Crayons and Conference Calls
Suddenly, 80% of the country is under stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19. For those of us fortunate enough to still be employed, many have never worked from home. And it’s a different skillset.
As a mom of two young boys, I’ve been working from home for a decade. I’ve been employed by Fortune 500 companies and small start-ups. I’ve worked with kids on my lap, under my feet, or even nursing. But it took me about a year to figure out how to do it without sacrificing productivity and, more importantly, my sanity. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution—especially with such a short ramp—but I hope the following tried-and-true tips will help make your new daily grind a little more manageable and productive. They certainly helped me!
Adjust Your Expectations
This isn’t the time to strive for perfection. We’re in survival mode here. Yes, I know Karen up the road is posting pictures on Instagram of her kids dutifully doing their schoolwork, meals made from scratch, and some Michelangelo-inspired sidewalk chalk art. Stop comparing yourself to others, and just do the best you can do. If ever there was a time to adopt a “good enough” mentality, this is it.
Three Must Do’s
When you start your day, identify three items you must do for work that day. There will be days when you get all of them done, and days when you finish only one. But this will be your north star and keep you on track when you start to get distracted.
Establish Conference Call Rules
Every morning, my husband and I compare our scheduled conference calls for the day. The spouse with the conference call gets the home office, while the other is relegated to running defense in the living room. Occasionally, we do have overlapping calls, but with everyone home right now, it’s a non-issue. No one is going to be shocked to hear a screeching toddler in the background. We’re all in this together.
Ask and Receive
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. A couple of times, my boss has asked me to turn around projects that, under normal circumstances, I’d have to him in no time. But with both kids being home schooled, I’m less confident I can meet those deadlines. I’ve asked to take the weekend to work on things, or just for an extra day or two. He’s been fine with that, and my anxiety has been significantly reduced as a result.
Keeping Kids Busy
The rules for our school-aged kiddo are super simple. Once our son is up (and we don’t set the alarm), he’s expected to do his morning routine: brush teeth, get dressed and have breakfast. Once that’s done, he’s not allowed any screens until he completes all the schoolwork for the day. That’s it. That’s our rule. When the work is done, he’s free to do as he likes. And yes, that means a lot of video games. But we’re okay with that right now. This isn’t forever, it’s just for now.
Our youngest has a less structured day. He happily floats between his toys and books and cartoons. Mommy or Papi (or both) are always available to assist with snacks and drinks and snuggles, and we alternate taking him for bike rides.
Drop Everything…and Nap
It sounds counter-intuitive, but my number one tip for productivity is to stop everything, block an hour on your calendar, and take a nap. Later that evening, as you’re preparing for bed, set the alarm for some ungodly hour (like 3:00 a.m.) and get to work. The beauty of this trick is two-fold. First, you’re forced to slow down, reduce your anxiety, and recharge. Secondly, the middle of the night is hands down the best time to work. There are no kids. There are no phone calls. It’s only you, your computer, and a solid block of quiet time for knocking the most critical items off your to-do list.
Practice Gratitude (and breathe)
Some days are harder than others right now. My husband’s parents are in their seventies and live in Miami. We’re worried about them and our friends and family in the greater South Florida area. But we have a lot to be grateful for, too. Our health. One another. Technology, which is allowing us to stay employed and do our jobs. It keeps us connected with family in Spain, friends in Wales, and people all over the world.
We have a print in the kitchen that reads “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“Full stomach, happy heart”). The simplicity of our daily ritual—to gather as a family—with the constant, powerful reminder those words provide, is helping to carry us through this challenging time. I hope you have much to be grateful for, too.