Why Running a Household is Like Running a Business

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“I actually look forward to coming to work so I can feel more calm and in control,” said one frazzled working mother of four girls. “No matter how crazy things get at work, it’s much easier than the crazy, exhausting road race my weekends have become.”

Working parents do it all: they each have a career and also run a small but complex family business. They’re responsible for inventory, shipping, quality control, discipline, and snuggling. Also, snacks. So, so many snacks.

Maybe it’s time we agree that the whole idea of “work-life balance” is an unrealistic goal that just makes people feel as if they’re failing at everything.  And that makes parents, especially women, reluctant to “lean in” and take on more responsibility.

A recent survey of 1,000 college-educated female millennials (born between 1980 and 1992) by global ad agency Zeno Group found that more than three-quarters (80%) are “concerned about their ability to achieve a balance between personal and professional goals.” Nine in 10 agree that women “have to make more sacrifices” than their male peers, and about half (49%) say those sacrifices mean that high-powered jobs “aren’t worth it.” Only 15 percent say they would consider taking the top job at an organization.

Running the Household Business

Teresa Taylor, telecom executive and mom, is the author of The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success, a guide for working parents. A Forbes online article cites her tips for maintaining your sanity while getting things done. Forget multitasking, she says.  Create blocks in your daily schedule where you do one thing at a time. Focus on that one task so you can cross it off your list.

Taylor also recommends setting a time limit on every task, whether you’re straightening up the living room or working on a presentation for work. Set a timer, and when the timer dings, stop what you’re doing. This will keep you from fussing over details and making tweaks to projects that might already be good enough.

Preventing Burnout

Parents also get locked into specific roles that cause burnout over time. After years of doing the morning or bedtime routine, it’s hard to move away from that task because you’ve become so efficient. Switching out roles (at least once a week) has several advantages. Consider it skill training. You create two parents with expertise (redundancy is a good thing) and you reduce the number of complaints about someone “not doing it right.” You’ll also have each other’s back, so if one of you is sick or simply can’t be present, the other parent is competent and confident. He won’t feel the need to check in with you on every detail because he’s done this routine successfully many times on his own.

Finally, remember your management and delegation skills work just as well at home as they do at the office.  Create a list of age-appropriate chores for each child that must be completed before bedtime. Making their beds, emptying the dishwasher, setting or clearing the table, and making and packing their own lunches are all tasks that can be mastered early and will save you precious minutes you can devote to more complex work – or a few minutes of rest. Much deserved rest.