In the past, I used to believe that I'm a "woman who can do it all", handle everything, including working full-time, raising kids, volunteering at school, and keeping everybody entertained at home.
I thought I had it all figured out with the help of my family, housekeeper and aupair, and I reveled in the praise and admiration of those around me.
But then, as time passed, last summer I felt like something was off.
I was always exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed - even on holiday; no matter how much I accomplished, it never seemed enough.
That's when I realized I had fallen into the trap of the "invisible work and mental load" that so many women find themselves in, even with all the extra help I have at home.
Invisible work refers to all the tasks and responsibilities essential to keep a household running smoothly but needs to be more recognized and recognized. These tasks can include planning meals, scheduling appointments, and remembering everyone's birthdays and anniversaries. And while they may seem small and trivial on their own, they can add up to a significant amount of time, energy, and mental load.
With a disproportionate household and caregiving responsibilities burden on women, it's easy to take on too much and neglecting our needs and desires.
We may feel we must be everything to everyone, and our worth is measured by how much we can accomplish and how little we complain.
However, our time is not measured equally; I believed for so long it's linked to the income someone brings home. But the truth is, because you hold, for example, the hand of your sick kid and cancel all your meetings, while your partner is on a paid business trip, your time is not less worth it.
Having these false beliefs is not only unsustainable but also detrimental to our well-being and career advancements.
As women, we often put the needs of others before our own. But it's time for a shift in mindset, one that allows us to prioritize our own well-being. I've realized that technology and automation can be powerful tools in helping us gain more time for ourselves and reclaim our right to be interesting again. By taking steps to outsource or automate tasks, we can reduce our mental load and create space for the things we truly enjoy.
And here are my four tips on how I just started to play a new game, a fair one; it's not about 50:50 - it values equity instead of just splitting tasks 50:50 between partners. The goal is not to measure the time spent on each task but rather to allocate responsibilities based on each partner's skills, availability, and preferences:
Tip 1: Realize that you have a problem
Like at work, understanding the problem first helped me find innovative solutions. As soon as I defined my challenge and made it visible, I found terrific online resources and other women opened up and shared their tips with me. I created a new digital treasure box in Evernote, where I collected all the exciting digital articles, studies and newsletters around "invisible work e.g. "Equaly," a new German startup from Berlin.
Tip 2: Make a full inventory
It can be helpful to do a complete inventory of all the tasks you're responsible for and that are required to keep your life running. Listing them in a spreadsheet (along with who's responsible for them), or using Eve Rodsky's Fair Play card system, can help you understand the full scope of your invisible work (I bought the card game because I wanted to make it more tangible.)
Tip 3: Own, outsource, or automate it
For every task I owe, I analyze whether it is essential to me, so I want to keep it or whether someone else can take it on. I let go of the belief that only I can do it and that it's quicker if I do it quickly myself. Then, once those responsibilities are clear, I take the tasks over or let them go entirely without supervision.
In addition, I started to automate more - in business and my personal life. For example, I'm experimenting with meal planning using ChatGPT. I used to love to cook, but after ten years of doing school lunches and family dinners, I needed a creative break. ChatGPT has freed up my time and mental energy, and the best thing is that someone else in the family can also take over now.
Here is the prompt I start with. Just copy and paste it into ChatGPT and add your diet restrictions etc. Just play around, add your favorite cuisines, calories intake etc:
Tip 4: Put yourself on the list
The most significant aha moment in my 40ths. As women, we often forget to prioritize ourselves and our well-being. That's why making time for self-care is essential, whether going to the gym, indulging in a hobby, or simply taking a break from the daily grind.
I now play tennis three times weekly with friends, and I find the time because I treat it like a work meeting in my calendar. So just making my appointments visible to myself changed the game.
And I disappear every Saturday morning into my beuatiful offie in Venice, so I get time to read a book, listen to podcasts, or write.
When I put on my VR headset, I get the same "don't disturb me" at home.
I realized that when I'm blocked out of my crazy busy world - being immersed in the Metaverse, with beautiful sound this is where I can close all my open taps in my mind, which never happens in "real".
My kids now understand the signal when I put on the headset for 30 Minutes. Only in emergencies are they allowed to disturb me by throwing a pillow at me (yes, that's our secret sign because before, I hit them with my controllers - learning the hard way). Now, you only have to teach your kids what "emergency " means. "Mama, my iPad is empty" is not an emergency, but this is a blog post for another week.
Tip 5: Create a semi-annual or annual recalibration routine
Things change as kids age, jobs change, and circumstances evolve. It's helpful not to assume that things will still work and to proactively revisit how responsibilities are shared and whether they need to be adjusted.
So, if you're feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the invisible work in your life, remember that you're not alone, and there are ways to start managing and reducing it at whatever level you are in.
🧰 Your turn: Start by acknowledging the value of your work, and don't be afraid to ask for help and support. And most importantly, don't forget to prioritize your happiness and well-being because, as the saying goes, "If you are happy, everybody around you will be happy, too."