By Silviya Zustiak, PhD
As we all know from first- or second-hand experience, motherhood comes with its own bittersweet challenges. The first few weeks with a newborn—full of sleepless nights, hour-long feedings, numerous diaper changes, and the general stress of learning how to care for a baby—are so hectic that time flows by unnoticed. As a new mother, you naively hope that it will get easier. Raising a child is never simple, but watching your baby grow, seeing her reach those treasured milestones, receiving that first sloppy kiss, and hearing her babble "ma-ma-ma" makes the long journey worthwhile. Now that you have two full-time jobs (motherhood and a postdoctoral position) how can you juggle them? How will you manage to fit ten hours of work into a six- to eight-hour day (now that your baby is gleefully unaware of your career goals) and be productive despite the haze from a string of sleepless nights?
Several mothers/postdoctoral fellows at the NICHD have shared their tips on time management. The most common advice includes the avoidance of any nonessential (and some essential) extracurricular activities. While this tip does save time, it can restrict the mother from opportunities, such as seminars, workshops, and networking functions that expand her scientific horizons. The new mother must be very selective about the activities she chooses to maintain, taking into consideration how they will benefit her career. To accomplish this, a new mother must dedicate time to defining her career goals and thinking about the best and most efficient ways to achieve them.
So the new mom has condensed her list of extracurricular activities, but she still must fit all of the work previously accomplished in a long workday into the shorter 9 to 5 schedule. The NICHD moms' advice: accumulate computer-related work, such as data analysis and writing, for days when you don't have lab experiments. You can then work from home, avoid the commute, and thus secure more family time.
The remaining time management tips focus on squeezing every minute out of the day. For example, many moms suggest skipping coffee and lunch breaks. They explain that eating in front of the computer allows for an extra hour of work, which hopefully translates into more time at home. Depending on the day-to-day life of each mom, many of them answer e-mails early in the morning before the kids are up or use cell phones with data plans so they can e-mail or browse the Internet while commuting or waiting in line (for example, at the cafeteria or in the grocery store). Others prefer to plan their experiments while walking or driving to work, utilizing those baby-free minutes to concentrate. Many moms even suggest carrying scientific papers in their purses to read during down time. The general message is that every minute counts, and every minute that a mom is not distracted by the kids counts even more.
So, rest assured that with time you will hone your very own time management skills. You will discover that juggling is not only for circus professionals, but that anyone can learn it with a little practice (and practice you will have!). Eventually you will fall into your own routine, which—of course—your baby will alter just as soon as you start getting comfortable.