Do you ever feel like, as a woman, you’re often expected to just do more?
While many of us enjoy being a work teammate, partner, mother, friend, daughter, and all of the other wonderful titles that make up who we are in our relationships, each of those roles often comes with some sort of to-do list (and often a really long one). If we’re not careful, these wonderful parts of our lives – and all the things we do to support those relationships – can lead to burnout and resentment.
While women have come a long way in terms of equality, there are still large discrepancies at both work and home.
A glaring example exacerbated by the pandemic: even when women work, they typically remain the primary caregivers at home and handle most of the household chores in the United States. In fact, when women are the primary breadwinners, they tend to do an even higher percentage of the household chores.
I don’t think I’m blowing your mind stating these facts. I just raise them to share that if you feel like you’re doing more in your relationships than other people, you likely are. It’s called productivity load, and it likely touches every relationship you have. Let’s talk about how we can even out that workload.
How to deal with uneven productivity distribution at work
According to one report, women not only accomplish more work than men but they’re also assigned more work than men – women are typically assigned 55% of work while men get 45%. That means that from the onset, as a woman, you’re already carrying a heavier workload.
The double whammy? This 10% difference typically consists of tasks that don’t advance your career. Think: taking notes in meetings, organizing social events for the team, or serving on a committee that’s not that critical to your company.
That means that not only are you doing more work, but it’s work that really doesn’t help you advance. In fact, it likely impairs your advancement by robbing you of time and energy for the stuff that would advance your career.
So, what to do about it?
Get objective about your capacity and workload so you can confidently decline that admin work
When I was new to practicing law, I often thought, “I’m drowning in work,” but I didn’t clearly understand my capacity, my workload, or how they interacted in an objective way. This prevented me from being able to confidently decline work and hold boundaries because I couldn’t truly articulate my overwhelm with data and clear explanations to back it up. As a result, I said yes to things I shouldn’t have – from additional cases to administrative work that took way too much time and energy.
Let’s help you avoid that. First, break out your calendar. Let’s get clear on what your working hours are by plotting out the personal bookends to your day (e.g., commutes, school drop-offs). Next, in addition to scheduling the meetings and work events, schedule specific time blocks for all of your work tasks – from processing email to the bite-size steps that go into each of your projects. While this takes front-end work, it will help you see your capacity and current workload with much more clarity.
Then, whenever a request comes in for you to take on more responsibility, never say yes until you’ve reviewed your calendar and gotten clarity about the time commitment required by the new “opportunity.”
I recommend practicing this statement out loud a couple of times, “What a great opportunity. How much time each week/month does this role typically require?… Okay, let me check my calendar and get back to you.” If you get pushback, stay firm and say something like, “I need to make sure I have the capacity to show up in that role in the way that you need. I need to check my calendar first to make sure I can. I’ll get back to you.”
And, because your current workload is clearly laid out in your calendar, a calendar review will help you see when you don’t have the bandwidth to take on a project or when the time commitment of the new opportunity would not be valuable to your company, taking away from your career advancement.
In that case, say something like, “It sounds like a great opportunity. I’m unfortunately unable to take it on right now. I wish you all the best in finding someone who can serve in that role well.”
Get proactive in distributing the work to everyone
A friend who worked in corporate for many years re-entered education for business school. Business school, apparently, is a huge fan of group projects, and she quickly discovered that finding meeting times that worked for numerous busy people took a surprising amount of time. She also observed that the task of scheduling often fell to women in the group.
This friend adopted the following approach to avoid the unequal distribution of scheduling labor. Once her group was assigned/formed, she’d say, “I’ll find a time for our first meeting. Who will take on that role for next time?” She set the precedent that she was a team player and that everyone could be a team player – men and women.
Feel free to adapt this approach as it makes sense to you. If changing it up for each meeting would be too disruptive, divide out the work month by month. If women still end up taking on the bulk of the work, consider saying, “I’ll do it this time; Steve – can you do the next one?” so that men are involved from the get-go.
Similarly, a client I worked with in corporate found that during meetings, as more administrative tasks came up, everyone else in the room (all men) would awkwardly remain silent and/or look at her, pressuring her to volunteer for the position. She’d proactively turn to junior men and say, “that sounds like a great thing for Sam to take on.” While it may not be fair, we may need to get more proactive in sharing the wealth of those fun admin tasks until the gender-parity of those tasks is achieved.
Getting help in reducing your productivity load at home
According to Pew Research on parents, mothers still take carry twice the amount of housework and childcare compared to fathers, and fathers on average have three more hours of leisure time per week than mothers.
How does this happen?
One thing the study made clear was that fathers don’t perceive the household and childcare duties at the same level of meaningfulness that mothers do. This means that fathers are more likely to spend their time doing other things that they do consider more meaningful, leaving mothers to pick up the slack and make sure things get done at home. This is a critical thing to note when trying to rectify the uneven division of labor at home.
Let’s talk about how to do that.
Help your partner see meaning in housework
If you’re partnered with someone who just doesn’t see the value in certain housework that you’d love for them to take on, I encourage you to try one or more of three approaches. First, figure out which chores they do assign value to and assign those to your partner. Second, if you really want your partner to take on a chore they don’t assign meaning to, assign it – and then refrain from doing it for them when they don’t. Over time, the build-up of dishes or unvacuumed floors will likely show them the value of the chore. And third, if that doesn’t work, I encourage you to go on a solo vacation, and I’m not kidding. Even my very supportive husband has a whole new level of respect for what I do if I disappear for four days, leaving him in charge of our daughter, packing school lunches, making breakfast, finding clean clothes, and feeding and walking the dog (and that’s just the stuff I typically do before 9 a.m.).
Show your partner what you’re managing and why you need their help
As alluded to above in the work context, I’m a big fan of making everything you do visual in your calendar, thereby tying all tasks to time. This includes everything from running bath and bedtime with the kids to making meals to grocery shopping to doing laundry. While this can result in a more cluttered calendar, it results in a freer mind and much more clarity around where your time is going, which helps you get more realistic and make changes where things aren’t working or enjoyable.
Often, clients find this process incredibly eye-opening and ask how to get their partners on board. “But,” they caution, “my partner would get overwhelmed if I showed him/her this whole calendar.” That, in fact, is exactly when I encourage them to share.
Making your responsibilities visual isn’t just eye-opening for you. It’s incredibly eye-opening to them. It gives you a whole new, concrete, and objective tool to explain how much is on your plate, why you feel overwhelmed, why it’s affecting your ability to enjoy life/show up at work as you need to, and why you need their help. Going back up to that men-don’t-see-the-meaning issue discussed previously, showing your partner everything you’re trying to juggle and how their help would support you will likely give them the power to see the value of taking on that chore to ease your burden – even if they don’t see the value in the individual activity itself.
Making everything visual also helps you identify exactly where you need help. And when we can specify the help we need, we’re more likely to get it. I’ve found that most of my clients have partners who are more than willing to help, they just need to be told exactly what to do. While having to spell everything out may not be ideal, if assigning specific tasks to your partner (using a shared digital calendar to do so) helps evenly distribute the productivity load and makes it so that you don’t have to constantly remind your partner to complete their duties, it’s well worth it!
It works more often than you’d think
We all know that most women take on more at work and home than is fair. But that doesn’t mean that the status quo has to be your life going forward. I work with dozens of women on time management, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many workplaces and home partners have stepped up to help balance the workload when my clients use these strategies. Even if you’re skeptical, give it a try. The results can be life-changing, so what do you have to lose? Give it a whirl, and let me know how it goes!