Stop Trying to Be Superwoman: It's Making You Less Productive

Superhero talking on cell phone at office desk
Superhero talking on cell phone at office desk

If there's one thing that makes women feel like they have to do everything -- from taking care of the kids to picking up the slack for their co-workers -- it's this: guilt.

Women get messages every day about what 'success' looks like, and it's usually a woman who seems to be 'doing it all'. She's got a demanding job, kids at home, a supportive husband and we lavish praise on her because she seems to be doing everything right.

But what goes on behind the scenes is far from the highlight reel we often see. That the 'successful' women we see know how to delegate what isn't truly important. That they hire help to take care of the kids or clean the house. That they take time to relax and recharge -- and perhaps aren't as much as a superhero as we thought.

But most women don't see what goes on behind the scenes. And so we're constantly made to feel like if we don't manage to do it all and have it all, that we've failed somehow. As a wife, as a mother, as a boss.

Instead of feeling like you have to spend your day being 'busy' and putting out fires, here are 3 ways you can re-design your day so that you have time to do what matters, and energy to focus on them.

1. Figure out what to focus on

Often, we're caught in this cycle of overwhelm: What do I focus on when there are so many things I want or need to do?

It seems like we're being pulled in a million directions and there's no time to discern between what's truly important. A good first step to to figuring this out is asking: What am I trying to accomplish? What are the specific steps I need to get there? Usually where we get stuck is when our 'to-do's are too big and too vague, like "Work on deliverable". If you see that on your calendar, it can look daunting. Instead, break it down into smaller, doable components, like "Schedule 15 min meeting with 'X' to talk about requirements' so it's easy to know what to do right away.

2. Delegate and ask for help

This is one of the hardest skills to learn, no matter how long you've been in a management or leadership position. We're afraid of losing control. But we're also afraid of losing our identity.

When we're so focused on 'doing it all', being busy becomes a part of who we are. So it's not that 'delegating' in and of itself is hard, it's what happens after you delegate something: "Who am I if I'm not putting out these fires every day? Who am I if I'm not busy all the time?"

What I suggest here is to take a very small step approach. Instead of feeling like you need to delegate everything, delegate just one, low-stakes task. You can write it out like an easy system for someone to follow, like this:

Step 1: Do x.
Step 2. Do y.
Step 3. If A happens, do B
Step 4. If B happens, do C
Step 5. Done

That way, it's easy to understand, and it's clear what the other person can do if problems come up, and you don't waste time having to clean up someone else's mess.

3. Make time to rest and recharge

We hear advice all the time about how important it is to take time to relax and stop thinking about work. The problem? This is easier said than done.

In a culture where we value hard work and effort, relaxing can feel like we're doing something 'wrong', especially when you see other people staying at the office late and never taking the time to come up for air. What you see as normal, becomes your normal.

Again, instead of feeling like you need to take a 2 week vacation -- which can feel overwhelming -- why not take a 5 minute break today? You can find a secluded space in your office to sit and take a few breaths, you can go outside for a short walk and feel the sun on your face, or you can write down a few thoughts you're having. It may seem trivial to take a break as small as 5 minutes, but it's more important to build the habit than it is to overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to take time away from work to rest. As I like to say, baby steps equal long-term success.

And the next time you think you have to do everything for everyone, stop to ask: Is that what's going to help me achieve what's most important to me? Then follow these steps to free up your time, get more energy, and actually feel like you got what matters done.

Bio: Felicia helps ambitious, professional women with busy, demanding lives focus on what matters (and eliminate and delegate what doesn't), move towards big goals without burning out, and find a productivity system that works for them so they stay consistent, and motivated. She has a free gift for Mind Body Green Readers here.