How To Manage Working From Home While Being A Parent
When we rang in 2020, only a small percentage of people worked from home — a mere 3.4% according to FlexJobs. Now, a majority of Americans — 62%, according to Gallup — are working from home, with three in five stating that they would like to continue doing so.
It’s easy to understand why when 65% of people claim that they’re more productive working from home. Despite having children home from school, parents claim to have experienced only a 1% drop in productivity.
How is that possible? Well, it’s probably because they’ve learned how to realistically manage their working and parenting responsibilities using the following six techniques:
1. Create a flexible routine.
“The first step is to keep the structure of the day the same as it has typically been,” advises Avni Patel Thompson in Harvard Business Review. “Beyond the benefits of familiarity, maintaining a regular schedule will give you firm guideposts for building your work and childcare schedules.”
By having a set schedule for bedtimes, mealtimes and when you’re most productive, you’ll avoid disrupting your and your family’s circadian and ultradian rhythms. The result is family harmony coupled with productivity.
What’s more, consistent routines can reduce stress and encourage family bonding. They also make it easier to plan and manage your time. For example, if you eat dinner together every evening at 5 p.m., then you know not to schedule a video call at 4:45 p.m.
And yes, there will be times when you’ll have to modify your schedule because of a holiday, in-service day, or summer vacation, so you will need to maintain some flexibility as well. The best way to achieve this is by leaving blocks of time free in your calendar, so instead of scheduling every minute of your day, leave an hour or two free.
2. Experiment with time blocks.
I’m not going to lie: Working from home while being a parent is no easy task. But you can make it work by thinking a little outside the box.
Patel Thompson and I both plan out our weeks on a Sunday so that we can consider the schedules of our families — mealtime, appointments, chores, naps — and our priorities for the week.
“Take this info and put it into a calendar and start assigning shifts and duties to specific family members,” she recommends. “My family has a Google Calendar and we’ve created a simple example for families to use to create their kids’ schedules and add shifts on top.”
Once you have something in place like that, you can create work time blocks based on childcare and your deadlines or preferences. For example, if you’re most productive in the morning, or that’s when most of your team meetings take place, then you would work in a 4-hour shift from 8 a.m. to noon while your partner watched the kids. Then the roles would switch for the afternoon, and you would watch the kids while your partner worked their 4-hour shift.
You could also try shorter shifts. These are “30-minute to 2-hour shifts that rotate among some number of adults,” says Patel Thompson. And there’s also video shifts, like virtual playdates or calls with grandparents.
Another idea would be to capitalize on nap times if you have younger children. Try spending your breaks — even if it’s a 20-minute walk — with your family.
3. Add non-negotiables to your calendar.
Non-negotiables are your priorities in life and are typically defined by your values, principles, and goals. Once you have identified your non-negotiables, add them to your calendar so that nothing else will come before them.
For example, let’s say that family time is a top priority for you. You could block out an hour for dinner each night so that you always eat with them. If building relationships with your peers is important, then you could schedule weekly virtual lunches.
As for your weekly work responsibilities, limit yourself to no more than three priority tasks per day. Remember, there’s only so much you can accomplish in a day, so capping your responsibilities can increase the odds of you following through.
The only way to be truly productive is to prioritize and schedule your work, as well as what matters most to you at home. Discuss your non-negotiables with your family and team so that they can all support your efforts.
4. Separate your roles.
One of the biggest drawbacks when working from home is that the boundaries between your professional and personal lives tend to blur together. If you were to commute to an office, then it’s easier to avoid distractions like household chores and your kids frequently telling you how bored they are. Moreover, it’s much more difficult to leave work at work because you’re living and working from the same location.
One solution is to separate home and work zones by creating a dedicated workspace that’s separate from the rest of your home. For example, find a space in your home that you aren’t utilizing fully like a spare bedroom or basement. Some people have even converted outdoor sheds into posh home offices. If you don’t have the space, though, at least find a quiet area in your home where you can be left in peace when it’s time for video calls or deep work.
Another idea is to focus on one role at a time. If you’ve blocked out 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for work, then that’s when you’re in your business role. However, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., that’s when it’s time to play mom or dad.
Establish a transition routine from role to role. It could be something as simple as powering off your computer or changing your clothes. It signals that it’s time to switch from work mode to parent mode, or vice versa.
5. Plan what you can in advance.
In addition to planning my work week schedule on Sundays, my family also preps meals for the week that day. Even if we don’t actually make the food, at least we can plan a menu so that we can be sure that we have all the ingredients — it’s one less time-consuming decision I have to make during the week.
I also plan out activities for my kids to do throughout the week while I’m in Zoom meetings, like DIY projects, outdoor games, chores or movie screenings.
6. Cut yourself some slack.
Even seasoned work-from-home pros can struggle with juggling their parental responsibilities. You may have had the whole WFH thing figured out before COVID-19, only to have to shift your normal work routine when your kids started staying home from school.
Additionally, because this is such an unprecedented time, there’s no reason to beat yourself up if your children are having chicken nuggets for lunch or spending more time on their screens. It’s only temporary as you and your family adjust to the change and figure out what routine works best.
The same is true for your work. You’re probably not going to be able to put in an 8-hour day or get as much done as you would have liked. That’s alright. Be realistic, don’t worry about perfection, and take care of what you can — mainly your top priorities. Most importantly, appreciate this quality time that you have with your children.
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