Let’s not sugar-coat current events; these last couple weeks have been rough on a lot of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of road bumps in our lives by putting us in a position where we need to find new childcare, create a home office, and accept with the fact we are going to be stuck in our homes for months. Coping with the idea of working from home was not much of an issue for me; I had already been spending three days a week doing it and just enhanced my home office with a larger desk so I could be more productive. However, sheer panic set in when I was informed that my kids’ daycare was going to be shut down for the duration of this crisis. My wife and I attempted to make alternative childcare plans, but her role as an assisted living administrator means she has a responsibility to keep the virus away from the community she oversees. To ensure the safety of her residents (who are most vulnerable to the virus) and our children, we decided that I would stay home with the kids.
I won’t lie to you, these first couple weeks have been very rough for me. I am frequently interrupted, participating in long meetings has been challenging, and coding sessions I would normally spend listening to Black Sabbath have been replaced with Frozen’s “Let It Go” playing on an infinite loop. However, I have learned to follow four steps that have helped me find a balance between staying productive and providing the care my children deserve during this challenging time.
Step 1: Realize You Are Not Alone.
Let’s be frank, the impact the virus has had on the workplace goes much further than your home. Every working parent is struggling with this situation to some degree, from the desktop support tech asking you to reboot your PC to the CEO planning your organization’s strategy during this trying time. I initially struggled with the fear that any hit to my productivity during work hours would bite me in the backside sooner or later, but attending a few remote meetings and seeing how other parents are dealing with this helped put me at ease. One of the more memorable sessions was with a coworker who had to leave their workstation multiple times to attend to their son. It reminded me of all the times earlier that day that I had to break from my work to change a diaper or return a surprise hug. And that’s okay, because our duty as parents is to take care of our children and give them the love that they need. No reasonable employer is going to ding us in a performance review if they know we are doing the best we can to stay productive.
Step 2: Don’t Fret Too Much On Interruptions. You Already Had Them At The Office!
I have a four-year old and an (almost) two-year old, and they are not very good at sharing toys. How do I know? Because I have had to break up more tug-of-wars over a toy in the last week than I have in the past year. You may be inclined to think that all this extra time spent parenting my kids would make a noticeable dent in my productivity. Yet, I still found myself making adequate progress on my assignments. How is this possible?
As it turns out, I had plenty of interruptions at the office that pulled me away from work. These were by no means “pointless” interruptions. Most of the time they were positive interactions with my team about changes to our development tools or an upcoming video game we were looking forward to playing. As it turns out, we are people (not machines) and talking to each other helps build a sense of unity between us. And unless you are going out of your way to be the office jerk, there is a good chance you have had some of these interruptions too.
When you are working remote, these conversations happen less often, and are very brief when they do. But hey, we all have kids who are more than happy to fill that void with their own interruptions, and there is nothing wrong with that! Take the necessary amount of time to address your children’s needs. If that takes longer than expected, you can always put in some extra work after putting them to bed.
Step 3: Make A Daily Routine, And Stick To It As Much As Possible.
I cannot stress enough how putting my kids on a routine has allowed me to keep optimal productivity these last couple weeks. Making sure they get up by 8 AM to eat breakfast has helped ensure that I do not miss daily progress meetings each morning, and having them go down for a nap after lunch gives me a couple hours I can work with minimal interruptions. I also use nap time to catch up on dishes and the laundry so my spouse and I are not rushing to get them done later that night.
Of course the rest of the family should get something out of being on a tight schedule too. Part of my daily routine requires me to make homemade meals so I can ensure that my kids are not spending the day eating sugar and other empty calories for the next few months. And when their mother gets home, we all spend time walking through the neighborhood so that they have a chance to get outside.
Step 4: Make Time For Me Time
Even if you follow the previous three steps, doubling as a remote worker and a parent at the same time will still add considerable stress to your life. It’s important you carve out some time each day to take your mind off the kids and work. The last thing you, your kids, and your employer desire is for you to experience burnout over the next few months.
For starters, I would recommend physical activity be your top priority. Quality exercise is not only good for you, but it can help clear your mind of stress. Go out for a run, lift some weights (provided you have them), or try to follow along with one of the growing number of Youtube videos showing you how to stay in shape while the gyms are closed, like this one…
If you have any time left, try and do any activity that brings you joy. For the next few weeks, I will be making a point to finish a program I am writing to help me safely overclock my CPU without damaging it (a story for another blog), along with finishing a game I have put aside for sometime. I have also downloaded an Android app from my local library that will allow me to check out audio books I have been meaning to listen to. Just because you are cooped up in your house does not mean you need to be miserable!
Working from home while tending to your children is no small feat, and it is important that you are able to find a balance that helps you maintain your productivity and provide the love and care that your children deserve. The steps I have outlined above have been of great help to me, and I hope they can be of use to you too. If you have any methods you have found useful, please feel free to share them in the comment section below! And as always, take care and have a wonderful day!