How Do I Figure Out What My Priorities Are?
pri·or·i·ty : a thing that is regarded as more important than another.
I talk a lot about getting your priorities straight, about making time for what's important to you. The topic of priorities is woven through almost every piece of content I create. I even have an entire coaching worksheet devoted to identifying what your priorities are.
What is the big deal? And what does this have to do with being a new mom or a working mom?
Think about it. Before kids, you probably had a lot on your plate. We all did. You had work, family, a social life, volunteer activities, a household to maintain, deadlines, projects and more. Then you became a mom and suddenly you have even more to do each day, from nursing or feeding, changing diapers, and doing laundry to washing bottles, going to doctor's appointments (for you and baby), googling things you never thought you would google, and on and on. There is just no way to maintain everything that you used to do, AND do all of this.
So you start to let things go. You replace going out with friends with going to bed early. You replace early morning workouts with nursing sessions. You replace reading with soothing a crying baby. It's what you have to do. You have a baby who is completely dependent on you, and not just that, you want to be with your baby. And you know it's just a phase. As a first-time mom, you may not entirely believe it, but everyone tells you it goes by quickly and so you are trusting that eventually, those things you used to love will come back to your life.
Whenever that time comes, whether it's soon or whether it's months down the road, you start to get into a rhythm. You find some routines, even if they change frequently, and you feel ready to get back to 'you'. But what do you do? Where do you start?
Is it spending more time in the kitchen cooking, or going to the gym? Is it going on a date night or attending a local meet-up group?
There are so many options. You probably feel some combination of desperation and nervousness. Longing to get back to the world of adult interaction and interests, but hesitant because of how much has changed.
This is exactly the point where I would encourage you to pause and take a little extra time to purposefully decide how you want to spend your precious time. Identify your priorities and then experiment. Test your hypothesis. Put your plans into action and confirm whether or not you were right.
How do you do that? Well, for starters you could work through the priorities worksheet that I have created specifically to facilitate this process. Or you can work through a series of questions:
What Am I Missing?
I know you've been busy adjusting to motherhood, learning your baby, getting back to work even, but you've probably caught yourself in moments here and there thinking about things that you used to do: life before baby. What are those things you remember fondly? Do you miss seeing your friends? Do you miss creating? Do you miss breaking a sweat? List them out, as many as come to mind.
What Do I Want?
Next, take a minute or two for each of the items you listed above, close your eyes, and picture yourself doing that activity. Pay close attention to your body during this exercise. How do you feel? Do you feel excited, relaxed, anxious, nervous, stressed? The physical response that you have to an idea or a scenario, is a very telling sign about how we truly feel about that activity. It could be that too much has changed and that thing will no longer bring you joy the way it used to. It could be that the logistics are too stressful given your new schedule with a baby. Or it could be that you were only doing that activity because you felt like you should. The goal is to find the activities that provide a positive response - a smile, a sense of relief, excitement (even if nervous), a deep exhale. Those are the activities that should make the short list.
How Do I Make It Happen?
Hopefully, you've narrowed your list down to just a few. Now comes the part of putting those ideas into practice. If getting back to working out left you feeling excited, think about how you can incorporate a workout class or visit to the gym into your schedule in the next week or two. If reading sounded relaxing, start asking around for book recommendations, pick up a copy from the library and commit to just 10 pages or one chapter this week. Just start. Try the activity once or twice to remind yourself of what it actually feels like. Don't over-commit. Don't set a huge goal. Just start.
Does This Fill Up My Cup?
I work with a business coach who encourages me to take a scientist's approach. To always pay attention and make adjustments when the outcome isn't what I was expecting. It's about the experiment and what we learn from that, more than it is about the final outcome. So when you start re-introducing some of these activities and priorities back into your day-to-day, pay attention. Do you look forward to them? Do they leave you feeling more energized, more relaxed or more confident than before you started? Or do they feel like a chore, leaving you feeling more stressed? New things, changes to schedules and routines take a little time to feel comfortable, but if the results are stress, anxiety and feeling depleted, then you probably are not doing what's truly important to YOU. You're probably doing what you think you SHOULD be doing and not what you actually WANT to be doing. This is much more common than you think. If you find yourself in this camp, you are not alone. You will find it eventually. Keep experimenting.
It's Up To You
It's the reality of a working mom that we can't do it all, as much as we like to think that we can. Time is limited. Attention, focus and energy are limited. So with limited resources, we have to be extremely focused on the activities and areas of our lives that will fill us up the most. If you're going to take the time to do something for you, you want it to be something that will make you feel better. That something, that priority, is up to you to find.
This article is part of a series where I answer reader questions about working motherhood. I'm an open book and happy to answer any and all questions I receive, no matter how small. Have a question you'd like to see answered here? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other Q&A articles in this series: