Motherhood puts you in a natural state of overwhelm

Being overwhelmed is one of the most natural feelings in the journey of motherhood. There is nothing wrong with the feeling. It's supposed to happen.

Women can't catch a break because of the sheer number of hours we work (whether it is paid or unpaid), lack of flexibility, gendered expectations and stereotypes, and the anxiety and stress that comes with all of it, including our infamous Second Shift.

But what we do in the midst of that overwhelm is critical. When we are paralyzed from the feeling, that is where the problem starts.

There is one main concept to rely on in true overwhelm. It is obvious, but the mistake is timeless.

You cannot multitask.

I will get more into this with you later, as this is pretty controversial in the motherhood and different productivity styles, but for now I am holding to this idea.

I am a good multitasker. I am not proud of it. It is inefficient, ineffective, therefore unproductive, and can even be harmful to your brain.

Being interested in productivity, you probably already intuitively understand that you must prioritize. You prioritize everything out, top to bottom, and you work on one thing at a time.

When you avoid multitasking, everything is prioritized.

But what if you have competing priorities at the same time?  Baby crying. Water boiling over. Boss needs email in the next five minutes.  You also may be at your most emotionally fragile and sleep deprived state in compounding the crisis.

This event qualifies as true overwhelm. It wouldn't serve you to get paralyzed here. You would have to do some rough prioritization in order to avoid doing nothing. And it will not be perfect.

Competing priorities in the midst of anxiety lead to overwhelm.

In Overwhelmed, Brigid Shulte describes how American mothers are subject to chronic stress, and how brain structure actually changes from this stress. Namely, the areas of the brain like the pre-frontal cortex, which determine the ability to plan, regulate control, and reason, actually become smaller over time.

Shulte argues that the chronic stress that the average American worker undergoes slowly breaks down her willpower. This in turn makes it difficult to halt interruptions. And interruptions are very costly in productivity.  

The next time you are feeling overwhelmed, you need to stop. You won't be able to do everything. You will be able to do something. Focus on one thing at a time. Everything has a priority.

But what about the competing priorities? Take a step back. If there are two equivalent priorities coming up at the very same time, you need to examine your overall value system. Your values dictate your priorities and they are the backbone of healthy productivity. If you don't know what your values truly are, it is time to think about it.

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