Confessions of the time-starved generation

Book cover for The Feminine MystiqueI just finished reading The Feminine Mystique, published 50 years ago by Betty Friedan as an exploration into why so many American housewives were unhappy in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s credited with starting the feminist movement in the 1960s, and I was curious to understand more about it in light of the Lean In Movement that’s taking hold today.

I found myself chuckling as I read Chapter 10, where Friedan wrote about housewives who unconsciously stretch their home duties to fill the time available. Why would anyone do this? Because the feminine mystique taught women that this was their role, and if they ever completed their tasks they would no longer be needed. Based on that line of thinking, I know I’ll always be needed; my household to-do list is never-ending!

For today’s working parents, there are never enough hours in the day. We develop coping skills to make it all work, some more extreme than others. Do we allow our household duties to expand to fit the available time? Maybe, but that time is next to nothing. What I’ve seen in myself and my friends is that we’ve mastered the ability to shrink our household duties down to the bare minimum.

Our strategies include:

Embrace the sleight of hand. Tend to common areas more than the bedrooms to create the effect of a tidy home. Don’t mop the whole floor, just wipe up the spots. Have places to quickly hide clutter before guests arrive.  I especially love closing the doors to my kids’ rooms. I’m a neat freak, and I keep telling myself that what I can’t see shouldn’t bother me.

Rethink your standards. Only do the housework that’s important to you. Do the beds really need to be made every morning? As your children help with household chores, don’t expect the same level of quality that you might do yourself. Every Sunday when my kids do their laundry, I think of a good friend who warned me that my kids may decide to “live” out of their laundry baskets, never bothering folding their clean clothes. Unless you’re going to a fancy event, let them wear wrinkled clothing! Remember, your house is an active, lived-in house. Make it as clean as you need it to be, and don’t worry about what others think.

Assemble meals rather than cook them. Look for healthy, pre-prepared food to use to make a meal. Pair frozen entrees with fresh vegetables. Heat left-over chicken with a jar of Indian simmer sauce. Buy frozen risotto and serve it with a salad. Turn breaded, baked frozen fish filets into fish tacos. There are lots of these options for saving time in the kitchen. Don’t feel guilty about using them.

Master extreme efficiency. Simplify meal clean-up by grilling, using a slow cooker, or keeping pots to a minimum. Serve meals straight from the stove to avoid using serving dishes that will need to be cleaned. Do chores like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry while your kids eat breakfast so that you can talk to them but still knock something off your list. Wash clothes only when they they fail the “smell” test or are stained. Buy stamps at the grocery store or online to save a trip to the post office. Set up auto-pay for your regular bills. You get the picture.

Delegate as much as possible. If you can afford help, hire a housekeeper, gardener, accountant, and others. Split chores with your partner. Enlist your kids in cleaning activities at an early age. Train your family that when they make a mess, they clean it up.

Simplify your life. Get rid of things you don’t need. Less stuff means less to tidy and clean! Keep a “to donate” box in your closet or garage to collect things as you come across them to avoid a big cleanup. Unsubscribe from unwanted email as it comes in. Sort your postal mail next to your recycling bin so that you can get rid of junk right away.

Have fun! Invite friends over so you have reasons to de-clutter and accomplish some of that housework that never seems to get done.  Blast your favorite music or listen to podcasts while cleaning. And then enjoy sharing your home with friends!

What are your strategies to shrink household duties to the bare minimum? Please share them in the comments. We’d all like to hear from you.


To my good friends: thank you for sharing your strategies for this blog post. Remember: if you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on, and call one of us!

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

There is no secret sauce

Earlier this week, I spoke on a panel hosted by She Talks, a new forum for women entrepreneurs. The event was held in conjunction with Fashion Tech Week 2013 in San Francisco, and the other panelists were from the fashion technology industry. I felt like a fish out of water! I’m not a fashion blogger, I’m not developing innovative fashion apps, and I’m not working on wearable technology. Yet, here I was on a panel to speak about using social media, the future of the fashion tech industry, and work-life balance. And I enjoyed it!

The panel moderator, Lili Balfour of Atelier Advisors, asked me the following: We see many working moms in the media. From Marissa Mayer to Rebecca Minkoff. What do you think the secret sauce is to ‘having it all?’ Can you give us some tools to achieving success and balance?

With my 17 years of experience of being a mom while growing my career to the executive level, with a husband who is addicted to tech start-ups, I’ve had my fair share of work-life balance challenges. I could have talked all night about this topic! However, I had only a few minutes to answer, during which I did my best to provide just a few practical tips to the audience. Here is a summary of my points:

It’s important to note that work-life balance is not just a concern of working parents. We tend to push ourselves into challenging, rewarding careers. Whether you have kids, are taking care of aging parents, going back to school, or doing anything outside of work that is time consuming, it’s hard to get it all done.

But, it is the working moms in the media, like Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who are bringing a lot of attention to this issue. With their success, we can only imagine that they are in a different economic situation than we are. They can use their financial resources to address work-life balance in ways the rest of us can’t.

Even with their wealth, I don’t think they have a secret sauce for achieving balance. But, don’t lose hope! There are some ingredients we all can afford:


There are many options for hiring people to help you with running your household. Depending on your budget and your personal values, outsource as much as you can. I emphasize making sure you keep in mind your values. If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t hire a chauffeur to drive my kids to school. Others might decide to do this, but I enjoy spending time with my kids in the car. By contrast, if money weren’t an issue, I would hire a personal chef!

Here are some ideas for outsourcing:

  • Housekeeper?
  • Catered or partially-prepared meals?
  • Dry-cleaning pick up and delivery?
  • Wash & fold service?
  • Grocery delivery?
  • Auto pay as many bills as possible?
  • Personal shopper?
  • Gardener?
  • Bookkeeper?

Family Chores

Your partner needs to do his or her part. Many women feel we have to do it all. Yet, our partner can and should share the household responsibilities. I know someone who split the chores by whether they were inside or outside of the house. She handled all the inside chores (cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc), and her husband took care of all the outside work (gardening, running errands, etc). While this approach might not be right for you, I share it as one example of how chores can be divided.

Your kids need to keep learning new responsibilities as they grow. One tip I got from a friend is to teach my kids, when they turned 12, to do their laundry. Sure, initially it’s going to take more time than doing it yourself, like when my daughter left lip gloss inside a pair of white jeans and I then spent about an hour treating stains. But, eventually it will be more efficient than if you were to do it all yourself.

“To Stop” List

We all have a to-do list, what about the to-stop list? Here are some of the things on my list: I stopped sending Christmas holiday letters. I stopped worrying about cleaning out the garage so I can park my car in it. I stopped one of my volunteer activities because I wasn’t getting enough satisfaction from it. Having a “To Stop” list can be liberating!

What are your ingredients for work-life balance? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

But I want to have it all!

It’s been six months since The Atlantic published Anne-Marie Slaughter’s thought-provoking article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. When I read it last summer, I was in the midst of planning my new blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. At the time, I thought (and hoped) I would be able to build an audience for the blog. Once I read Dr. Slaughter’s article, I felt inspired, if not compelled, to start writing it; the blog became something I had to do. Let me explain…

Dr. Slaughter’s overall message is that we need better choices if we want to see working mothers make it to the tops of their careers. While these choices include things like part-time roles, flexible schedules, and school hours that better match work hours, we also need to make it more acceptable for working parents to acknowledge that their kids’ needs often come before the demands of work.

As a dean at Princeton University, Dr. Slaughter wanted to help change the environment to be more family friendly; she did this by deliberately talking about her children and her desire to lead a balanced life. She would end meetings at 6pm, announcing that she had to go home for dinner. She would tell people where she was going when she had a conflict such as a parent-teacher conference. She refused to make excuses for putting her family’s needs first.

As I read her article, I wondered if I could help, in a small way, by encouraging working parents to share stories about how their parenting experience makes them better leaders, and vice versa. To have it be acceptable to talk about strategies for delegation, communication, inspiring a vision, and other leadership qualities through the lens of parenting. To be able to reinforce the managerial style of the office by talking about how effective the same approach is at home. To make it okay to blend our personal and professional lives.

Because of Dr. Slaughter’s article, I knew I had to start my blog. But, my blog alone isn’t enough. What are your ideas for addressing Dr. Slaughter’s article? I’d like to hear from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Thinking about a part-time role?

For some working parents, a part-time job is a great option to balance income requirements and professional goals with parenthood. If you think a reduced schedule could help you achieve your goals, be sure to check out my guest post on the Global Tech Women blog.


About Global Tech Women

It is time to think about the gender gap in technology in a new way. The representation of women in computer science and engineering has been declining over the last three decades. It’s time for something new.

Global Tech Women, founded in 2012, believes the solution to this persistent problem is to focus on the needs of individual technical women on a personal and professional level – providing them with consistent support from their freshman year to their entry in the workforce, their first and subsequent promotions, and their successful retirement.

Practice Makes Perfect?

Do you struggle with work-life balance? I expect the answer is yes. How about work-life flexibility, a phrase becoming more popular as we realize balance is out of reach? Yes again?

While I can’t promise to solve either work-life issue for you, I do want to share a “secret”…it’s about recognizing when you have the opportunity to leverage skills between work and home. I call this work-life efficiency, because you can learn something in one environment and use it in the other.

I also believe practice makes perfect. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell provides compelling evidence that you need to practice something for 10,000 hours before you master it. Let’s apply this idea to leadership skills. In the United States, the average worker logs about 2000 hours in their job each year. If you were to practice the art of delegation (for example) every single minute that you were at work, after 5 years you’d have a good chance of being an expert. Five years is a really long time! But, if you are also practicing delegation at home seven days a week, you are going to master it that much faster.

The math may be simple, but I hope that my point is compelling—that we can become more competent leaders and parents by recognizing and then utilizing overlapping best practices. The more opportunities we have to employ these best practices, the more skilled we will become.

What do you think about changing the conversation away from work-life balance to a celebration of the opportunities we are given as working parents to practice leadership skills at home and parenting skills at work? I look forward to hearing from you.


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.