The shift to remote work has disrupted many of our routines, and many parents especially are feeling the crunch of melding their professional lives with their parenting duties — not to mention the added stress of home-schooling their kids. Staying both focused on work and attentive as a parent can be increasingly challenging in these times, but with a little bit of creativity and a lot of patience, it is possible.
We asked members of our Thrive community to share their best strategies for managing working from home and parenting during the coronavirus crisis. Which tips will you bring home to your family?
Discuss your non-negotiables
“It’s challenging to be productive when my 11-month-old is awake, unless one parent can ‘take the lead.’ Each night, my partner and I discuss the non-negotiable parts of our schedules, like when we have meetings or calls, and workflow so we can support each other and take care of our daughter. We use our weekly whiteboard planner to note when we have meetings and write fun thoughts. We’ve also helped each other identify the most productive parts of our day, so we can better plan work and family time.”
—Nick Peacock-Smith, business partnerships and content leader, Brooklyn, NY
Plan meals in advance
“We sit down as a family and meal plan for the week ahead. We decide who will be cooking dinner each night. Our kids are a little older so they help us, too. This way, we aren’t walking into the kitchen at 5:30 each night, hungry, asking, ‘What’s for dinner?’ Crockpot meals are the easiest, of course, but by scheduling a full week ahead, we can prepare, knowing that one of us needs to start cooking at a certain time.”
—Megan Bearce, therapist, speaker, and author, Minneapolis, MN
Keep an open dialogue
“Our working worlds have been turned upside down — but so have the lives of our children. We still have projects and deadlines to give us a sense of structure and accomplishment, meanwhile our kids are stuck missing school and their friends. To help them, we’ve talked to our kids about how all of our routines will change, and reaffirmed that these changes won’t affect our commitment to one another as a family. Having open and age-appropriate dialogue has helped me set expectations for my children and boundaries around my work.”
—Martha Switzer, co-founder, Vancouver, Canada.
Divide and conquer
“My husband and I plan our schedules one week in advance. We split each day into two-hour slots, starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 5:30 p.m., and alternate working and tending to our three-year-old. We’ve found that two hours is a good window to accomplish a decent amount of work or engage with our toddler without completely feeling drained afterward.”
—Rebecca Smith, founder and CEO, New York, NY
Set clear expectations
“My day goes more smoothly if my children know what to expect. That doesn’t necessarily mean setting a schedule, just outlining certain rules. For example, if I need some quiet time for a conference call, I might say something like ‘When I’m on a call, you can do this, but you can’t come to me for help.’ I also plan parts of the day when everyone has independent time. Each child can choose how to spend their time, but they have to follow one rule: They need to do the activity by themselves.”
—Armida Markarova, founder and CEO, Chicago, IL
Use small windows of time to connect
“My workdays are still busy, so things haven’t necessarily changed in terms of my capacity, but what has changed is the way I use small slots of time. My coffee breaks are now cuddle breaks. In between meetings, instead of checking in on social media, I check in on the family. I used to eat lunch quickly and get back to work, but now, I eat slowly while I feed my son, and spend the rest of the hour with him to give my wife a small break.”
—Jon Vassallo, director of sales and general manager, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Create a simple, visible schedule
“Each week, we create a calendar that shows when each member of our family will be in a Zoom meeting. It’s not a crazy, multi-colored schedule — just a simple grid broken up into 30-minute increments on the left, and names and days on the top. This way, my kids won’t bust into my work meetings, and I won’t bust into their remote classes. We also have a conversation each night at dinner about what worked and what didn’t, and how we can improve the next day. We are constantly refining and iterating on our process, and everyone, including the kids, is involved.”
—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA
Establish a work zone
“One of the biggest challenges of working from home is establishing a clear line between work and home. I used painter’s tape to create lines and establish ‘Dad’s Working Zone.’ I get to shout, ‘You shall not pass!’ like a certain grey wizard any time one of my kids approaches, which my inner child finds very satisfying. But in all seriousness: This setup lets my children know where my attention is at any moment. They know that when I’m in my working zone, I’m focused on work, and when I’m outside the ‘DWZ,’ I can focus on them. Kids appreciate and respect simplicity and clarity more than we give them credit for.”
—John Baker, marketing content manager, Rochester, NY
“Our strategy is to practice acceptance — accepting that our schedule is subject to change, and accepting that every single assignment from school might not be completed. We make a point to take breaks to prevent burnout and practice patience with ourselves to reduce anxiety.”
—Tomina Ward, life coach, Murrieta, CA
Don’t hide your parenting from your colleagues
“I try to spend the first few hours of the day with my four kids to help them with school, while my partner uses the time to take his Zoom calls. Once everyone is settled, I can turn my attention to my top work priority of the day. Being clear on my priorities helps me stay focused, and so does accepting my role as a parent. If my four-year-old appears in my Zoom call, I don’t stress about it. Before COVID-19, I would sometimes feel that I needed to hide the parent side of me during the workday. Now, there’s just no hiding it, as kids are now intertwined in the workplace, and honestly, there’s something great about that.”
—Anne Marshall, fundraising director, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Develop daily rituals
“My biggest obstacle while working from home is my tendency to get distracted. I am easily sidetracked by the next shiny thing, but I’ve found a few things that help me focus and make progress. My family and I have established rituals to start the day, and transition from the workday into downtime. We also discuss the norms of the day: What progress do we need to make? When will we take breaks and eat lunch? I’ve also been using this time to teach my children life skills, like cooking, organizing, sewing, and developing financial literacy.”
—Lisa McGrath, life coach, Olympia, WA
“My kids are one and four years old, so I luckily don’t have any school protocol to follow. I still like to stick to a schedule, though. I found a few sample schedules floating around Facebook, and used those as a jumping off point. One of the most important routines that has kept us all sane is ‘outside time’ in the mornings and afternoons. The change of scenery and fresh air is like a magical reset button. And although my four-year-old doesn’t nap, my one-year old does, so we take at least 30 minutes of ‘quiet time’ in the afternoon when the baby is sleeping. We both need the break.”
—Meg Messmer, producer, Atlanta, GA
Mix old and new routines
“My husband and I are entering week six of remote working while parenting our four-year-old and seven-year-old. We have become their teachers, short order cooks, and referees. We stick to key parts of the kids’ school routine, like picking out clothes for the next day, setting a bedtime, eating breakfast, and making sure they are out of their pajamas by 8 a.m. We schedule virtual playdates so the kids can spend time with their friends. It’s been a great way for them to maintain their social connections. We also try to make the weekends special. On Saturdays, we support a local coffee shop by picking up bagels. On Sundays, we make chocolate chip pancakes and do arts and crafts. We pick two weekend movies that we watch together with fun snacks. As we adjust to our new normal, we want to remind ourselves how special and important downtime is.”
—Mita Mallick, head of diversity, Jersey City, NJ
What’s your go-to strategy for managing work and family life? Share with us in the comments!
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.