“Today is different from yesterday and this week is different from last week. You can have some kids in school but if the County is on a watch list for Covid, then you can’t be in school. And, if there’s anyone in the community that gets Covid, then everything has to shut down and go virtual for two weeks. I get what they’re trying to do but it’s very fluid and not super helpful,” said Alexis Haselberger.
A lot of us are in the midst of or planning for back-to-school pandemic-style. Hybrid schedules. On and off days, lunch at home and no transportation. Back to school was always a high-stakes time of transition. But this year’s lack of consistency and threat of Covid-19, is a recipe for mental load stress. And productivity, for even the most seasoned work-from-home parents, has been flipped upside down by having the kids at home. I asked Alexis a productivity expert, for smart strategies to set this season of work-and-school-from-home, up for success.
Where Are You Right Now? Start There.
Although it’s true, it was hard before and it’s become harder, Alexis suggests starting with today. The current conditions do not resemble what once was. She said, “The mental framework I’ve been using is to ask, ‘what is working and not working right now?’ It’s two very simple questions that anyone can ask to get a baseline reality. And then, we can start asking a third question on a daily basis, ‘what can we do better tomorrow?’ It’s really what can we try tomorrow to see if it will work.” An open, flexible attitude is key here. She added, “We don’t know if it’s going to be better or not. But what can we experiment with, to fix the things that aren’t going so well?” Yes! Most parents have shared in the pandemic study there’s a lot of room for improvement right now. Alexis explained, “I keep thinking of it as ‘communicate, experiment, iterate and communicate’ and just keep on going.” Brilliant!
Your Schedule Can be Your Anchor
Alexis started build structure into the amorphous days from the schedule up. “We’ve been creating a weekly visual schedule. It’s an Excel spreadsheet for when we’re going to be in meetings or classes. It has times on one side and people on the top. It’s not a crazy color-coded schedule, it’s one color and that color is red!” We laughed. She explained, “My husband and I had to look at our schedules together and say okay, ‘who’s going to be on call and who’s going to be in meetings at what time?’ And if we happen to have a meeting at the same time, we tell our kids the day before, ‘by the way from 11:30 to 12:30 both of us are going to be in a meeting and that means that if you need something during that time, you are going to have to wait.’ Of course, this doesn’t work if you have babies and toddlers. That’s a whole different ball game.”
If Coupled, Take ‘On Call’ Shifts
Alexis advised, “What works if you have babies and toddlers is to actually split into shifts. Maybe it’s not 8-hour shifts but for 2 hours in the morning one parent is going to take them and then two hours after that, the other parent, if there is another parent. You’ll be able to get some work done during that time but you’re not going to get your heads down work done.” Wise. Alexis said, “This idea of a visual schedule has worked really well for us because it’s something that we can talk about concretely each week. And with the changes happening so rapidly, although our schedules are not static, usually by the end of the week we know what our meeting schedule looks like for the next week. It’s just helps to recreate some of those boundaries.” Yes! She added, “Because boundaries have been obliterated. Eviscerated.” Exactly. When surveyed parents were asked, what do you need to be productive right now through the pandemic? Although access to ‘childcare’ was the most popular request, it was closely followed by ‘less interruptions’ and ‘time alone’ ideally in ‘quiet’ as we seek ways to reclaim some work/life separation.
Take. Up. Space
Alexis said, “I think about boundaries in two ways, for kids and parents. Everyone needs a workspace or a play space. Kids are little people and they have their own needs too.” True. Nomadic searches for a Zoom-friendly place to work has caused stress in many homes. She said, “Some people have really tiny houses and it’s not all going to be in different rooms. And some people have really big houses and maybe it can be in different rooms. My kids share a room, so one of the kids got their bedroom and another got our kitchen table. My husband had to go downstairs to use our TV room. We bought him a $30 stand up desk on Amazon and he uses the TV as a monitor. I’m the lucky one, I have been using our home office for the last several years, so I just stood my ground. Each person has a space. It’s your space to take care of, be in and you get to make the rules for your space.” A clever strategy to reduce the daily room drama.
Agree to House Rules
She pairs the concept of ‘space’ with the visual calendar posted outside of her office door. She said, “The first week of Covid, I heard my kids whispering, ‘it says she’s in a meeting, don’t knock’ and I was thinking, ‘yes, this is working!’ So, creating those physical spaces reduces friction between family members and creates that physical boundary between work and home. If you have a spot on the couch and that’s your work spot, when you go to that spot your brain gets into work mode. And when you leave that spot, your brain knows it’s leaving the work area. So, it’s like we’re creating a microcosm of an office even if that’s just a particular cushion on the couch.” Love this! Many are struggling to find solutions for small living space.
Use Time as Another Boundary
Alexis said, “The other side of it is really creating time boundaries. Maybe, within your family, that can be a regular workday schedule, depending on the age of your kids and what’s going on. My kids are 9 and 11, so we each have a regular schedule and for my kids it’s from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm when they’re doing virtual school. And then, we’ve given them some extra chores. After three o’clock they need to clean the kitchen because, you know, now we’re doing lunch at home and there’s all this extra cleaning.” Yes. Now is the time to engage kids in the household upkeep. in age-appropriate ways. She said, “It’s thinking about what your workday looks like and more importantly, picking a stopping time.”
Yes. That Includes Time to Stop
I was intrigued by this idea of stopping. Alexis said, “It doesn’t have to be the same time every day. Today, I know that my plan is to work until 6:30 pm. When you create a stopping time, you take advantage of Parkinson’s law which is, that work expands to fill the time allotted.” So true. She shared, “When I came back from my first maternity leave, I was instantly more productive. It was because I had to leave at 5:00 pm every day and could not be late.” I nodded in agreement. She explained, “So, that stopping time says, ‘I better Tetris this together, figure it out and not be wasting time on Instagram or Facebook because I have a stopping time.’ That’s been really helpful for us.” A clear intention for our time is powerful. She added, “Then you can say ‘I’m done and after that I’m going to be with my family or read a book or watch a show’ or whatever it is that’s not work.” How can we make that happen more often?
Create Obligation Free Time
Alexis who works with both individuals and corporate clients explained, “A lot people say, ‘I can’t get the self-care time, I just don’t have time for it.’ Schedules are our friends! So, even if you are able to take two hours on a Saturday morning, decide ‘this is my time to do whatever I feel like doing.’” Yes! She suggests, “In a two parent household maybe you’re switching with your partner and saying, ‘okay you get 2 hours on Saturday and I get 2 hours on Sunday.’” And if kids are more independent or you’re not in a two-parent household, it may mean setting new boundaries. She said, “It’s okay to say ‘you know what kids? you’re going to watch cartoons for two hours on Saturday morning and Mom is going to be in the bedroom doing something else. If there’s a real emergency, you can let me know.’ Let them watch cartoons and then don’t feel guilty about the screen time.”
Most parents are feeling stressed and less productive right now. The circumstances are extraordinary however, experiment with different strategies as you reboot for a new season of working and/or distant-learning from home.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Thank you to the talented Alexis Haselberger! Check out her Working Parents Coronavirus Quarantine Survival Guide and Online courses. She is currently enrolling for her “Take Control of Your Time” group coaching program, click here for more details. You can also follow her great adventures on her Website, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.
Alexis is a time management and productivity coach who helps people do more and stress less through coaching, workshops and online courses. Her pragmatic, yet fun, approach helps people easily integrate practical, realistic strategies into their lives so that they can do more of what they want and less of what they don’t. Alexis has taught thousands of individuals to take control of their time and her clients include Google, Lyft, Workday, Capital One, Upwork and more.