigious national organization — Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA); founded a student-run Public Relations firm to help local non-profit community organizations with their public relations needs; and built a brand for myself at my school and a digital brand online. And personally, I gave birth to two lovely and healthy boys and still managed to stay married. :)
By no means am I the prototype of a successful mom, I just want to share with you my journey and the tips that helped me go through a tough period in my life. If you are going through a similar journey, I hope my tips can help you do a better job than me.
Let’s get started. 💪🏾
Tip ONE: Prioritize and Focus
Have you ever heard from friends or read articles that tell you that you or women can have it all?
Unfortunately, it is a myth.
It won’t happen. Trust me. You will just not become the best mom and the best employee/boss at the same time. It just will not happen without sacrificing one or the other, because both roles demand an equal amount of energy- and time-commitment. If you are still not convinced, read this powerful cover story by Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why women still cannot have it all?” It will make you think twice about whether or not women can have it all.
The key is to prioritize and focus on the most important tasks that have to be accomplished and say no to the rest. I love the following quote from Steve Jobs.
True indeed, especially when you are juggling between work and motherhood. Without prioritization and focus, you will burn out soon. I love what a senior colleague shared with me,
Professorhood is a journey. Sometimes you spend more time on family, sometimes more on teaching, sometimes more on research or service.
I think this can be applied to every profession. In my case, soon after I had my first my baby, I stopped attending academic conferences. Why? I cannot afford the time to be away from my baby. The truth was even if I could, I didn’t want to. Attending conferences is nice but not essential to my tenure-and-promotion. So, I cut it off and only focused on publications. Did I suffer from Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)? Yes, big time, especially during conference seasons when I saw my friends attending conferences. When moments like these happen, reprioritize and refocus.
We have our entire life to attend conferences and to work, but the first few years with our kids don’t come twice. And they fly by fast.
What are the must-do tasks in your professional field? Focus on these first. Those that are nice to do but not essential, cut them off. You can always do them later once your children are older.
Tip TWO: Have a routine
I am a morning person. My morning hours are precious to me. That’s when I am the most productive. Nowadays I get up around 5am, a few hours before my kids wake up. I go to sleep with my kids between 9pm to 9:30pm. I love the Sleep Revolution book by Arianna Huffington and I’m a believer of having enough hours of sleep to stay productive and focused.
The night before, I write down a list of the important things that absolutely need to be accomplished on the following day. Then after I get up, I just focus on them when my energy level is at its highest.
I don’t check emails or social media the first thing after I get up.
Why? They make my brain so scattered. Instead of giving my best hours of the day to other people’s agenda, I focus on my own. For me, my morning hours are exclusively reserved for writing, especially since I have started my daily blogging challenge on May 8, 2017.
Tip THREE: Nursing
Nursing? Weird? Why does this have to do with work productivity? Actually, nursing is my secret weapon, especially when my kids were babies. I felt so blessed that I could nurse and both of my kids loved being nursed. I nursed on demand. And being able to do that has allocated me so many hours to do my work, because babies sleep a lot.
I always nursed them to sleep even though our pediatrician was against it (If you follow me on this daily blogging journey, you will find that I am not good at listening to experts’ advice. I follow my own intuition and judgment.). I would set up two chairs, my computer, stretch out my legs, get as many pillows as necessary to stay relatively comfortable, and hold my baby and nurse him. In this way, both of my kids could sleep at least three to hour ways without much crying throughout. These were my golden hours back then and how I got my teaching prep done and research papers published.
Because I know I only have these few hours to work, I focus.
Of course, this is not the most comfortable position to work. Oftentimes, my legs fell asleep and back hurt from staying in one position for too long. But, remember point one, you cannot have it all. Prioritize and focus. And remember regardless how tough your current situation is, it will pass.
I have only been a mother for seven years including the year when I was pregnant with my first baby. These are the most challenging and rewarding years in my life. Motherhood has taught me how to be a mother and a better person. I am forever indebted to the amazing power of human beings to give birth. It is a gift from the God, so children are our gifts. Enjoy and savor every moment of it. Thanks to my amazing boys and husband.