How can one be efficient with your tasks when you no longer have an office of your own? How can one divide themselves between children, household chores and deadlines? How can one excel in their job without losing their mind or at least their patience? These are questions I had to face during the pandemic, even if working from home, around children, is part of my lifestyle in recent years.
During the pandemic, most of the companies that were able to migrate their activities online did so, allowing their employees the opportunity to work from home. At first, it was good news. No morning hustle, no delays at work, no boss to keep an eye on you, no more hours lost in traffic. Only you, the computer and the phone in the comfort of your home.
A few days of adaptation followed, with online meetings, teleconferences, weekly reports, new requirements, new strategies, new objectives. And gradually, what seemed like heaven on earth turned into hell. The stress caused by the state of emergency, or by the fear of being infected with the new coronavirus has overlapped with the stress of adapting to the new way of working.
The situation in which we find ourselves “working and supervising children during a pandemic has the potential to create stress and family conflicts.” – Stephanie Pappas
Since the children are also at home, things get complicated exponentially. And, as author Stephanie Pappas rightly remarked in her Live Science article, the situation in which we find ourselves “working and supervising children during a pandemic has the potential to create stress and family conflicts.”
Finding the balance between working all day, but having personal time and time for children, reducing the risk of exhaustion but still being efficient are true challenges for parents who work, more recently, at home. If we add to this the nervousness of children who have yet to adapt to the new conditions, and the parents’ feeling of guilt for the lack of productivity attributed to caring for children or, on the contrary, guilt for the abandonment of children due to too the many professional goals they have to achieve in the short term, a scenario of frustration is already emerging.
Having a routine
Experts at the Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) note the above phenomenon and largely compose their advice by emphasizing the need for routine and planning. Leah Booth, a language specialist at YCSC, makes the following suggestion: “You want to give them a routine, as well as clear, predictable expectations that will offer them a sense of control and comfort”. His colleague, Dr. Nancy Close, director of the Child and Family Development Program, shares this view: “Parents and children should establish a routine together”.
“Parents and children establish a routine together.” – Nancy Close
The first step to implementing a beneficial routine is to plan what, how and when to happen. This planning includes the when, where and how of the activities, but especially the setting of priorities. Set personal, professional and family priorities. Keep in mind that priorities in the current situation are dynamic depending on the aggravation of certain needs. Nourish family and work relationships. Decisions implemented through perseverance and commitment will then bring rapid results.
Plan your and your children’s time
Involve children in establishing the daily schedule. This is how they will realize that this time spent at home is not a continuous vacation, but a way of adapting to the current context. You can make a weekly schedule that is visible to everyone, but you can also plan every day.
It is really desirable to ask the children every morning what their plans are for that day, to help them see a little further than the present moment. Communicate to them clearly what are the periods when you should not be bothered at all, such as when you have pressing meetings or deadlines.
If your children are young, you can use a clothing accessory, such as a scarf or hat, to remind them that they are not allowed to approach you in any way, or you can put a drawing on the door. Giving up pajamas and adopting an office-casual outfit helps the child (and also you) to realize that it is no longer a case of play and relaxation, but that mom/dad is working.
Share children supervision time with someone else
If you have a more flexible schedule, you can divide your working time into several blocks during the day, without having to work all day and without mixing the working periods with those of personal interest. For busier periods or for a fixed schedule, try to find a person to take care of the children while you are busy. You can set up a time with your partner or ask a grandparent to read stories on the phone or an aunt to teach him another language by video call.
Schedule your important tasks during the period of maximum efficiency
Some people are more efficient in the morning and you may need to wake up earlier to work while the children are still asleep. Take care of your most demanding work during their busy/nap time. You can plan a time of day for them to read, exercise on the piano, do puzzles or Legos, activities that require time and concentration, to create a compact work window. To make sure they don’t jump to another activity earlier than normal or than you’d like, you can set a time on the clock if they’re older, or you can set an alarm or even the oven timer.
The same goes for your overtime, when you may need to extend your work schedule. Give children the opportunity to have their first time-management lessons and the opportunity to see you taking responsibility in front of them, if necessary. This creates collaboration and time orientation and helps avoid unnecessary frustrations.
Decide when you start the work schedule and when you finish it and stick to the schedule
Do not mix household chores with the tasks needing to be sorted for work. This way, children will know when they have unlimited access to you and will be able to postpone (for the most part) their needs. On the other hand, be aware that interruptions and distractions are normal, especially with children playing louder in the next room. Even at the office, a colleague talks too much or too loudly, coughs or asks you something from time to time. But it’s important to eliminate anything that might distract you unnecessarily. Close notifications for certain WhatsApp groups, log out of your Facebook account, and don’t turn on your TV to listen to the latest news.
Give yourself short breaks several times a day and give your children this time
“People crave short moments, explosions of focused attention.” – Julie Morgenstern
Following an eight-year study for one of her parents’ books, Time to Parent, author Julie Morgenstern, a specialist in time management and organization, stressed in an interview that “developing a child’s self-esteem, social competence, academic success and professionally, the development of executive skills and resilience depend very much on the quality of connection time with the parent. It’s like a vaccine against the appearance of chronic disease in adults… People long for short moments, explosions of focused attention – literally between 5 and 20 minutes at a time — offered constantly. (…) It is the most surprising and liberating thing that parents can understand, that by acting deliberately, they can help equip their little ones with what they need to thrive and be happy”. It can be 5 minutes to move, tickle, hug or 15 minutes to prepare lunch together.
Organize the workspace
Having never needed to work from home until now, it’s understandable that you may not have a space specially designed for this activity. That is why it is tempting to turn the bedroom into an office and the bed into a work table. If you opt for this, you must know that there is a risk of having a slower start in the morning, as the brain assimilates the space with a certain relaxed mood, and at night it is possible to have some difficulties falling asleep for the opposite reason.
Almost any place with internet access can become an office, so be creative.
At the same time, you need to have a closed and orderly space if your work requires concentration. You can choose to change your location according to the requirements you have to meet. The kitchen or another bedroom, even the dressing room, is a good place for focusing time if no one passes by, and a child’s room or the living room can be an option for administrative matters. The children will be more than happy with your simple presence. Even the car can be a good place for important phone calls, as suggested by Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of Flexjobs. Almost any place with internet access can become an office, so be creative.
Pay attention to the way you work
The attitude you have toward your job in front of the children will teach them about the value of work. Remember that we educate our children by example. Do you work with pleasure or just tick 8 hours a day? Are you balanced or addicted? Are you always stressed and behind with your deadlines, loading your schedule with more than you can carry? Or do you have established priorities and plan effectively? The way you work creates a pattern in the minds of the children around you. What do you cultivate in them: passion or aversion?
Talk to the team
First, make sure your boss knows you have kids around. His expectations will decrease in terms of your availability afterhours, the time to answer the phone, and the time to complete tasks.
On the other hand, misunderstandings can sometimes occur in work communication precisely as a consequence of the reduction of e-mail and telephone communication. Make sure the person you’re talking to understands what you wanted to communicate and don’t give free rein to the destructive imagination, especially if you are tired. Give everyone the presumption of good intentions, as Chris Misterek, a freelancer coach, suggests when offering advice from his own experience.
But more than anything, don’t speak ill of anyone around your children. Be an example of resistance to stress, honesty and good intentions.
Give yourself opportunities to talk to team members about other things besides the job, too. Let life flow at a normal pace, even in these new circumstances. After all, you also met your colleagues near the water dispenser, at lunch or in the hallways, where you exchanged a few words.
Beneficial habits, especially for you
Success or progress, as well as failures or delays, affect our emotions.
Start the day with little successes. First, wake up to your set time and then make your bed. The satisfaction of a well-done and finished thing will continue even later. An effective start to the day helps our psyche to be prepared for success. In fact, according to studies by B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, “The frequency of success matters more than the size of success, so don’t wait until the big wins to congratulate yourself,” Fogg says. “Instead, come up with daily celebrations for yourself; your brain doesn’t know the difference between progress and perceived progress.” Teach children to taste small successes too!
Reduce stress as much as you can, especially since the little ones absorb their parents’ emotions. Provide a model of good practice for your children in this regard and enjoy every success. Do not open the phone or computer at the first blink of an eye. Do things on time. Take some time for yourself first and make wise use of the minutes you have in the morning.
Make sure to exercise and drink enough water. You can leave a glass on the desk and go from time to time to fill it. Combine sitting on the chair with standing. Look for a source of natural light when working. Open the window wide and do breathing exercises with the children. Eat healthy, without snacks and in no case in front of the computer. Keep in touch with friends.
Build beautiful memories and be a positive model for approaching the external crisis, but especially the internal one. Give your child constructive feedback whenever he or she has followed your work schedule and explain how important his or her positive behavior has been to you. Appreciate him for his perseverance and don’t pay too much attention to failures. Be more relaxed with certain limits that are not dangerous and give him reasons to rejoice whenever you have the opportunity. Play, laugh, invent, tell stories, listen and make him feel safe at home and never alone!
A new professional skill
Daisy Wademan Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, a home-based parenting firm, believes that “working remotely is a distinct professional skill. Like any other professional skill — such as public speaking, negotiation or financial analysis — it is strengthened over time and through experience, personal reflection, a desire for continuous improvement and a lot of hard work. And, for any working parent who wants to perform, but also to raise great children, it is a skill worth developing.
The new situation has forced the transfer of many positions in the online environment, in most cases being like a pilot project. However, the trend of remote working is already known — working from home — and maybe this ability will be needed even after the crisis. Beyond all the inconveniences of the moment, you can consider the current period as an intensive training for an easier adaptation to the reality that awaits us in the near future.
Simona Condrachi is an Education undergraduate at Montemorelos University in Mexico.