3 Sabotaging Productivity Myths That Keep Working Moms Overwhelmed

stressed woman.

Let go of these common misconceptions about working motherhood.

A time management strategist mom explains the common misconceptions about working motherhood that hold women back–and how they can better combat the issues.

Inbox Zero. It’s a productivity myth that, as most people understand it, causes way more harm than good. Most people think Inbox Zero means having an empty inbox at all times, so they beat themselves up when they can’t keep up with it.

But Inbox Zero originally stood for the proposition that we should spend as little time as possible in our inboxes. Ironically, if you misinterpret it to mean that the goal is to have zero emails, you’ll spend all day jumping into your inbox at the expense of your real work whenever you hear that ding so you can quickly process and file the email–the opposite of the original point.

When it comes to productivity, myths like these are prevalent–many of which we create and believe subconsciously because of how we were raised. They’re often counterproductive, harmful, and keep us stuck in stress and overwhelm. They may help us stay busy, but they don’t help us get closer to what we actually want.

So, let’s bust three of the most prevalent productivity myths I see moms struggle with.

Myth 1: I “should” be able to do it all, so there’s something wrong with me because I can’t.

I’m not sure where this myth comes from, but for some reason, many of us think women can “have it all,” meaning we need to “do it all,” meaning we “should” be able to do it all.

We “should” be able to hold down a full-time career, quickly respond to emails, get healthy meals on the table for our families, work out, clean the seemingly endless pile of laundry, plan perfect birthday parties, remember to call our friends frequently, enroll our kids in extracurricular activities, run a chauffeur service to facilitate those extracurricular activities, and on and on.

But the reality is that the “doing it all” situation is relatively new. Don’t fall for the myth that women before you did it all, that the women around you are doing it all, or that you should be able to do it all.

Want to see how unrealistic it all is? Take all of those activities–the to-do lists and the things that never even make it onto a to-do list–and plot them out visually on your calendar. The meal prep. The showering and getting ready. The email processing time. The bath and bedtime with your kids. The bite-size steps that go into managing all of your work projects. And, because we’re notoriously bad at estimating how long things take, build in some wiggle room.

You’ll see that all of it does not actually fit in your calendar, making it objectively unrealistic to complete (and that’s even before we factor in your energy levels). Realizing it’s impossible to do it all does not make you a failure–it makes you a realist. This brings us to the second myth.

Myth 2: I have to do it all myself.

Similar to the above point, because we think we “should” be able to do it all, we think we need to do it all on our own.

But here’s my question for you: Do you even enjoy doing those things?

Is the goal for your life to do it all because you think you should be able to, or is it to enjoy your one wild and precious life, in the words of Mary Oliver?

For example, while I don’t hate cooking, I dislike how much time it takes. Think about it: planning the recipes, placing the grocery order or doing the actual shopping, preparing the meal, and cleaning up–plus eating–takes up a whole lot of time.

Plot that time out in your calendar each week, and it’ll click. If you love this stuff: awesome! Keep at it! But if you’re like me, seriously consider delegating. Use Instacart and/or meal delivery kits like Gobble. Not only will this get some of these less-than-desirable tasks off your plate, but it’ll free up your time and energy for the fun stuff.

It’s OK to not be able to do it all, and even if you can, that doesn’t mean you must. Get creative to get the stuff you don’t enjoy off your plate so you can use that time for stuff that lights you up. And, of course, for moms with partners, put them to work.

Myth 3: If I just work harder, I’ll get more done, and then I can take a break.

Many of us feel like if we just “work harder,” we’ll get “caught up,” and then we can finally take a break. But how often are you telling yourself that? How often do you get that break? And how often do you find yourself right back in the same spot within a month?

The truth is, there’s always going to be more to do–more email, more meals, more laundry, more work projects, more kids’ activities. And that’s OK. But we also can’t wait to get “caught up” by “working harder” before we take a break, or we’ll end up exhausted and burned out. It’s not sustainable given the never-ending tide of stuff coming our way.

Instead, you’ve got to use a system that helps you manage all of those things and take consistent breaks. How? While this is easier said than done, flexible time-blocking in a digital calendar can help. It lets you assign tasks to future times in your calendar so you can see how all of your tasks can get done in the future, which helps you see that they don’t have to get done right now, which allows you to take a break tonight and actually enjoy the evening. Make sense?

Working harder isn’t the answer to getting more breaks to recharge and enjoy life. Using a system that lets you take breaks in the middle of all the adulting is the secret.

Break through the myths. You deserve to enjoy your “one wild and precious life.” Buying into the above myths will only hold you back. Let them go.

Kelly Nolan is an attorney-turned-time management strategist and mom. Using realistic time management strategies, she helps modern working women manage everything on their plate with less stress and more calm clarity. To get Kelly’s free guide on how to ditch your overwhelm, click here.


Let go of these common misconceptions about working motherhood.

A time management strategist mom explains the common misconceptions about working motherhood that hold women back–and how they can better combat the issues.

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