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Hacking Home Life: 3 Keys to Overcoming the Overwhelm

Dad watching smiling daughter, at home on the couch.

Balancing career and home can be overwhelming. Learn the 3-Keys to Overcome the Overwhelm.

By Gary G. Abud, Jr.,  August 20, 2018

It’s the end of summer, and I’m wrapping up the end of my first year as a stay-at-home dadpreneur. And by the grace of God, I’ve made it through!

This is certainly not the career I wrote down on the survey in elementary school that asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” No, not at all. I put down eye surgeon, which is a story for another time; however, whether you’re an eye surgeon for people or a toy medic for your preschooler’s dolls, one thing is sure to be true: life is really busy.

It has probably even been overwhelming at times (read: reached the brink of burnout.) And if we’re honest, the true cost of busyness is much higher than many of us would care to admit—or pay. While your situation might be different than mine, I’d bet you’re often overwhelmed, and despise it, too.

We’ve all been there.

After more than a decade of racing up the professional ladder in education—working as a teacher, principal, curriculum specialist—I became wholly disenfranchised with the overwhelm that had piled up inside my life and cluttered my soul. So, this year I decided to go into private practice full time and focus on my consultancy, which I launched as a startup with a friend five years ago.

Despite what it may seem, life hasn’t slowed down because of this change. No, in fact it’s equally busy as it was before but in different ways. It has challenged me to rethink how I do life, both personally and professionally, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way.

True to what I would always do at the end of the school year as a classroom teacher, I want to reflect on my learning and accomplishments this year. Among the wisdom of others on which I’ve leaned heavily, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned this year as I have built upon the five pillars of Rick Warren’s Daniel Plan, incorporated the agile strategies touted by Bruce Feiler, and designed what Brigid Schulte calls a ‘Third Path’ in life.

Overall, I learned that if you want life to be different, you cannot strive for doing the same things better—you have to do things differently. That theme has followed me through this year of parenting, marriage, managing a household, consulting and life. And three key lessons emerged.

Key 1: Focus on What Matters Most

Like the instructions of airline safety videos, I realized that I had to ‘put on my own oxygen mask’ before securing the masks of others around me. That meant that to increase the operating level for our household, I had to be at my best. This required that I was intentional about managing my sleep, eating, exercise, routines (e.g., household tasks, entrepreneurial activities, etc.) and stress. Having worked with Dr. Markel in the past on matters like these, I learned that sleep is of first-order importance, and nothing else can fall into line if that is out of place.

Key 2: Build Systems and Habits

Author Scott Adams (of Dilbert comics) had an idea that fascinated me in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Instead of just setting goals, build systems and habits instead. That way, you focus on the means and not just the end. It increases the likelihood of getting things done and helps stop the “I won’t be happy until…” mentality, which can flood the engine of productivity.

A simple example illustrates this well: don’t set out to go for a three-mile run each day, ritualize putting your running shoes on each day near the door.

So, I took this to heart. Instead of building the most epic to-do list of all time for each day (and then being sorely disappointed when I didn’t finish it) I created small wins with nutrition, exercise, sleep, and work. For me, in practice this looked like

  • Nutrition
    • Meal prep (creating meal kits, batch cooking ahead for the week, limiting choices)
    • Creative shopping (timing, location, and couponing)
  • Exercise
    • Getting outside each day (weather permitting)
    • Do the most with the least (using resources I already had)
  • Sleep
    • Evening routines (screens off and no eating right before bed)
    • Sleep rules (no phones within reach)
  • Work
    • Task days (instead of doing a little laundry every day, make Wednesday laundry day)
    • Planning ahead (I use Momentum Planners and start each day with one for ~5 minutes)

Key 3: Have the Right Perspective

Just as important as putting the right systems in place, building productive habits, and focusing on what matters, it’s crucial to cultivate a perspective that supports the life you want to build. I’ve learned a lot from the folks at the Third Path Institute about this, as well as family, friends, and books. It helped to dial down the anxiety that plagued me when I started out in this endeavor and ultimately helped shape the philosophy I took this year. Three simple mantras sum up how I look at matters of personal and professional life balance now:

  1. The impossible will take a little while – be patient as things progress and develop
  2. No sudden movements – combat impulsivity by being proactive, not reactive, as a rule
  3. Start finishing – plan less, do more

Action Steps

To put any of this in practice will take time. And like the creator of Dilbert points out, if you spend your time thinking about the goal you want to achieve (having less overwhelm and getting it all together) you’ll set yourself up for disappointment later. So, try to create small wins to start. Regardless of your work/home situation, you can do that with any of these simple action steps.

  1. Create a positive experience each day. Make special time to connect and have fun with your spouse or kids (e.g., 10 Minute Connect Challenge; cook breakfast, play a game for 10 minutes or more.)
  2. Get an Instant Pot and learn how to use it. This is single-handedly the top thing that changed the game of life for our family this year. If I could recommend one thing for you to do, it would be to get one of these and build it into your cooking routine. It saves time, money, and effort—big time!
  3. Have blurry roles and clear processes. This can be done using family meetings, visual schedules, and other sage strategies of agile families. Don’t make one person the only person who does something in your home (e.g., dad does outside chores.) Instead, make the task or process so clear that anyone can do it, and then work together to decide who will do what.
  4. Be flexible to change things as needed. If anything you do isn’t working for you, it’s time to make an adjustment. Either toss out the tactic and get a new one, or change up how you execute your strategy.
  5. Don’t break plans. Plans are crucial to getting things done, but too-rigid a plan can be easily broken. This action step is all about planning what you do and not how you’ll do it. For example, plan to play a game before bed each night, don’t plan what game you’ll play. That avoids having to break plans if time gets away from your evening. The same goes for meals: have a dinner to cook in mind, but also have leftovers in place and ready to go, if needed.

Ultimately, in sharing what worked for me and in my family I cannot say all of this is the formula for your triumph over busyness. But what I do know is that if any of these strategies indicate what’s possible for you, then bridging the gap over the river of overwhelm might not be as elusive as it seems.


Image courtesy: Pixabay

Gary Abud, Jr. is an educational consultant, speaker, and writer in southeast Michigan. As a former STEM educator, he now specializes in helping individuals with ADHD to succeed in school and life by offering coaching and workshops to educators, students, and families. Previously, Gary has served students in K-12 schools as a high school teacher, curriculum specialist, and school principal. In 2014, he was selected as the Michigan Teacher of the Year. Connect with Gary via his website or on Twitter at @mr_abud.