Here we all are working from home, or at least attempting to! That idyllic picture we once had of what ‘working from home’ would look like – aesthetically pleasing home office set-ups with inspirational views and atmosphere-enhancing house plants, a coffee cup to complement the décor close at hand and hours of uninterrupted peaceful productivity… Turns out that ain’t a thing.
The reality of juggling childcare, domestic tasks and the responsibilities of employment look somewhat different from a well-styled social media post. Even if you have nabbed yourself a quiet corner of the family home, the struggle is real. As is the distraction, the tension, the frustration, the overwhelm… but rather than dwell on the negative, here’s what else is real: the solidarity. While there is no five-step strategy to make this all work perfectly, there is reassurance in the fact that we’re all in it together. What we need right now is grace and empathy (for ourselves, our families, our colleagues), a realistic perspective and a sense of humour. The following tips are a combo of the above. These ideas are unlikely to solve all your lockdown problems (sorry!), but hopefully some will resonate and others will inspire you to take the next step forward in a way that suits your family.
As always, our most important message to parents – everyday, but especially in a crisis – is to prioritise self-care. Our children need us to take care of ourselves so we can best take care of them. So go easy on yourself! By all means write a to-do list, but if a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown has taught us one thing so far, it’s perspective around priorities…
Lower your expectations
A working-from-home day is not going to look like an office 9-to-5, and that’s okay. We can’t do it all, especially if we’re prioritising family well-being. Somethings are going to have to give, but a sense of achievement is still valuable. Try setting yourself three goals for the day – tasks that are realistically manageable – and then embrace the satisfaction of ticking them off. If you achieve more than three, go you!
Break the day up into bite-sized chunks
Here’s a silver lining to the lockdown working-from-home juggle – a house and garden full of lovely distractions! As opposed to our ‘normal life’ work places, lockdown home-life offers a variety of other things to do – things that involve our loved ones! So rather than a ‘long day at work’, aim for shorter chunks of time spent focused on work, interspersed with chunks of time doing fun stuff with your family.
Share your schedule with your kids – let them know where and when they can find you
Chat about your workload for the day over breakfast (call a family meeting if it suits the vibe at your place). Let your family know about the meetings and calls you need to be present for and the tasks you need to tick off by dinner time. This way your kids have an expectation of how much work you need to do, the times of the day where you need to be undisturbed, and the times when you can down tools and play. In an ideal world, your schedule will complement the schedule of other family members and you can all quietly focus on your homework/employment commitments at the same time, and then all let loose in the lounge and the same time. (Sorry, it feels insensitive to even mention ‘ideal world’ scenarios right now…)
Early mornings/late evenings – preferably not both
Those dark and quiet hours of the day when children are asleep are probably going to be your most productive work hours, if you can get yourself out of bed to make the most of them. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea (although tea and coffee certainly help), but working from 5am till 8am offers a real head start to the day, and allows you a chunk of time to spend with your kids later on. Likewise, 7-10pm could be your hours of power. But going back to our original point – looking after yourself requires getting good sleep, so burning the candle at both ends is unlikely to be productive in the long run.
Break the day in half – one parent works the morning shift, one the afternoon shift
If your household has two working adults, sharing the day is an ideal strategy whereby one parent gets undisturbed work time while the other has fun on the domestic front, and then they swap over at lunch time. With many work places reducing their employees’ hours during the lockdown, these half-day chunks of time may well get you on your way to covering all your work requirements.
Look for added value
There is a heap of stuff we need to do each day, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by the pressure – look for ways to enhance the time spent doing things. For example, everyone needs lunch each day – you could recruit one of your kids to help you make scones. Everyone gets lunch, a child learns scone-making skills, and parent and child get to spend some focused quality time together. Need to make a work call with a colleague or employee but concerned it will morph into a chat longer than 5 minutes? Schedule 30 minutes for the call and consider it a mental health check-in, in addition to a work briefing.
Family device time
Call it what it is – family device hour (or two!). Spend some time together at the kitchen table, laptops and devices at the ready, and power through some ‘work’ as a team.
Save more menial jobs for a time when you can multi-task
Some work tasks require more focus than others. More menial tasks, checking emails for example, could possibly be done as you sit on the couch with your children watching Frozen 2. Actually, the original Frozen – the plot of Frozen 2 is way too complex for multi-tasking.
Go with the flow
A schedule, a plan, a timetable… these are all noble ideas, but a nationwide lockdown is unprecedented – as is our day-to-day life in a bubble. Interruptions and distractions are par for the course. A case in point: while writing this article I’ve also eaten snacks, made a cup of tea, spent some time messing about with the kids’ paints, soothed a child who complained I was spending too much time on my device, took a call from my 70+ mum and reminded her once again that she shouldn’t go to the supermarket, made another cup of tea, joined a Zoom meeting, fed our guinea pigs and hung out the washing. Moral of the story: the work will get done, along with everything else the day demands of us. Take it one step at a time, and don’t worry if you have to stop every few paces for a cuddle, a coffee or to feed the family pet (or the family, for that matter).
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The 60+ staff at Parenting Place are all working from home. The following 10 tips were shared at our first Zoom staff meeting, and we thought they might come in handy at your place too:
- WORKSPACE. Create a workspace in your home so you can be in work mode when there, and then move into relax mode when you’re not.
- EXERCISE. Start or end the day with some exercise. Good for your body and your brain.
- GET READY FOR WORK. Shower and get into clothes that aren’t you’re PJs.
- BUT FIRST, COFFEE. Make yourself a coffee and take it to your work station.
- MUSIC. Put some great music on in the background.
- DAILY TO-DO LIST. Create a short to-do list every day, at least three things you’re going to achieve (and take great joy in marking them complete).
- HAVE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. If you’re sharing your home/workspace with others, share your expectations of when each other will be working and what that might look like.
- FACETIME. Wherever possible video call your colleagues instead of audio calls.
- TAKE A BREAK. Make sure you stop for a lunch break. Move from your workspace – go outside if you can.
- STAY CONNECTED WITH COLLEAGUES. Message each other, share your latest favourite meme or why not plan a lunch break with a few people and meet on a video calling platform.
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Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family?
Our family coaches are still available during the lockdown and can meet with you online. We’ve also introduced a shorter 30-minute appointment type, to make things easier while you navigate family life with everyone at home.