Managing To-Do's

How to actually get your partner’s help: Help them see the ocean

September 20, 2022

I’m Kelly Nolan.
I'm an attorney who'd been decently organized through law school but got quickly overwhelmed as a actual attorney. After nothing else worked for me, I created this system – and kept on practicing law. Years later, I found out others were interested in learning it, so that's what I do now! Let's get this realistic system in your hands so you can start living a life that feels more calm, doable, and that lights you up.
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The Context

Eve Rodsky of Fair Play shared the below theory on a podcast I was listening to:

Surveys of heterosexual couples show that women believe that they do the majority of the work in the house. No surprise there.

Those same surveys show that the men in the same relationships believe they (the men) do the majority of the housework.

How is this possible?

Well, Rodsky says, it’s because generally speaking, most men have no concept of all the work that goes into running a home.

Put another way:

If you suspect your partner thinks that they do the majority of the housework and you find that equal parts laughable and infuriating…

They likely see a pond-sized amount of work. They see that they’re doing 60% of the pond, and therefore think they’re doing the majority of the work at home.

They don’t realize that there’s an OCEAN of work that you’re handling. The ocean is invisible to them.

This disconnect leads to frustration and resentment on both sides because both people think they’re doing the majority of the work and resent the other for asking them to do more.

So, how do we get the person who sees only the pond to see the ocean?

First, it’s helpful to list out all of the tasks that, generally speaking, we women are doing. But that’s not enough…

We also need to also shed light on how, generally-speaking, women’s tasks and men’s tasks differ in significant ways in frequency and interruption.

From there, we can talk about about some potential solutions.

Let’s go.

Before we dig in, let’s be clear: This is not about bashing men

I want to make something clear: I think men do a lot around the house, do much more than men in prior generations, and are also – particularly dads – exhausted after the last two years.

This is not an article about how “moms are tired and dads aren’t” or that “women do everything and men nothing.” I think men do a lot and are more than willing to help out if they know what to do. This has been my own experience with my husband and many of the husbands my client’s are in partnership with.

The problem is that there remains a lot of resentment between men and women about who does what because, as Rodsky points out, we’re not all operating on the same set of facts – we don’t fully grasp what the other is doing. As a result, men resent their female partners because the men think they’re doing it all; all while female partners resent their male partners because they think they’re doing it all. This gap in understanding is the culprit. Before the division of labor can be more equal and resentment calmed, we need to all get on the same page.

Let’s get on the same page: The list of invisible tasks

I asked people in my world (i.e., Instagram and my email list) what they do that they think their partner doesn’t know they do or doesn’t have a full appreciation of. I also asked what they think their partner is doing that they don’t always appreciate. The weakness here is that the audience polled was mostly women, so – men, feel free to chime in the comments if you think I’m missing anything!

Note: You do NOT need to do all of these things by any means. This is just a list of things that women have shared that have typically fallen to them in the relationship IF the couple does this type of stuff. If you decide to dig into a conversation with your partner about seeing the ocean after this article, a great conversation starter could be – do we even want to do these things?

Non-kids-related Invisible Tasks Women Generally Take On

  • Home maintenance

    • If repairs are needed, researching repair companies, scheduling, often being home for the repair window

  • Most house cleaning (even if you have house cleaners, though you could consider upping frequency and assigning deeper clean house projects)

    • Wiping countertops

    • Deep cleaning (fridge shelves, oven, indoor trash cans)

    • Random household things (cleaning dishwasher filter)

    • Vacuuming between house cleans

    • Cleaning appliances (coffee, washer, dishwasher)

  • Chief Procurement Officer (sourcing the air filter, the extra tylenol, replacement dish rack, ordering more paper towels/toilet paper/kleenex, anticipating need of new milk)

    • Sidenote: I highly recommend using AnyList tied to an Alexa (if you’re okay with it from a privacy perspective) to make this easy and share the load to some extent; that said, even with it, the general-use-type stuff seems to fall to women to keep track of and replenish

  • Financial-related admin

    • Insurance payments & renewals, including life insurance, car insurance, homeowners/renters insurance

    • Finances

    • Property taxes: Paying & keeping track of

    • Paying general bills – setting up autopay, updating credit card

  • Car registration renewals/payments

  • Decoration

  • Date night planning

  • Birthday

    • Cards: Ensuring there are cards ready for extended family’s birthdays

    • Gifts: Coming up with idea, ordering & tracking presents for both sides of the family

  • Holiday gifts (same)

  • New baby gifts (same)

  • Wedding gifts (same) and coordinating/deciding RSVPs

  • Holiday cards:

  • Vacations: Researching, planning, coordinating, keep track of reservations while on vacation

  • Coordinate most of our joint social activities and RSVPs

  • Extended family liaison – keeping family updated, sharing photos, coordinating visits (e.g., finding dates, deciding the location, adjusting regular life in light of same, losing childcare during that time, and bearing the brunt of that shift)

  • Pet care

    • Vet visits

    • Medication

    • Grooming

    • Feeding

    • Walking

    • Ordering food

 

Tasks Related to Young Kids (Under 4yo) That Generally Fall to Women

  • Finding childcare

    • For nannies:

      • Posting job description,

      • Figuring out a start date and general hours,

      • Reviewing candidates,

      • Setting up interviews,

      • Conducting interviews,

      • Evaluating candidates,

      • Following up to ensure availability,

      • Running background checks,

      • Drafting contract and figuring out other paperwork,

      • Setting up payment structure,

      • Training nanny,

      • Paying the nanny every week,

      • Being the point of contact for the nanny (including time of small chitchatting each day),

      • Coordinating changes to the nanny’s schedule,

      • (All of this work is compounded when a nanny doesn’t work out or quits (sometimes before even starting), which happens more frequently than you’d expect).

    • For daycares:

      • Researching daycares options and information online about them (and from friends),

      • Taking tours,

      • Filling out applications and putting down deposits,

      • Following up re availability,

      • Once in, filling out more paperwork,

      • Coordinating medical forms for paperwork requirements,

      • Getting items together for first day,

      • Replenishing items throughout year,

      • Communicating with school about changes to schedule, etc.

  • Finding babysitters for one-off things: See nanny section above

  • Packing school lunches

  • Arranging playdates for kids

  • Arranging activities (research, prep)

  • Compile a baby book

  • Teacher gifts (I love gift cards for this and suspect they do too)

  • If normal childcare arrangements don’t extend into summer, finding summer childcare (see above)

  • Friends’ birthday parties: RSVPing, bringing a present, coordinating it

  • Kids’ birthday parties and presents: Arranging and orchestrating party (e.g., food, beverages, invite list, managing RSVPs, hosting, cleaning up)

  • Clothing: Keeping track of when clothing needs to be rolled over, ordering new clothes and shoes, storing the clothes for future kids or donating.

  • Winter gear prep: Same as clothing; procuring second set for school, ensuring all labeled and acceptable to kid, ensuring a full set is at school every day

  • Medical:

    • Researching Doctors

    • Scheduling Doctor/Dentist Appointments

    • Filling out Doctor/dentist paperwork

    • Taking children to doctor appointments (note: I have found that this has been easy to break off, especially if you have generally healthy kids and as they get older)

    • Rx refilling and administering medications

  • Always keeping an eye on / ear out for kiddos even when partner is around

  • Researching and coordinating Transitions  (e.g., transition off bottle, potty training, crib to bed)

  • Stocking and re-stocking diapers/wipes – both in terms of having sufficient supplies and making sure supplies are where they need to go (e.g., changing table, diaper bag)

  • Meal planning for kids: Are they getting sufficient nutrients? Trying out all foods? Thinking of allergens.

  • Activity registrations

 

Big kids-related Invisible Tasks that Tend to Fall to Women

  • In addition to much of the above (e.g., sitters, medical, schools, school lunches, birthdays, friends’ birthdays):

  • School: Same as above, but even more paperwork

  • RSVPing kids’ social plans

  • Sports/extracurriculars: Talking with kids to gauge interest, research of options, registration, equipment purchase

  • Making sure backpacks are emptied and restocked

  • Homework: Tracking, helping, ensuring completed

  • Summer activities: Mentioned above but more of an issue once kids leave daycare/nanny phases

  • Sending stuff for class parties

  • Constant, daily monitoring of (incessant attention):

    • Web pages

    • Social media accounts

    • Parent forums

    • Email re school and activities

    • Snail mail

    • Three different bespoke apps the school district uses to see when:

      • teacher assignments will post

      • when the extracurricular options will post

      • when ski class registration opens

      • whether the teachers will strike before the first day of school

      • where the school bus will pick up this year

      • whether the school volunteering paperwork has cleared

      • whether the soccer team has an assigned practice slot yet

      • when the school supplies I ordered will arrive

    • Personal texts – “God forbid I miss the push alert for a text from a mom friend who has the inside scoop on something”

 

Things male partners generally do (you’ll see some repeats here, so some of you do this while some of your partners do this):

  • Car maintenance

  • Yard and pool work

  • Sprinkler system stuff

  • Pool care

  • Tending to plants

  • Lawn care

    • Removal of leaves

  • Pond care and maintenance

  • Tree care and maintenance

  • Garbage removal/recycling

  • Daycare and school pickup (and aftermath)

  • Financial Planning

  • Vacuuming

  • Cleaning

  • Household finances

  • Random online tasks

  • Animal care

  • Cooking meals  (fascinating – this didn’t even rank on women’s lists of things to do, but I know it’s on many women’s plates too, so I’m putting it here)

  • Making sure bar is well-stocked

  • Long-term financial planning

  • Grocery shopping

  • Laundry

  • Dishes

  • Monitor investments

  • Care for equipment

Types of Work: Daily/Constant v. Weekly/Monthly

As the list demonstrates, the sheer number of tasks on women’s plates, at least based on my own admittedly-not-scientific info-gathering, is staggering.

That said, that’s not even the whole picture. Given what I do, I constantly think of these questions: When do you do the thing? How long does it take? And does it fit with everything else going on in your day/week?

And the answers to those questions here are the clincher for me.

The vast majority of the tasks on women’s plates are:

  1. Constant – they’re daily or weekly,

  2. Require business hours – things like calling doctors or schools require business hours and therefore interrupt women’s workdays, or

  3. Are infrequent but overwhelming in terms of hours and also require vigilance (e.g., nanny or daycare searches – require hours of work and you have to pounce when you have a good candidate, requiring you to constantly monitor sites).

Men’s typical tasks tend to be things that can be done weekly or monthly and easily corralled to weekends or other non-work times. In short, they can compartmentalize their personal tasks while women cannot.

This is a massive difference in how women and men experience the tension between their personal and career lives.

Feel free to review the above lists with this in mind to see if you think I’m right.

This is why just listing the tasks is insufficient to fully capture the workload disparity.

And NOW I get why a major win for many of my clients is a better relationship with their partner because of better communication and a new ability to share the workload. Here’s why…

Part of what we do in the Bright Method is make everything visual in your digital calendar. Including all the admin work, mental work, and physical work that goes into running your home and personal life – i.e., including a lot of the above.

This helps you lighten your mental load, plan realistically, and reduce your stress.

AND it sheds light on the OCEAN. And not just the tasks themselves – but it shows when you do the tasks, how long they take, how they interrupt everything else you’re doing, and how frequently they happen.

When everything you do is laid out in your calendar in a visual, objective way, you have a new ability to show it to your partner.

You let your calendar do the talking.

They can see in black and white (well, Google/Apple/Outlook colors) all the things you’re doing – and how much of it there is and how frequently it comes up.

They understand that we’re not talking about ponds anymore.

When they understand there’s an ocean of work you’ve been managing alone, they will:

  • Better appreciate what you do; and

  • Be more open to taking more on.

(And because you have more clarity too using the Bright Method, you’re better able to hand off specific things to them and get them off your plate.)

So, let’s talk strategies to help with this workload disparity

First, this one is obvious, but coming off this light-bulb moment, I have to say it: Join me to learn the Bright Method program to learn a system that will help you both show them the ocean AND help you unload parts of it onto their plate.

Second, if you think your partner is someone who’s better at the physical things (e.g., school pickup, making meals) and won’t realistically think of the more mental stuff (e.g., thinking about when to roll over kids’ clothes and do the ordering), then consider accepting that reality – but work with it. Get more of the physical tasks off your plate to free you up for the more mental/admin stuff.

Third, if you can, try to break whole components off and give them to your partner. For example, can your partner take all wellness checks for the kids? You might have to help them set it up the first time, but just as putting in the front-end work at work to delegate repetitive work to a colleague is worth it, train them – show them who to call each year, when to call, and what paperwork needs to completed when. And hand it off. Have them take time off work to take their child to the appointment. After 1-2 times, they can now handle it every year from here on out.

The more you can break off whole components of things on your plate and give them full ownership, the more clear it is to both of you who’s in charge of that thing. I inadvertently did this with my four-year-old’s wellness check this past year (honestly, because I emotionally couldn’t handle holding her down for the shots), and my husband ran with it… and then, the specialist appointments that flowed from the appointments (scheduled and took her to them). Awesome.

Fourth, for the work that’s in their domain, lean into it being in their domain. My husband’s in charge of all home repairs that we can handle. While I can definitely change a lightbulb, I don’t – I ask him to do it all. He knows what our lightbulb inventory is, runs to Home Depot if necessary, and changes everything. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Fifth, talk about what you’ve done! I first heard this in the work context: talk about what you’re working on to make that work visible. Do this at home too. I’ve started talking more about the invisible work I’m doing – not in a competitive-my-day-was-harder-than-yours way, but in sharing, hopefully funny-at-times way. “I seriously can’t believe how much paperwork goes into kids being in school!” “Getting all these photos for the kids’ school is kind of annoying.” “Hey! I emailed the radon mitigation guy and that’s going to happen next week when you’re home!” Make that work visible – if only to increase appreciation for all you’re doing.

(Sidenote: Appreciation is underrated. Even during the seasons where I carry the bulk of our invisible to-do’s, my husband appreciating it goes so, so far.)

If you have any other ideas, share below in the comments!

Conclusion

Let’s all get on the same page about what each of us is doing. Let’s make sure we all see the ocean. It’ll help calm the resentment and increase motivation to help each other out, all of which increases the chance that you’ll get the help you need. And if I can help by teaching you the Bright Method – both to shed light on the ocean and share the load – I’d love to. Because getting more help is possible – check out what these women have said after going through the program:

My biggest win is getting my already very supportive husband to sit and review my calendar with me and realize where he could help to watch our son more to give me more time… I feel like [Kelly’s method] equips him to be an even better partner…”

– M.F., Physician & Mom

“I’m so grateful! This has sincerely been life-changing. I still just cannot believe how relaxed I am AND still on top of everything. I forgot to mention, I got my husband on board and he has taken the lead on weekly planning sessions for our household/kid stuff and that has also been a dream.”

– R.D., Physician & Mom of 3

My husband and I are better partners to each other because we’re getting all the stuff that takes time out in the open and making a game plan for who does what and when.”

– S.N., Marketing Director & Mom of 2

Join me to learn the Bright Method here!

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