5 Productivity Hacks for Parents Working from Home with KidsNone By Homaira Kabir
There was a time, not too long ago, when the possibility of working from home was a perk. But that was before coronavirus made self-isolation mandatory—and before parents had to maintain their work productivity while being teacher, dispute mediator, short-order cook, and camp counselor for their kids. With daycares, schools, and colleges closed indefinitely, the double duty of work and life has become compressed into one long and endless shift.
How can we manage to make this work without losing our minds? It’s a question that almost every parent is struggling with as we try to keep our children fed, busy, and out of our hair. And there’s no easy solution. For me, with four children at home, what works one day completely flips the next. Experimentation is the name of this new game. But below are the few rules you still need to follow.
Have Structure to Your Day
Going in to work (or school and college) gives structure to our day. There’s a time to clock in and a time to leave, and there are tasks we need to accomplish while we’re there. There are usually things we need to do for the children when we get home—carpool them to and from activities, put dinner on the table, and get them to bed on time. But now, in the absence of having a schedule imposed on us, it’s up to us to put a routine in place so we stay productive. Besides, structure also gives a much-needed sense of control at a time when uncertainty and unpredictability surround us. This is just as important for our children.
I find that establishing wake-up and bed times, even if they’re not exactly the same as before, is essential to keeping everyone’s daily routines somewhat synchronized. When everyone has a morning ritual (for example, shower, dress, eat breakfast while listening to music) it serves as a mental cue that the day has begun. Similarly, having a cut-off time when you disconnect from your work and shift into unwind mode also helps. These days, I find that dividing the day into chunks of a couple of hours allocated to different tasks—work- and family-related—is best because it allows for flexibility. Depending on the ages of your children, you can help them map out the chunks in their day with learning, enjoyment and unwinding. Do so the night before so you all begin your day with a plan in place.
Guard Your Best Times
Do you know when you’re at your most productive? We all go through energy peaks and troughs during the day. Those times when we’re at our most energized and engaged can depend on our natural internal rhythms, but also on what’s going on around us. If you don’t know your best times, you may want to observe yourself over a few days. Given we have more flexibility now that we’re home, you may be able to access hours that were previously filled with going to and from your job. Maybe you used to go to bed early so you’d be up in time for the long commute to work. But now you can carve out that time to focus after a day spent juggling work and parenting. Or maybe early mornings are when you’re most productive, when all is quiet and your teenagers are still in bed.
Once you’ve identified the two to three most productive time slots in your day, guard them like a hawk. Shift that virtual fitness class to later, if you need to. Let your children know you cannot be disturbed, and help them keep themselves busy during that time. Better still, have them identify their best times, too, so you’re all on board with respecting each other’s most productive hours.
Negotiate Rules and Responsibilities
Social distancing has taken away almost all the support systems we set up to enrich our children’s lives while we were away at work. Without grandparents, babysitters, art classes, playgrounds, and sports facilities, many of us are feeling the pressure to hover, help, and high-five our kids 24 hours a day. The good news is that it’s neither possible nor needed. A better strategy is to use this time to help your children become more responsible and self-sufficient. Encourage passions that engage them and keep them busy so you can focus on your work. Set up “work zones” around the house where anyone can go to get their work done in peace. Also, have fair rules and responsibilities that teach them the importance of working together as a family. How will you manage shared space and resources, like internet bandwidth? Who will be responsible for keeping the area clean or putting out the garbage?
Of course, as any parent knows, things won’t always go as planned, and certainly not initially. They’ll forget to do their chores, or fight over whose turn it is to play the video game. And they’ll run to you to solve all their petty problems—even if you’re in your sacred “work zone!” Rather than playing mediator day and night, or losing it completely when you just can’t take it anymore, set up reasonable consequences in advance for when they fail to stick to the rules and responsibilities.
Let Go a Little
The other day, a client spent a good chunk of our call talking about how she was struggling to find time to work because of all the other things she needed to do. Granted, most of us have more on our plates than we can manage. But many of us are struggling to reprioritize because we’re married to perfection. Women often bear the brunt of it because we grow up with subtle messages to be perfect, and can be exceptionally hard on ourselves when we can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. If you relate, perhaps now is just the time to let go of this addiction. The world is giving us permission to be imperfect. It’s okay to let your children play for longer than you normally would. It’s okay to leave the family room messy overnight. It’s okay to feed them frozen pizza and fries for lunch sometimes. Let go of the need to be perfect to feel good about yourself. Have self-compassion for the acrobatics you have to engage in to keep things running as smoothly as possible. And use this time to connect inwards to what you truly value, so you’re productive toward a meaningful goal, and focused on the important things in your life. Between deadlines and distractions, pickups and drop-offs, the world doesn’t give us many chances to do so. Now’s your chance; harness it.
Manage Your Energy
With work and life all jumbled into one, managing our energy for the long haul has never been more important. And because we’re running a marathon not a sprint, performance psychologist Jim Loehr’s advice can be particularly helpful. He breaks down energy into four sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. How well are you looking after each?
Are you sleeping, moving, and eating well, and making sure your children are, too? You don’t want them high on lack of sleep and pent-up physical energy!
Are you managing your stress levels, engaging in activities that give you much needed “jolts of joy,” and staying away from nonstop news? This is also important for the sake of our children, because emotions are contagious, and children are exceptionally sensitive to our feelings.
Are you pacing yourself and taking regular sanity breaks to share your challenges with a partner or a friend?
And are you doing something every day to live by your values, and to stay connected to something larger through gratitude, contribution, and helping others through the crisis in big or small ways?
Remember, as a parent, you’re a role model. And there’s no better time than now to lead by example. Through the small actions you take every day, you’re writing your story of courage in times of challenge. It’s the story that will help your children grow into the resilient and conscientious adults you hope they will become.
Homaira writes and coaches about thriving at work and in life despite challenge and chaos. Access her free resources to grow through the current crisis, or take the confidence quiz that's based on her research on women’s flourishing.
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