10 ways to manage your workload while the kids are still at home

With recent announcements that children will start returning to school on 8th March, the end of the ‘home school’ is finally in sight, but there are still a few weeks to go. Here, time management experts Martin Boroson and Carmel Moore from the One Moment Company provide their tips for staying on top of your workload while the kids are still at home. 

Being interrupted was already a problem at work, even before lockdown. Interruption kills concentration and can cause errors and omissions. Interruption deprives you of the joy of being immersed in what you do. You lose your train of thought. You feel out of control, which is one of the major causes of anxiety. And you can’t get even the most basic version of your ‘to do’ list done–which causes even more anxiety. And interruption stalls the momentum you need to get over obstacles and have creative breakthroughs. None of that is surprising, because it can take you 30 minutes, after each interruption, to recover your focus. 

With lockdown, the “interruption epidemic” has gotten even worse, but with a more poignant turn. With parents working from home and their children also at home, all day, those interruptions are coming from people who are truly dependent on you, people you love, people who are suffering, people who are not just your children but your pupils. Each time you say “no” can be gut-wrenching. 

If you are struggling to find the right balance, Martin and Carmel suggest the following:

  1. Be compassionate.  We are all struggling here. This means compassion for your children, who can’t read your mind, don’t understand your work, and are experiencing a range of challenges themselves due to lockdown and lack of social contact. They have very few means to express what they are really feeling or negotiate solutions, so that seemingly trivial interruption may be a disguised request for some comfort, or simply to have some “connection time.” But please remember to be compassionate to yourself as well. You are juggling way more than you usually are. You will not get it right. You will definitely drop a ball (or some Lego), probably many, each day. 
  2. Be concrete. Children can’t understand the vagaries of your schedule, which meetings are important, how things change rapidly throughout your day. So give them extremely easy ways to assess your interruptibility. (See our tips below.)
  3. Be around. Make sure there is some time each day when you are just around — fully available to them. To make this work, you have to: a. make it clear to them that you are fully available; b. not hide behind your phone/laptop. 
  4. Create shared quality time.  Just as you probably need a video-free Friday at work, your whole family may need some time where you are truly present for each other, and this means no tech. Invest in connection, and you will create more peace.
  5. Talk to your colleagues.  One of the blessings of this difficult time is that workmates are becoming more human, dropping the work persona, getting to know each other’s personal challenges, getting glimpses into each other’s homes. So take a risk and TALK to your colleagues, your boss, and your clients about what you are experiencing, and get practical about the time agreements that will help you do your best work. Even starting 30 minutes later in the morning can make an enormous difference to everyone’s day. Your work will not be helped if you are suffering at home. And remember that even if everyone else seems to be in a similar boat, the boat your family is sailing in is uniquely yours. (And if, in this extraordinarily challenging time, your boss can’t see the boat you’re in, then you may need to look for a new boss.)

USEFUL PRACTICES TO IMPLEMENT:

  1. Use visual, tangible clues. Be concrete. You can’t expect children to read your mind or do a high-level analysis of the severity of your workflow. Visual, tangible clues could be a traffic light system. Or you could have a special hat for special times. Or you could agree that when Freddie the Fox is outside your door, this means absolutely no interruption unless it’s an emergency; but when Sofia the Squirrel is outside your door, it’s okay to come in for a cuddle.
  1. Go low tech. Get some playful kitchen timers and use time to create some clear space.  When the timer rings, it is okay to pop in.
  1. Use it as an educational opportunity – Use this time as a playful and opportune way to teach them how to tell time. For your older kids you may let them explore the countries of the world and their cultures with the use of a geography subscription box.
  1. Remember that time is an agreement. Everyone needs to be involved. So, create a shared timetable for ALL household activities, not just work and school.  Include mealtimes, bedtime, and the fun stuff like playtime, exercise time, messy time. You can even schedule the interruptions!  

a.           Low tech:  Get a big whiteboard with all the colored pens and stickers you can buy.  Create this picture of the household together on a Sunday evening.

b.            High-tech: For older children, this could be a shared calendar on their phone to check what you are up to.  Color-code your calendar to show times of peak ‘non-interruptibility’. 

  1. Schedule shared ‘working’ time or even shared ‘urgent working’ time  – If you have to produce that report or prepare that deck, consider doing this when your child is doing their own study or homework. Use them to get  your urgent job done with focus and no distractions! 
  2. Include them. – This means, for older children, asking for their help when possible. Let them work shadow you for a day or two. Explain how your working day works, who’s who, why one meeting is more pressing or urgent than another.  
  1. Physical boundaries can create space and quiet – If you don’t have the luxury of lots of rooms and home offices,  use toy boxes, floor tiles, or rugs to create a quiet, attractive space alongside you–like a home library with beanbags, books, and comics.  
  1.  Invisibility Cloaks. – This means that when I wear this, I’m not here. (And when YOU wear this YOU are not here. (This may not work with multiple children … unless it is a very big cloak!)
  1. Ask them – Older children may be as antsy about interruptions as you are. Come to a mutual agreement about when it is okay for you to barge in unannounced with their laundry or snacks or just for a chat.’
  1.   Start your days together – With a One-Moment Meditation® to dial down the noise and encourage centeredness. Repeat as needed throughout the day. 
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