Being a new mom is hard. Being a first-generation immigrant means you have no family support. Owning a business means you don’t get the traditional maternity leave to solely focus on your baby. The first month was the hardest. Every night, I found myself in deep despair, borderline ready to fall into the victim mentality due to all the factors listed above.
One of those nights, I had flashbacks to the times when I was working on excruciating projects as a product manager in startups. You always have those. The requirements keep changing, the team is not performing at its best, unexpected difficulties arise… you get the idea. And what helped me then to keep my sanity was sprint retrospectives.
Sprint retrospectives in startups
At the end of every sprint, the team could reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved. We mainly discussed how we worked as a team. What was blocking us? What errors in communication did we have?
It always felt like a good therapy session where we laid all our cards on the table. It felt like a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of hope. This would help us to march forward. One sprint at a time. And eventually, the project would be complete. And more importantly, we wouldn’t hate each other at the end of it. In contrast, we would have new procedures and improved communication to help with the next projects.
Motherhood is multitudes more difficult than any of these projects, I will not lie. But if sprint retrospectives helped me then, they might help me now.
Daily sprint retrospective
I decided to have a sprint retrospective daily. Every day is a sprint when you are a new mom. It definitely feels like it!
Every evening when I am putting my daughter to bed, I ask myself three questions:
- What worked?
- What didn’t?
- What can I improve tomorrow?
It took less than a week to see dramatic changes in my emotional well-being. This small daily practice has definitely saved my sanity. It didn’t let me slide into the bitter place of resentment and victimhood.
Why it works
Acknowledgment of small wins
The first question, ‘What worked?’, forces me to find things that worked. Things that I did right. My efforts that did pay off. This is the best pick-me-up feeling you can get when everything else around you seem like never-ending chaos.
Skip the blaming phase
No need to blame anyone. When we are facing a hard situation, we are often tempted to blame someone or something else. When I ask myself, “What didn’t work today?”, I just list things. Bullet-point format. Short and to the point. I don’t go into who is at fault and why. The list format makes me focus on cold facts and not dwell on who is to blame.
Focus on cold facts vs. hot emotions
These questions make you look at facts. You stay objective. You focus on the solution instead of the problem. I find it more effective than the traditional gratitude advice you always hear. I don’t find gratitude all that effective and authentic when I am in a bad situation. I find focusing on the facts much more sobering and effective.
Take it one day at a time
I review just one day at a time. The changes and improvements are very small and, therefore, manageable.
For example, one day, I was exhausted because I didn’t have enough time (and free hands) to cook breakfast. My baby was crying and didn’t sleep long enough for me to cook something. When I asked myself, “How can I do better tomorrow?” I decided to prep some breakfasts ahead of time that don’t require much cooking and can be eaten with just one hand. For me, it is mason jars filled with yogurt parfait or overnight oats. I can prep 3 jars in under 10 minutes.
Funny enough, these small changes bring incredible improvements right away. Not being hungry makes you a much more patient and loving parent. It’s as simple as that.
Side note: My husband and I apply the same approach in running our family business. Whenever we encounter a problem, the first question we ask is, “How can we improve in the future so this issue doesn’t happen again?” It allows us not to dwell on a problem too much and focus on improving operational procedures or communication between ourselves and clients.
Example of a daily retrospective of a new mom
Here is a quick retrospective from the day I was writing this post:
1. What worked?
- Great results following the sleep/wake windows throughout the day.
- Having meals and a healthy snack prepared worked great.
- Managed to get 8 more meals prepared for the next few days.
2. What didn’t work?
- Wake time before bed was almost 4 hours.
- Got stuck in the rain.
3. What can be improved tomorrow?
- Check the weather in the morning and plan the daily walk accordingly.
- Try baby-wearing as part of the bedtime routine to calm her down.
As you can see, there is nothing groundbreaking about these items. Most of them are that boring. The changes are very small but that’s the beauty of it.
If you are going through a challenging time, give a daily retrospective a try. I like that it is low-key. You don’t have to commit to some extraordinary changes. It’s small things like putting yogurt with fruits in a mason jar the night before. I still use it in my daily life. And whenever I feel like I am sliding into the victim mentality, I snap myself out by immediately asking these three questions.
If you are new to Agile philosophy, you can find the core principles on the Start Here page.