On juggling many hats

Photo by Mark Klotz

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Kelly is American and lives in France with her three children and handsome French frog of a husband. She blogs about frugality for the rest of us at Almost Frugal, frugal food at Almost Frugal Food, and blogging at Pretty Your Blog. She is a fulltime graduate student in marketing and, in her spare time and fuelled by strong coffee, she sews baby blankets for her Etsy shop.

Living life today means juggling many hats: as a person, a professional, a spouse, a parent, a friend, a volunteer. Sometimes the different roles come together smoothly; sometimes bringing it all together coherently takes more of an effort.

I have a busy life by anyone’s standards. I have three young kids, a husband who works full-time and several volunteer commitments. I’m also a graduate student in marketing and I maintain three blogs. There’s a lot on my plate.

I am often asked how I manage to ‘do it all’- how I juggle the many commitments of my busy life. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy. Sometimes things get overlooked. I often go to bed later than I would like. I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater. But I get so much meaning from each of the hats I wear that it’s definitely worth the high-flying juggling routine.

Here are my three guiding principles.

1. Playing by the rules.

These rules are not of the external variety, although of course I obey the law and slow down stop at stop signs. My rules are the rules that I signed up for when I accepted each new role or hat. For example, when I got married, I agreed to love and cherish my husband – playing by the rules means that I put energy into furthering our relationship. When I enrolled in school, I committed myself to furthering my education – playing by the rules means studying hard and doing my homework in order to learn as best I can.

Playing by the rules reminds me of what is really important in my life. Of course, it’s easy to get overextended without other tools in your pocket. Which leads me to…

2. Taking turns.

Everyone takes a turn.  One of the most important things that I have learned in the past few years is that I am not the sole person responsible for making sure that my life runs smoothly. Other people are here to help, and I have to need to accept, as well as ask for, that help. My husband is just as capable of loading the dishwasher as I am, and going along behind him and reorganizing his work just because “my way” is better is both demeaning to him, and a waste of my time. I am not the only volunteer in the organizations for which I volunteer, so if I want to be as good a volunteer as I can be, I need to work with the others, not on my own.

Trying to do everything by myself is only an exercise in frustration. I get frustrated because I have to unload the dishwasher before cooking dinner, but I also need to jot down notes for tomorrow’s presentation. Meanwhile, the kids need to take a bath, the phone is ringing, and my head’s going to explode. Instead, to each his own – I am the only person capable of writing down the ideas for my schoolwork, but my kids are able to set the table or start getting ready for their bath without me. And other things, while they need to be done, don’t need to be done right away.

3. Prioritizing.

While I juggle many different things, some things are more important than others. My family comes first – so I make it a point to dedicate the evening to them. Once the kids go to bed, however, it’s a different story. Then I plunge into my schoolwork, start a load of laundry, read the mail, and prep the next day’s dinner. Similarly, my school work is also high on the list. So I work during our lunch break, and I also use my half hour commute by tram to catch up on my reading. By not trying to do twenty things at once, I do each thing better than if I tried to multitask.

Folding the laundry, on the other hand, is not a priority. I’m happy to let things sit in the laundry basket until the weekend, and I don’t mind wearing wrinkled clothes either. “Life’s too short to iron” has always been a motto of mine, and my current situation has only served to confirm that.

Here are some tips for you:

• One of the most important skills to master is the art of saying no, without which all your careful prioritizing, turn-taking and playing by the rules will be useless.

Ask for help – don’t expect the people in your life to be able to read your mind.

Get stuff out of your head. As Tsh on Simple Mom says, recording your obligations actually helps you to be more productive, since you no longer have to remember every little detail.

Play to your strengths. The way a presentation looks is important to me, and I design them well. So in group presentations, I set up the slide set and write down the others’ ideas.

Don’t expect it to be easy all the time. It’s not always smooth sailing, one hundred percent of the time.  Going back to school, at the beginning of September, was a big adjustment for me and my family, and not without a few bumps in the road.

Each of the hats I wear represents a part of me. I am happiest when I am able to wear them all. My priorities will be different from yours, however- and you need to figure out yours on your own.

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. A Great post. It sums up the different types of hats that we as mums need to wear on a daily basis. It is really difficult to manage so many varied task but when it is done it is a real achievement that makes one extremely satisfied. 🙂

    Dominique’s last blog post…Thomasmaina

  2. Excellent post! The thing I have the most trouble with is asking for help. But it gets me in trouble. I’m slowly learning this.

    Avlor’s last blog post…Fabric Pockets for Plastic Totes

  3. I’m really awful at saying no. I need to improve. I feel guilty, then agree to too many things, and I end up shortchanging myself and all my assorted must dos. I’ll get better, I just need to feel more comfortable I suppose.

    Writer Dad’s last blog post…At Least I Don’t Have Zits

  4. It’s so hard to accept help sometimes, isn’t it? But necessary.

    Angie (from over at http://www.HalfAssedKitchen.com)

    Half Assed Kitchen’s last blog post…Chicken chili with navy beans

  5. So true. Right now I am trying to focus on priorities and get organized so I can cut down on multitasking.

    Lia’s last blog post…Etsy Kids BOGO Sale

  6. great post! I’m glad to know I am not the only one wearing wrinkled clothes. 🙂

    workout mommy’s last blog post…Never underestimate the power of a workout

  7. Sometimes it feels like I’m pulled in a million directions! Thanks for tips!

    Mandie’s last blog post…The Words We Say

  8. This is great – and just what I need to hear. I need to print this out and stick it up in my kitchen….if only I could find the time!


    JanMary, N Ireland’s last blog post…Show & Tell – Spot the difference and step back in time

  9. I’ve been thinking about these kind of things lately. Perfect post for me today! Thanks!

  10. Same as Rhonda, a timely post!

    Thanks so much for the wonderful insights!

    Karisa’s last blog post…Perspective: from a Daughter and Wife

  11. Thanks everyone, for the warm words. It’s hard juggling it all sometimes, isn’t it?

    Kelly from Almost Frugal’s last blog post…Frugal Pets: Five Tips

  12. Ah, yes the myriad of hats we women are trying to balance. Sometimes I try to put too many on all at one time. I am most successful when they all come out at different times – now that doesn’t mean in different days, they overlap all the time, but when I layer them too high, they come tumbling down.
    Ironic timing because the very end of my post today says, ” I can not do it all, ” and then I show the laundry mountain on my sofa. Yep, the hat I should have been wearing instead of reading this delightful post. 🙂

    Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam’s last blog post…DIY – Even you can do this!

  13. Kelly, I have to add another hat for you: supportive co-blogger! You’ve been so generous with your limited time. I honestly can’t imagine how you do all you do: I only juggle one child, a part-time job, volunteering, exercise and two blogs while managing a household and maintaining a marriage and I can hardly keep up! You’re incredible.

    The thing that comes thru for me in your post is a sense of calm and confidence, despite the wrinkly clothes and untidy dishwasher . . .

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post…Vintage Mommy, International Woman of Mystery

    • Thanks Ann! I find that the relationships that I develop with others, particularly women, are so important to me. My friends and mentors are such an important resource for me, and help me to ‘re-source’ as well. Thanks for being a support for me as well!

  14. I think part of what you are saying has to deal with reasonable expectations, right? I am guilty of thinking (and I know I’m not the only one!) that if they loved me, they’d SEE that I’m overwhelmed and could use a helping hand! Yea, right! Not happening! But I do need to vocalize the need for help to actually get it!
    And realizing that the laundry can go unfolded or whatever it is, is helpful, too. What will really matter in the long run…….what LEGACY do I want to leave?? GREAT thought-provoking post! Thanks! Suzanne

    • Suzanne, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I know that my husband doesn’t have the same priorities as me, so if he doesn’t notice something, it’s not because he doesn’t love me, it’s just because he didn’t notice. If I ask he does it willingly, and that’s how he really shows his love. But sometimes I have a hard time remembering that when I’m stepping over the laundry basket that he didn’t notice, or cleaning up the crumbs he didn’t see.

  15. Before I went on maternity leave I found that my job required wearing many hats. I’m glad I’ve taken some of those hats off to focus on being a mother, but these tips definitely apply to both outside-the-home work and being a mom.

    One Minute Blogger’s last blog post…Friday’s Fun Find: Honest Baby

  16. Really a nice content. It has given me some usefull tips. Thanks for sharing.

    Celina Gomes’s last blog post…Electronic Relay

  17. This is a great post. I too have a couple of juggling hats and this is such great encouragement! Thank you, Kelly and Tsh for this wonderful post!

    ruth’s last blog post…Leilalou

  18. Excellent post! I can SO relate to every single word here. It took me a long, long time to face it – I can’t do everything by myself, I must OUTSOURCE! And trusting other people with the job that only YOU can do best is difficult. Ah… We live, we learn. My lesson was that outsourcing = simplifying.

    Emma’s last blog post…The Lazy Mom’s way to teach a baby to drink from a cup

  19. Thank you for this post. I was just wondering today if other people are as busy as I am or if I’m being unreasonable with myself. I see from the comments that I’m not the only one and I’m encouraged because I, too, like all my hats. Thank you for giving us some ideas to keep it all going. Rules are so important in life, aren’t they? But do you ever just take a day and throw it all to the wind and be just a little irresponsible? Or is that really not a good option in life?

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