53: No More Overtime

53: No More Overtime

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

No More Overtime

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

~C. Northcote Parkinson

I sighed at the piles of dishes on the kitchen counter. A quick glance at the clock showed it was almost 8:30. I had just finished putting our daughters, ages two and six, to bed. I desperately wanted to play fairy godmother and wave my magic wand. Poof! Dirty dishes be clean. Poof! Floors be swept. Poof! Laundry be done.

But I’m no fairy godmother, and I certainly don’t have a magic wand. No chance of enlisting help from my husband, either. I could hear Derek in the home office, still on the phone scheduling appointments with clients for the next day. There was nothing left to do but tackle the mountain of dishes. But as I fished bits of greasy chicken and mystery food gunk out of the garbage disposal, that familiar and weary discontent returned.

By the time I was wiping the counters, I was shooting furious glances at Derek. He was now relaxing on the couch, watching TV Couldn’t he see how much work remained?

I hinted through gritted teeth, “You know, I sure could use some help in here. Maybe dry these dishes. Or make lunches for school tomorrow.”

“Not now, hon. I just sat down. I need a break. I’ll help in the morning, okay?”

That was not okay. Couldn’t he see I needed a break, too?

“Why don’t you join me on the couch, sweetie? We’ll finish in the morning.”

“I can’t. Can’t you see how much still needs to get done?”

He gave me a suit-yourself look and went back to flipping through the channels.

I finished in the kitchen and stomped up the stairs. Derek was blissfully (or deliberately) oblivious to my resentment. By the time I was done with the laundry, it was past ten o’clock! So unfair. Yet another late night without a moment of downtime the entire day.

I was about to spit a sarcastic “must be nice” comment Derek’s way when I considered maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He is a busy real estate agent and works many evenings. To be fair, he deserved a break. He deserved to end his workday.

That’s when I had my epiphany: There is no official end to my workday at home. Even if I worked until midnight every night, I still wouldn’t get absolutely everything done around the house. So why was I trying? A huge weight lifted as I recognized this futility. What a relief! Since I couldn’t get everything done every day, I would just do my best and end my shift at a certain time. Right then I designated 8:30 as a realistic end time to my shift.

The next night looked a little different. After putting the kids to bed, it was already 8:15. Since I only had fifteen minutes until my workday ended, I tackled the kitchen with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever known. I didn’t realize I could load the dishwasher, wash pots and wipe counters with such gusto. All the while I was glancing at the clock: 8:18… 8:24… 8:28 (woo-hoo, only two minutes to go!).

I never got to sweeping the floor or making our daughter’s school lunch, but it didn’t matter. My relief when I lit a few candles and sat on the couch with a cup of tea was worth it. When Derek came home late from work, he was rewarded with a peaceful, contented wife. No nagging. No stomping. No bitterness. It must have been a relief for him too.

Now I respect my schedule and usually end my shift on time. Nobody seems to care if the floors aren’t swept or there’s still a pile of laundry in the morning. Somehow it all gets done eventually. I started delegating jobs to my older daughter, who’s great at sorting clean laundry and putting away most of her own clothes. I’ve become more efficient with my chores, and more forgiving of myself (and my husband) when we don’t get them all done.

Turns out I didn’t need a magic wand. I just needed to set more realistic expectations and give myself permission to stop working overtime every day. Maybe next I’ll start scheduling coffee and lunch breaks too!

~Anita Love

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