Preparing for maternity leave can be a daunting task. You’re out of the office for 2-3 months with all of your daily tasks and long-term projects either passed off to temps and other employees or just left to accumulate while you’re gone. How do you ensure that you’ll stay in the loop and come back to everything in the correct order when you have limited to no access to work emails or daily office updates? My advice is to prepare early and over-organize.
Whether your job consists of a daily routine of tasks, large-scale projects that vary depending on the day or a combination of the both, you have to be organized. Even if you have your own beautifully cluttered way of doing things prior to pregnancy, throw your system out the window and start making things as basic as possible. This is for your own sanity once you return.
1. STOP ACCEPTING NEW PROJECTS!
I stress this point in all caps because your bosses and your coworkers, particularly if male, simply will not understand. I am 5 days from my due date and my superiors are still trying to get me to start new things (and finish them!) “before I leave.” You have to draw a hard line in the sand with this one and make sure they fully understand that you do not have the time nor the longevity to see a new project through. Be polite, but be stern. Tell them you would love to work on this and you appreciate their optimism in your ability to complete this project, but you simply don’t have the time and someone else would be able to dedicate the necessary attention to it that you cannot. Do not let them guilt you into accepting it. You won’t be able to finish it before you leave and then you will be the one yelled at later when it just sat on your desk for 3 months.
2. Create a detailed task list of every single thing you do, or that needs to be done, for the projects you’re working on.
Using an excel spreadsheet, list out every task associated with your assignments. Be sure to include notes, contact names and information, deadlines and the status of the project. I separate my projects out by tabs so I can delete the tab once the project is closed out. Again, even if you know what you have to do on a regular basis and you organize your time in your own way, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU. This list is for your boss, for your coworkers, for a temp, for any joe-shmoe who they may bring in to mess up your system. By doing it this way, you are leaving very little room for error and also giving yourself the ability to pick up where you left off once you return.
3. Write a summary of your larger or more important projects.
Write a bit of background information on what the project is and where you’re at with it. Add a list of all of your collaborators and include their email addresses and phone numbers (if applicable). Explain any timelines you may have for certain levels of the project and clearly identify what needs to be accomplished in order to move forward.
4. Sticky-note your ish up.
I am 100 percent serious. If you are anything like me, you don’t like people rummaging through your drawers and cabinets trying to find that one invoice from 8 months ago and that other thing they need. Your files end up in different locations, or missing altogether, and then you are to blame when it can’t be found. Do yourself a favor and label everything. You could be fancy and use a label maker to put on your filing drawers, cabinets and binders, or you could lazy-girl organize, like me. I put a sticky note on every drawer, binder and loose piece of paper on my desk. The drawers and binders are labeled by what they contain while the loose papers are labeled by their status. Has the invoice been filed yet? Have we registered for this trade show? If someone would ask about it, I’ve given them an answer on a sticky-note. Preemptive problem solving, ladies.
5. Finish as many of the little things as you can
Close out 10 small projects or maybe get three quarters of the way through one large and important project? This is all about the numbers. Yes, the large important project would typically take priority. You would spend a majority of your time working on it and then anytime you were waiting on someone else for information or next steps, you’d tackle the smaller less important projects. Because maternity leave is for an extended period of time, this scenario calls for a unique approach. How many things can you finalize before you leave so there is less to div-y up after your gone?
6. Stop stressing
Yea, yea, yea. Easier said than done. But honestly, you will be fine being out of the office, your coworkers will manage without you, all of your hard work will not be destroyed, and no one will remember that one project you declined to take on two weeks before your due date. Everything will return to normal once you are back and settled in the office and you might even see you’re appreciated more. Being without you for three months made them see how much they actually needed you. After all, distance makes the heart grow fonder <3.