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How to be happier and less stressed: Stop juggling and outsource more

Categories: Balancing Act, Working Women Issues, Your life


I just watched this video over at Jezebel where the self-help author Marcus Buckingham shares his ideas about how professional women can be happier and succeed in their careers. (You might have seen his writings over at the Huffington Post, where he pontificates on this topic quite a bit.)

One of his basic points — which the blog post at Jezebel also points out — is that working women need to juggle less, outsource more, and learn how to focus on the moment vs always having several tracks running in their heads. (As in, making a shopping list during a work meeting.) At first look, it makes a lot of sense. A lot of my stress comes from the fact that I have too many things I feel I need to do on a daily basis — from getting work done to buying my daughter’s winter coat, organizing my dad’s 60th birthday party, sending a birthday gift to a friend’s newly born son, cooking dinner for the week, and so on. If had less things to juggle I would absolutely positively be less stressed and probably happier.

But here’s the deal: While it would be great to have an assistant do a bunch of these things for me, how many of us can really afford that kind of help? When we lived in New York City and I worked at an insane finance job, we had an amazing full-time nanny. In addition to taking care of our kiddo, she also frequently cooked dinner and cleaned up around the house, although we never asked her to do it. It was an enormous help and a huge, huge stress reducer, but we paid a lot of money for that kind of help and we couldn’t do this for more than a few years. Even more so, I realize how lucky we are to have the jobs that we have and know that a significant percentage of families out there simply can’t afford this kind of help.

And that’s where the outsourcing argument breaks down for me. Sure, it would be nice to get people to do the endless chores and things that none of us think are fun, but very few people out there can use their money to buy more time.

There are, however, two points that I think the author is making that are worth thinking about. The first is about doing less stuff, period. When it was our turn to bring a snack to my daughter’s preschool class last year, I frequently baked something (banana bread or muffins). But would it have been so terrible to buy something instead and save myself the hour late at night baking? No, and those are the types of trade offs I think all of us working moms need to make more often.

The second point is about focusing on the moment, the now, not the later. I’ll be the first to admit that during long work meetings I do think about what I have to get done that day at home or, on the flip side, think about something I need to do for work while making cupcakes with my daughter. I hate when my mind wonders like this and I know that when I am able to focus entirely on the moment, I feel better, I get more done, and what I am doing is done with better quality.

So what are your thoughts? What tasks/chores do you outsource to juggle less? What things have you given up doing or focusing on to leave yourself time for the more important stuff in life? Is focusing on what you’re doing at a certain moment the answer to feeling less frazzled and less stressed as a working mom?

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7 comments so far...

  • School snacks in our urban area are a relief; we are not allowed to make snacks for other children (litigation and all that), we must buy them.
    I do lean on family friends and a couple of trustworth over 21 babysitters to get things done. I used to work from home more, I expect to do it more again as economy improves and bosses relax a bit about that, but until then I do outsource some.
    I promised myself if I received a bonus this year we would get housekeeping at least once a month, because I HATE it, and those deep cleans are my biggest nightmares.

    Mich  |  November 19th, 2009 at 2:42 pm

  • Our big outsource is twice-a-month housecleaning (competitvely priced in the big city were we live). We also outsource Friday night dinner by ordering pizza. I buy lunchables for my son once a week (one less lunch to make from scratch in the morning = one less thing to juggle). I just discovered QVC and it is almost like outsourcing my Christmas shopping. Once they have your info, it takes less that 2 minutes (I’m not kidding) to buy an item! I usually watch while I handle routine chores, like folding clothes.

    Tina  |  November 19th, 2009 at 3:52 pm

  • I’ve tried to outsource little things, like having the kids pick up their own mess, and husband (wiping the table and floor after dinner…not much of a success). This helps to a certain extent. As for cooking meals, I make cook a lot of stir fry one night and then have leftovers for the next two dinners. Just need to oversee the microwaving techniques from my son as I wind down. I need a chef!

    I just have to go on my computer and read the newspaper to wind down everyday.

    At one point we did have a cleaning service come in once a month, but actually I prefer I do a lot of the house organizing and cleaning. I have found that cleaning can be quite therapeutic once I changed my perception.

    I do think that looking at each task as how it can help you , rather focusing on the feeling of being overwhelmed .

    Jerilyn  |  November 20th, 2009 at 1:23 am

  • I’m someone who works as an “outsourcer” and I love dealing with professionals (esp. small business people). I think that folks like yourself would really enjoy hearing something:

    I listened to this great radio program on Monday that featured Mommy Millionaire Kim Lavine. She was interviewed on Conversations Live with Vicki St.Clair and had some great ideas for making extra money, whether you’re currently unemployed, want to start your own biz, or already working as an entrepreneur!

    Kim wrote THE MOMMY MANIFESTO based on her business smarts and said her single biggest success factor was having the nerve to “go for it.” If you’d like to hear more for yourself you can tune into a free podcast here at any time:

    Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    loresinger  |  November 20th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

  • I think what is missing from this author is that the responsibility to manage a household is still heavily the role of the woman. Whether she is doing the work herself or paying others. I have a great husband that does chores but at the end of the day, I am the one scheduling doctor’s appointments, making sure daycare has supplies, paying bills, and carpooling children. These are things that are not on my husband (or many men’s) mind. They are not the caregiver’s they are the hunter’s. When the hunter comes home at the end of the hunt - the work is done. The catch is handed to the women to clean, cook, serve and then clean up the leftover’s. This is our world. Not because men are evil but because this is our very nature.

    Tiffany  |  November 22nd, 2009 at 6:59 pm

  • I have maintained that as soon as I go back to work full-time I am hiring a housekeeper. I would amazon my groceries too, but I don’t live in a service area.

    Susanna  |  November 24th, 2009 at 2:51 pm

  • This isn’t really outsourcing but it is something that has eased my mind…

    Our house burned down last year, and we lost everything that mattered to us. We didn’t have any pictures of our things, no receipts, no record of what we had. The insurance company made it very difficult for us to get our things replaced.

    We wanted to be sure that our things were safe if something like that ever happened again and I recently found a web site that helps keep track of that kind of stuff.

    I wanted to share it with other families in case this happened to them. It’s called e-pact, and we use it to keep track of all our stuff now. Just hope this is a helpful tip.

    Christine  |  January 7th, 2010 at 9:27 pm