When it comes to running your household, who’s keeping tabs on all the moving parts like those never-ending grocery lists, birthday parties, carpool schedules, laundry day, and/or doctor appointments?
Sometimes the list can seem endless.
If your family is anything like mine, most of this "invisible labor" fell to me: the working mom. According to a 2018 BCG Global Diversity Study, women in dual-career households bear most of the burden of organizing and completing the household chores.
Men are taking a more active role in performing the tasks needed to run a home, but the mental load of it all—the orchestration and planning involved—still falls disproportionately on women.
To avoid feeling burnt out, I knew something had to change. But like most people I wasn’t sure exactly what to do.
I had read that in order to level the playing field at home, some dual-career households are taking a digital page out of their organizational playbooks. Families are using technology and apps to communicate, collaborate, plan, and accomplish household tasks together. These apps, like Trello, reduce the frustrations and challenges of invisible labor experienced by many working moms.
Could I really use Trello to lessen my own mental load at home?
Luckily, I’m in a Facebook group for other working moms in tech and Nataly Kelly had offered her advice on managing invisible labor with digital tools to the group.
Nataly Kelly is the Vice President of International Operations at HubSpot. She clearly knows a few things about how to manage and run several teams and the processes needed to grow a massive, publicly-traded organization. Nataly’s husband is also an executive at a technology company. They live in the Boston area with their two daughters, ages 5 and 2.
Nataly and I took time out of our busy schedules to discuss how she and her husband use Trello to manage their household, how they’ve created a strong workflow to delegate tasks, and how they have lightened the mental load with increased visibility and improved communication in their relationship.
Lessening Invisible Labor At Home
Stella from Trello: You’re a working mom, just like me, so we both know how much management is required at work and at home. Which problems were you running into before you started to think about bringing technology into your home life as a solution?
Nataly: We managed fairly well with our household duties when we only had one child. But then my job grew in scope and complexity, especially as I was working across more timezones, and my husband’s job became more complex when he started working with a company that has its headquarters overseas.
Then we had our second child, which unfortunately coincided with multiple family health issues. We needed to rein in the chaos and gain greater control so we decided to make some changes in how we manage things at home.
Research shows that women tend to absorb a lot of the family management tasks and sometimes we do that by default, because we're “naturally” good at it. My husband and I started to look at how we could divide this invisible labor more evenly.
Stella: Right, it’s that shadow work. This 100% happens to me as well as a mother of a two-year-old. Why do you think that was happening?
Nataly: I think it's a combination of factors. A lot of times, men don’t have the awareness of a lot of things, such as planning a birthday party or that it’s crazy hair day at preschool on Wednesday. There's just so much minutia involved in all the family management.
This happens to many women at work as well. We often think it’s harder to take the time to hire someone and train them so instead of delegating the work, we just keep doing it ourselves. So it was important for me to speak up at home that I needed support in specific areas from my husband, and then come up with a way together in order to manage these tasks with full visibility.
My husband works in tech so my first thought was, “Where can I put all of this stuff that is in my head so that we’ll both look at it regularly?” We had already used a few tools that didn’t work well and he recommended Trello since he uses it at work on a daily basis. I was also a Trello user, so it seems like a natural fit.
Stella: What was your husband’s reaction when you started listing out all of the things that had to be done for the household?
Nataly: We did a brain dump together because I wanted him to understand my mental load. So I spoke and he created the cards on our Trello board. That was helpful for him because he didn't realize all the micro steps that are involved in certain things like with signing a child up for ballet class.
What are all the tasks involved? Download the forms. Fill out and print. Write the check. Mail the check. Confirm no other schedule conflicts and pick the time. Arrange for pick-up and drop off. Schedule time for ballet shoe fitting. Purchase the leotard and tights from the school. Notify instructors of childcare provider’s emergency contact information, and so on.
As the list went on, I think he realized there is a whole project management aspect of our lives that he never realized was there. It was quite overwhelming.
Interestingly, it made me realize there were several things he was doing that I didn’t even think about such as calling our sprinkler guy to replace the sprinkler heads or ordering new filters for the air conditioners. Through this process, we realized there was a lot of invisible work on both sides of the table.
Stella: Wow, that’s really interesting. Let’s dive in to explore how you set up your Trello board. Can you tell me more about the workflow and how it has evolved?
Nataly: Originally, we had “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done” workflow, and now we replaced the “To Do” column with “Longer Term” and “Near Term” lists.
Then we use labels for various categories of our tasks such as health, school, childcare, family time, finance, and even couple time. That’s a new one. We realized with the labels that we were not prioritizing our own relationship.
We also added in a label for “travel” and “friends” to make sure we prioritize those activities in our planning. We also assign ourselves to the cards/tasks we are working on to see what the ratios are in terms of labor load at home.
Stella: Trello is definitely a great tool to get that full view on who is working on what. How do you decide who works on each task?
Nataly: Every Sunday we do our planning for the following week. It’s like our weekly stand-up.
For our short-term tasks, we typically just text about those items and what needs to be done throughout the week. For longer-term tasks, I will add a comment on the card or we just wait until our weekly stand-up to talk about it. It’s great to have the “Done” list so we can see in real-time and across our devices when one of us has completed a task.
So we’re not using our family time or alone time to debrief or ask for status updates on household management. All the updates are in our Trello board.
Stella: What’s the secret to making this household workflow stick?
Nataly: At first, we were having a hard time making it stick. A lot of the tasks on the board were things we both didn’t enjoy doing. So we decided to also add tasks we find enjoyable to the board.
For example, we have cards for booking dinner reservations with friends, booking family travel, and date nights. If this was used exclusively for household work, we probably wouldn’t use the board.
Stella: I love how this has evolved into a true communication and collaboration tool for you and your husband. What were some other impacts on your family life once you managed the invisible labor of family management in Trello?
Nataly: I’m extremely relieved that I'm not doing everything that I did before and that my husband has visibility and appreciation of the stuff that I do and used to do. I also feel like I have more control to assign things to him. It’s also reduced my nagging which is a win-win for everyone!
Since we incorporate enjoyable and fun activities, it forces us to block time for those things in our schedules and really prioritize them. Now we won’t go five years without booking a vacation or a date night.
Stella: That’s amazing. Date nights can definitely suffer when you’re in the thick of running a household. Now, if someone is interested in setting up a similar workflow, what’s your main advice to getting started?
Nataly: First, I recommend doing a brain dump with your partner of the invisible labor you both do.
One person should speak and the other writes down the tasks as cards in Trello. Then swap the roles until all the tasks are on the board. Next, decide which labels you want to use to categorize your tasks.
Add in categories that are soul-draining (organizing carpools and researching summer camps) and ones that are soul-enriching (date nights and fun activities with your children).
Finally, don’t feel like you’re not succeeding if your workflow isn’t perfect. Perfection is not the goal—incremental improvement is. I guarantee that a year from now, our board will be completely different.
Stella: Based on your experiences with your own family and your peers, do you think more processes like this would help women stay in the workplace?
Nataly: It’s interesting—a lot of the working moms I know leave the workplace not because they feel like the can’t be a great mom and have a job. They feel like they can’t get a handle on all of these family management tasks.
However, when they leave their job, they become the full-time caregiver and the full-time manager of the household. These are equally difficult jobs and it’s really hard. I would say that stay-at-home moms have an equal workload to working moms in many ways.
The stresses and responsibilities are different but the invisible work is always there unless the family unit has a system to support the load.
Implementing The Process At Home
Thanks to Nataly for sharing her simple but brilliant process.
I’m happy to report that since talking to Nataly, I’ve implemented her system in my household and it’s been an amazing change. Every Sunday my husband and I go through a Trello board and list out what needs to be done during the week.
As the week goes on, we feel progress as we work through all the tasks and are motivated by moving tasks to the “Done” list.
Like many working moms, I was doing many more tasks that my partner was totally capable of doing but was just unaware. Implementing this process has reduced the shadow work in our family and brought it to the forefront so everyone can appreciate all the work that goes into running a family.
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