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Get Real! Practical, Personal Goal-Setting Advice for Working Moms.

Get Real! Practical, Personal Goal-Setting Advice for Working Moms.

Summer is here, invitations are flowing in, and the Fresh Start Effect (a term coined by Katy Milkman in her research and detailed in her new book How to Change) is in full swing for me. My quest for a post-COVID Fresh Start includes personal goals like:

The conventional wisdom I’ve gathered to help me achieve all of my goals all say similar things – make a plan, and stick to it. Banish distractions. Expect and plan for roadblocks. Get enough sleep.

But here’s the thing – in my experience, those tactics don’t usually work, because, well, KIDS. If you set aside time to take a walk, someone will definitely do a #2 in the 30-minute block you set aside. There are AT LEAST two nights of the week where someone is up, either in the middle of the night or at 5:00 AM for some reason. And do I even need to explain why “banishing distractions” doesn’t exactly work? I love my kids with all my heart, but dear lord do they have an uncanny spidey sense for calling “Mom. Mom. Mom, look.” over and over just as I enter my writing flow (this may have happened as this sentence was being born).

If you’re in the same boat, here are two pretty obvious things I can share that have really helped me.

[Related: Parenting During a Pandemic: Lessons I Learned]

Self-compassion is key.

If you find yourself unable to stick to your plan, follow your schedule, or check things off your list, despite all the best planning - you may default to being downright mean to yourself. Plus, you may become slightly resentful of the pint-size cherubs who depend on you. I’ve had to make a concerted attempt to tune in to my self-talk and reign it in, for everyone’s sake.

Put it in perspective.

For me, that means remembering each day that my main overarching goal in this season is to model what a good human being looks like, and help my offspring get their basic needs met so that they can feel safe and loved. If I find myself feeling annoyed at my three-year-old because he slows down and insists I look at the flower he found during our walk because it’s going to affect the pace on my apple watch, well, it’s probably time to stop walking with my apple watch on. I’ve got my priorities screwed up, and that’s okay, I just need to remind myself what they are.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s do something practical. Pull out a pen and piece of paper (or a Word doc) and list out what you need and want to do for yourself on a given day. Skip any non-negotiable stuff like “feed the kids breakfast” or “go to work” – this list is an accounting of the “shoulds” and “would like tos” for you, that haunt you.

My daily internal list includes taking a walk, preparing homemade healthy meals, meditating at least once, crushing 1-2 daily work goals (on a weekday), spending one-on-one time with each of my kids, writing for at least 20 minutes, spending 30 minutes reading, and journaling at the end of the day…at a minimum.

[Related: Think Like a Child: How Playing Drastically Improves Your Creativity at Work]

This act of listing leads to the realization that I’m simply trying to accomplish too much, which is a recipe for feeling like a failure. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look and make some edits:

  • Which of these tasks is someone else’s idea of who I should be, and not really mine? Cross them off forever.
  • What’s the LEAST I need to do today, for myself, to feel successful? Circle those.
  • What are those things in order of importance or impact? Order them.

Next, I think about when I’d ideally do these things, and then come up with a few likely scenarios that might derail me in order to sketch out a variety of backup plans. For instance:

  • Plan: Take a 30-minute walk at 6:30 AM.
  • Backup plan #1 (in case the kids are up and running the day pre-6:30 AM): Take a 30-minute walk on my lunch break.
  • Backup plan #2 (in case I’m in flow at lunchtime and want to work through it): Take a walk with my youngest in the stroller after dinner.
  • Backup plan #3 (in case the day is nearing its end and I’m just too. damn. tired.): Skip the walk and do a fifteen-minute yoga session.

But wait, there’s more! I can also give myself a pass (yes! And you can, too!). For instance, my daily goal is a 30-minute walk, but my informal weekly goal is to walk five times a week, so I’ve got at least two hall passes per week.

My list tends to morph from super high-achiever to pretty simple. There are always a variety of time-sensitive non-negotiables that fill up the day outside of my “me” list, but I may choose to tack on "take a 30-minute walk and fill up my water bottle at least four times." I already know that those activities will naturally lead to me making healthier choices overall, which are part of why I chose them (impact). The rest I treat as a “choose your own adventure” in the unlikely event that I have more time than I bargained for.

Using these tactics, I have found that I feel less resentful, more time-rich, and more confident in my ability to keep promises to myself. I hope you try it out and find that it lightens the load of your invisible expectations as well.

[Related: Why HR Needs to Know About This Triple Threat to Your Financial Security]


Leigh Sauter is the Senior Director of Marketing and Customer Advocacy at Tucker Company Worldwide, where she excels at enabling communication, collaboration, and strategy execution across the organization. She's passionate about supporting women in the workplace, especially those navigating their career ambitions while raising kids.

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