Happy holidays, working moms! ‘Tis the season of feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. I started early on my end-of-year stress: My wedding is in less than two weeks as I write this in October; my oldest son's college application deadline is looming; I'm running a marathon in four weeks; I'm the varsity team football mom; and, oh, yeah, I'm a full-time EP.
My October is feeling like December on steroids—chock full of big events requiring preparation. My working mom stress meter is stuck on high.
Fellow physician moms, if you're also feeling the pressure of having more on your plate than you have time for, it's for good reason. Research shows that female physicians carry the majority of household duties. One study found that female physicians during the pandemic were more likely than male physicians to be responsible for childcare and children's schooling (25% vs. 1%) and more likely to be responsible for groceries, cooking, and cleaning (31% vs. 7%). (Harvard Business Review. Jan. 19, 2022; https://bit.ly/3yDvfYL.)
Unsurprisingly, the main demographic factor associated with diminished satisfaction for physician work-life balance is female gender. (Isr Med Assoc J. 2016;18:261.) It follows that the holidays take a greater toll on female physicians than male ones. Time management is critical for every physician, but it is most critical for female physicians, especially during the holidays.
The way you allocate your limited time affects your wellness. I have had to focus on time-management strategies to protect my own wellness. Some strategies I'm doing well; some I'm most definitely not, and I hope these tips from my crazy October will help you have a less crazy December.
Tip 1: Set priorities. If you're feeling worn down and unbalanced, reevaluate. Identify your non-negotiables, the things for which you need to make space: responsibilities, healthy behaviors, and fulfilling activities. For most physician moms, that's work—we have to pay our bills—quality time with our children, and exercise.
Then identify your negotiables, things you can cut: committees, happy hours with people you don't like, and scrolling social media. In hindsight, a fall wedding was negotiable. I would be much happier if my wedding wasn't during my sons' football season and my oldest son's college application process.
Tip 2: Dedicate time for yourself. Moms tend to put their needs last, but effective time management means making time to relax and recover. Leave empty spaces on your calendar for recharging your batteries, including ample time for sleep. I am guilty of making sleep the first casualty when I'm short on time, and it never works well. Honor your physical and mental health by protecting your sleep and downtime.
Tip 3: Say no. Because of implicit gender bias, women are often considered bitchy when they assert themselves, so we hesitate to say no. Yet saying yes when we would rather not leaves us overcommitted and exhausted. I said yes to a night out of town recently even though I already had too much on my plate because I wanted to please my loved ones. As the trip approached, I realized I was too overwhelmed and had to renege, which made me feel guiltier than if I had said no in the first place. Even joyous events become stressful if you're overextended, so set boundaries and say no to functions when you need to.
Tip 4: Don't procrastinate. Time-use studies show that women engage in significantly more planning, listing, and scheduling than men when time demands seem to outweigh available time resources. (Kathryn Welds, PhD. July 29, 2015; https://bit.ly/3MtkLAY.) Harness that strength during the holidays by planning early and tackling tasks in increments so you don't feel as pressured as I do now cranking out this article at the 11th hour. January's article will be due days after my wedding, so my EMN editor, knowing I can be time management-challenged, offered me a month off. I'm taking her up on that, and my next article won't appear until February, which wouldn't be the case if I were better about planning.
Tip 5: Minimize time wasters. We mama bears are inclined always to have our phone in case our kids need us. Unfortunately, phones put us at the mercy of interruptions and distractions, which become lost time. Limit distractions by disabling auto alerts and the number of times you check messages. Also avoid the temptation to scroll mindlessly through sites like Instagram, where I wasted hours scrolling reels of other people's weddings.
Tip 6: Delegate. Try to shake the maternal mindset that you have to do everything yourself. When you're type A like I am, it can be hard to loosen your grip on the reins and let others help you, but find ways. Someone else can bring the dessert, wrap presents, and worry about getting the wedding dress to the venue unwrinkled. Also, cleaning and meal delivery services are worth every penny.
Tip 7: Manage your expectations. Moms want to create Norman Rockwell memories for their kids, but no celebration is perfect, so be flexible and try to laugh at mishaps. One of my favorite Christmas memories is my sister and I squealing with laughter when my mom shot cranberry relish out of the blender onto the ceiling. That's the only cranberry relish she ever made that I remember and smile about. I have resolved to embrace the let-it-go mindset when things go wrong on my wedding day so I'm not a bridezilla as I marry the love of my life. This strategy is also key for the holidays when time is too precious a resource to waste fretting.
Time management is critical for staying empowered and enjoying yourself. If you can be as mindful about your time budget as you are with your fiscal budget, you'll feel greater ease this holiday season. Stay away from activities that drain your energy, and focus on what fills your proverbial cup. Cheers!
Dr. Simonsis a full-time night emergency physician in Richmond, VA, and a mother of two. Follow her on Twitter@ERGoddessMD, and read her past columns athttp://bit.ly/EMN-ERGoddess.