In part one of this series, I described Mental Load and supplied a checklist to determine if you are likely burdened by a Mental Load. I have heard from plenty of working moms who wrote me “confessions,” surprised by how many boxes they had checked on the mental load checklist. I got sheepish emails, texts and comments, “yep, that’s me…” If you are one of them, here is what you were waiting for: Parts two (and three) of this series supply some strategies to lessen Mental Load. Which ones will you try in the New Year?
How can I unload my mental load?
Let’s start with what doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to keep hoping someone will magically notice that you are killing yourself trying to keep everything from falling apart. It also doesn’t work to just quit and let them see how much they needed you all along. Let’s face it, your family will probably not even associate the demolition of consistency and reliability and the rubble of their routine with your having abandoned your mental load. Besides, you would probably suffer more than anyone else! When you come right down to it, piles of dirty clothes in the utility room do not seem to bother anyone other than working moms.
Let’s go for more practical strategies that you can implement to reduce your Mental Load (without creating total chaos that will just further increase your Mental Load). These are things that you might even be able to slip in un-noticed, a stealth attack. The first five strategies are presented here and the second five will come in Part three of this series. See what you can implement to reduce your mental load and even enhance your sanity and routine.
1. Chunk up your delegation strategy
This is an important lesson about delegation and it actually applies outside of the home too. Don’t just think about delegating more, think about delegating smarter. By this, I mean, stop delegating tasks and start delegating domains. Delegating tasks only frees up the time that you were going to spend doing the task. It doesn’t do a thing for the time that you need to spend managing the domain. When you chunk up your delegation, you hand off the management as well as the task.
Let me give you an example. This year, I decided I was not owning the domain of decorating for Christmas. I was tired of producing instructions, begging for and then waiting for help, and the mental load of owning the domain. The kids started to complain around December 15. I told them I was no longer in charge of Christmas decorations. They finally figured it out and did it themselves on December 22.
What domain do you want to delegate? To whom are you going to delegate it? Now, imagine this: you don’t want to own any of it…not the thinking, not the planning, not the deadlines, not the tasks, not the oversight, not the follow-up. It should sound something like this: “Honey, I need for you to take over the dentist-domain. You’ll need to manage all of it, because I don’t do “dentist” any more. Please and thank you, peace out.”
2. Get good at empowering others
You can’t just simply delegate domains and be successful. You also need to empower the other person. The literal meaning of empowerment is to give your power over to another person. You’ll need to get comfortable, and even good at letting someone else own and create, free from your rules and with absolutely no oversight from you.
My mom is so good at this. Growing up, if we had guests over for dinner, someone would invariably ask, “What can I do to help?” She would quickly and efficiently pass out domains (chunking up the delegation), like “why don’t you make the salad?” She didn’t mean “assemble” my carefully laid out, prepped and prepared ingredients into the exact salad I have in mind. She meant, create your own salad. She would not have been fazed by a request for a can of anchovies for salade nicoise, or for goat cheese and beets, or for vinaigrette over lettuce.
Empowerment coupled with delegation are fantastic unburdening tools. And, don’t mistake this for the routine and useless advice to just “let it go”. Empowerment and delegation are not letting it go at all. You want a salad on the table; you just don’t want to own it.
3. Practice “good enough” work (i.e., lower your expectations)
At this point, it is a probably a good time to admit that you might have a teensy weensy little bit of the perfectionist gene in your DNA. (I don’t have linkage data, but I am certain this gene is on the X chromosome.)
Let me help you out: Did you know that there isn’t actually just one right way to load a dishwasher? Do you know what happens if an upside-down fork has a piece of rice stuck between the tines after it runs? And do you know how little water will actually be wasted if you run the dishwasher at 93.5% capacity because the plate stacking was not optimized?
“Good enough work” is an actual term that people use. It’s used in the software industry, where releases are made that are “good-enough” and the bugs are handled later with updates. You know what happens when you stop caring about how the dishwasher was loaded? Nothing. Seriously, nothing. You’ll still get mostly clean dishes and your water bill will not skyrocket.
So now, imagine telling your 9-year old, “You are now the official owner of the dishwasher domain. There will be no further guidance, instructions or oversight and I no longer care whether it has been perfectly loaded or not.” Then, you can save your perfectionism for something that really matters, like organizing canned goods by sub-type and alphabetizing your spice cabinet (please tell me I’m not the only one who does this).
4. Clearly define expectations and be explicit
If you truly manage to chunk up your delegation strategy, empower your delegates, and abandon perfectionism for good enough work, there is the possibility of slight quality control issues. So, you also need to adopt a strategy of setting specific expectations in advance at the periphery of the domain. Please resist the urge to set expectations that sound more like a step-by-step instruction guide because that defeats the entire purpose of not owning the domain. I like to think of setting broad expectations like building in guard-rails so that nobody goes over a cliff.
Let’s take the dishwasher example. If said 9-year old puts her breakfast bowl and spoon in the dishwasher and happily presses start with only two things in the unit, that may not be a good long-term solution. Here is an example of setting peripheral expectations: “Honey, I don’t care what kind of magic you work to get that dishwasher loaded, but it needs to be run once per day. Not more, not less. Everything else is up to you.”
5. Ask for ownership, not for help
This is a pet peeve. I hate it when “someone” (I won’t say more to protect my husband’s anonymity) says “you should have just asked, I would have been happy to help you.” Oh, for God’s sake. By the time I “ask for help” with a task, it would have required me to think, plan, find him, ask and then oversee. Isn’t that like 75% of the actual work in that domain? So, instead, avoid asking for “help” and ask for ownership.
Look at the differences between the mental loads in these two conversations. “I have a late meeting. I made a casserole and it is in the fridge. At 5:50 pm, put it into the oven covered with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.” Or, “I have a late meeting and you’ll need to own dinner tonight.”
In the unburdened statement, you will need to accept that you are leaving it somewhat up to chance. You might get spaghetti, take-out sushi, frozen chicken nuggets and canned green beans, or maybe even cereal. And, as long as food ends up in stomachs, I’d consider that a success!