Sometimes we try to compartmentalize our different “selves”: Work Liz, Mom Liz, Wife Liz, Colleague Liz. But with so much overlap in our lives, it becomes impossible. Instead, we need to be resourceful to stay on top of our never-ending to-do list and realize our responsibilities will intersect. Here are some strategies that work for me and that may be helpful for you:
1. Offload the invisible work.
Let’s face it, much of the weight we’re carrying around is a mental load: The grocery list. The upcoming birthday party. Trash day. I’m a big list maker, which allows me to free up that mind space. I find myself relying on technology, and I use apps to keep shared grocery lists and calendars, but paper works great, too.
Chronicling your thoughts is important for work tasks as well. When I was a school psychologist and got several weeks off during the summer, I would be ready to get on with my vacation as soon as that last bell rang. Yet when I returned in the fall, I would realize that I had been kicking around ideas for some potential improvements but couldn’t remember what they were. So while you should unplug, it can be easier to do so if you devote some time to reflecting as the year wraps up. Then you’ll be ready to spend quality time with family (or just on yourself!) without work distractions entering your mind.
Speaking of family, don’t forget to outsource tasks to them — and do it completely. For a long time, it was up to me to recognize what needed to be done and to ask for help, but I’ve been trying to change that. For example, I used to be responsible for remembering trash day each week. Even if I didn’t physically put the cans out that week, the task of remembering and planning for it was taking up mental space. Now I’ve put my husband 100% in charge of that chore, and I don’t think about it at all. It’s a simple conversation and a relatively easy change in our approach, but it’s extremely helpful for my mental workload.
2. Communicate your needs.
Most of us can relate to the sitcom mom whose Mother’s Day or birthday never meets her expectations — no matter how hard her family tries. And I get it! My perfect celebration is pretty simple. I want to wake up when I'm ready, enjoy a big breakfast and then have time outside to reconnect with nature. Sounds easy to deliver, doesn't it? But my kids' and my husband’s love language is the opposite of mine — they love to receive gifts and assume I do, too. So while I have been the recipient of many nice presents over the years, it's up to me to redirect them and remind them what I actually want.
Remember, it’s not bossy to let people know how your needs can be met. Our families don’t want to disappoint us, but they often can’t guess what we want. So, like with the chore example above, just tell people what you need, whether at work, at home or on your favorite holiday. I’m betting they’d be happy to oblige.
3. Build your support team.
Your family plays a key position on your support team, but they can’t do it all. We're social beings who thrive off of connection with others. I think it's both a practical need — to have helpers who can take things off your plate — and an emotional need to turn to people who understand what we're going through and can offer a listening ear. And it works both ways. I've been part of support systems where I can help somebody else out, and it feels extremely satisfying to play that role.
Educators often have unique circumstances only other educators can understand. Building a village among your colleagues can improve work life for all of you.
4. Prioritize self-care.
Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword, but if you think about it, what’s more important than caring for yourself? And it doesn’t need to be a day-long spa retreat — although that’s great, too. You also need to find ways to integrate little rituals and small joys into your daily patterns. For me, that’s shooting baskets with my family or taking a 15-minute walk to enjoy the fresh air. Self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, but it does have to be consistent.
Pearson recently surveyed educators about what they would do with an extra hour of time during the workday. The top responses were to spend more time with their students and family, and to focus on their physical and mental wellbeing.
If you’re wondering where you’d find an extra hour, I’ve discovered that incorporating tech tools into my daily routine can help me save time while also supporting students more efficiently and effectively. One great example is Pearson’s Q-interactive®, a digital system that automates the administration and scoring of Pearson assessments. As one client noted: “Q-interactive allows me, as a practitioner, additional time for other aspects in my role as a school psychologist, which is invaluable. The breadth and ease of Q-interactive increases my productivity and the students enjoy engaging with the technology."
Finally, remember that advocating for your mental health is the most important form of self-care. That’s true not only during National Mental Health Awareness Month but all year long. We tend to be so busy advocating for the mental health needs of the students and families we serve that it can be easy to overlook our own. Giving yourself that same care is just as important. We owe it not only to ourselves but also to all those we love and care for.
For more resources and support for mental health in your personal or professional life, visit Pearson’s Mental Health Resource Center. And click here to learn more about how Pearson’s Q-interactive tool can save you time on assessments.