A primary part of our study was asking moms (all with multiple children) about their challenges, as well as what they wanted to be different about each day. Not surprisingly, we heard loud and clear that one of their recurring challenges was dealing with a hectic day.
Interestingly, a hectic day was not the same thing as a busy day. We noticed in the journals—and confirmed in the interviews—that some busy days were more hectic (and thus more stressful) than others. This makes sense, and led to our initial (but incomplete) insight: a busy day that goes according to plan is less stressful than a busy that keeps falling apart. This is true, but it doesn't help us understand why such chaos is so draining.
The real insight came when one of our moms (who loves to cook) complained about always deciding what the family was going to have for dinner. She didn't mind making dinner, but she wished her husband would do the planning more often. This fits well with out observations about hectic days: a chaotic day is stressful not because mom has to make adjustments to her plan, but because she is deciding which adjustments to make. For each decision she has to develop alternative solutions, weigh the pros and cons, identify the "best" course of action, and then communicate her decision to the necessary family members. It is the decision making process that wears her out, not the mid-course corrections.