2020 was a year of firsts in many aspects but the biggest adjustment for me was home schooling. I can say there were moments I got it right and days where I felt like I had failed dismally.
As a coach, trainer and a mother, I have made a conscious decision to take the lessons and the growth from 2020 and leave behind the negative associations and old emotions linked to it.
Those train tracks will always be there but by applying the lessons I learnt, I am able to put down new, fresh and more effective tracks for 2021.
Here are some things to consider when you find yourself back in the juggle of work, home schooling and life:
Focus on what needs to be done
“If you don’t have time for things that matter, stop doing things that don’t”. — Courtney Carver
Home-schooling conjures a time scarcity mindset; a fear that you will not be able to get to your most important tasks in a day and naturally this is a breeding ground for anxiety.
When you are making progress on your work, this anxiety dissipates. The relief of completing important tasks fuels you with more energy to tackle everything else.
The solution isn’t more hours but better hours.
Interruptions and distractions will always persist despite the home-schooling. The key for you is to be incredibly deliberate about how you spend your time and knowing what is important versus urgent.
Plan your week before you are in it and make sure your top priorities get your full focus and attention. You want to aim for 3 big items in a day.
Avoid the long to-do lists, they will only lead to destructive behaviors like multitasking and procrastination.
Remember that other people’s urgencies are not necessarily yours – this is not the time to say yes to irrelevant tasks because you are trying to please others at the expense of your productivity.
You get what you tolerate. This is the time to set your boundaries and stick to them.
Switch off all notifications on your distracting WhatsApp chats and social media feeds. Close Outlook if you are working on a more cognitive task like planning a strategy or preparing a presentation.
Failure to manage the distractions within your control will take you down the path of self-interruption.
“Your inbox is the land of the lost and we all get lost” – Tim Ferriss
Manage your emails by checking in at specific times during the day rather than hitting refresh every 10 minutes. If something is urgent, you will get a phone call.
Multitasking is not a solution
“Multi-tasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time”. – Gary W. Keller
This is especially pertinent on your Zoom/Teams meetings. Although you feel like you will get more done, it has the opposite effect.
Multitasking is a myth. It is the kryptonite to productivity.
Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains why:
“The kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance.”
Cal Newport, author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ says:
“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate”.
Multitasking not only drains your attention but your energy. That’s why you often feel in a brain fog and fatigued despite a good night of sleep.
You need your energy tank to be full, so you can give to your family and team. You cannot be of service to them if you are starting with your tank in reserve.
“The greatest cause of anxiety is endless expectations.” – Radhanath Swami
Sit down with your family at dinner time and discuss everyone’s schedules for the next day. Make it clear when you are off limits because of an important meeting and when it is acceptable to come into your working area.
When your kids know your availability, it gives them the peace of mind that they will have access to you, and their anxiety dissipates. If possible, can you have lunch together or find pockets of time in the day where you can spend time with them.
15 minutes of focused attention off your devices is better than 30 minutes of distracted guilt-ridden attention. They can pick up the difference and will always call you on it.
How can you make this fun for them?
If you have younger kids, you could ask them to make a special sign with a red side and a green side. When it is a non-negotiable to come into the room, have the red side on the door. Make them feel part of the solution, not the problem.
Press the mental pause button
“Practice the pause. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret.”- Lori Deschene
When you feel yourself speeding up in pace and overwhelm sets in, this is the time to press the mental pause button.
It feels counterproductive to slow down because you have more to do in the same time period, but this will make a huge difference to creating an environment of safety, calmness and mental agility.
When you can feel yourself getting highly anxious, angry or some emotion that isn’t serving you, the first thing to do is name it.
When you name it, it loses the power it has over you and you create some distance from it. Anxiety shines a spotlight on two possible focus areas:
- You are too future focused
- You are trying too hard to control the external circumstances
Notice which motive is fuelling the anxiety and then take a breath.
If you are too future focused, break down your task into its simplest steps. Schedule the first step into the calendar and act immediately. When you can see yourself moving forward and creating progress, it brings you back into the present moment.
Notice if you are placing an unreasonable expectation on the outcome. A simple presentation to the team could become the presentation that will dictate the future of your career. When you start to fear what it could mean, the natural tendency is to avoid the presentation.
Now the anxiety is through the roof because it’s hanging over your head. When you notice this, pause and just work on slide 1. Put down one heading, one bullet point and the rest will write itself because you have created momentum. Starting is the hurdle, it’s never a matter of time.
If your degree for control is too amplified, ask yourself if you can influence the situation. Perhaps you are stressed about a courageous conversation you need to have with a team member, can you think through the conversation ahead of time and work through possible scenarios?
You can never control how someone will react, but you can always prepare as best you can.
In most cases, all you can control is your response to a situation and sometimes all you can control is your breath.
Let go of thinking you can influence something or someone.
Let go of thinking you can control your external world and focus on your internal world.
Everything is impermanent
“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”- Thich Nhat Hanh
Although it feels like you have done a copy and paste of 2020, remember that nothing is permanent. Schools will return, your schedule will change, and life will start to take on a new normal routine.
Yes, it may be chaotic and stressful now, but it will shift.
Remind yourself you are doing the best you can with the resources available to you now.
Set your intention
“Live life less out of habit and more out of intent” – Unknown
You need to think of yourself as the diffuser of the home. Instead of filling the diffuser with vanilla and lavender oils, you are filling the diffuser with your energy.
Do you want to filter the energy of stress and overwhelm or the energy of calm and patience?
Of course, life is hectic now and the stress is real but don’t forget you get to choose how you want to show up.
What does your family need right now? How can you show up in a way that cultivates a sense of calm despite the external demands?
This applies not only to your family but your team, colleagues and customers. Emotional contagion is real and the people you work with can feed off your energy even if you are working remotely.
We know smiles and laughter are contagious but unfortunately it works with the opposite emotions of anger and tension too.
Before you log onto your next meeting, take a minute and set your intention ahead of the meeting:
- What do you want people to know, feel and do as a result of your contribution in the meeting?
- What skill you want to demonstrate?
- What energy do you want to bring to the meeting?
- What would make this an extraordinary meeting?
- How can I move the energy of the team from coping and fear to direction, collaboration, alignment and an excitement to perform again?
Now bring your actions into alignment and you’ll be amazed how your energy and engagement levels soar.
Then do the same thing when you log off for the day and set your intention for the next role ahead – parent, partner or friend.
When you do find yourself in a funk and the diffuser is circulating some negativity, notice it and press reset.
Know your triggers
“Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise” – David Zindell
When you know your triggers – the things, people or places that set you off, you can start to take accountability and control over how you respond to them.
Is it a time of day – meals, teeth time, bedtime?
It could be a specific person or a meeting that triggers you.
Know in advance and create an If/then plan. For example, if I start to get frustrated during my child’s homework session, then I will take a deep breath and go and get a glass of water.
The triggers don’t change but you have the power to decide in advance how will you respond. You won’t always get it right but having the intention before you face the situation will give you the tools to manage it better.
Rethink your metrics for self-worth
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” – Marilyn Monroe
This was a huge lesson for me last year. With home schooling, I had to limit the amount of training and coaching work I could take on so I could be around for their school day. This affected me dramatically because I had linked my self-worth purely to work achievements and business metrics.
I learnt that my role as a mother was equally valuable and that being present for that time was important. I shifted my perspective from seeing home schooling as a distraction from my “real work” as being equal and part of “my real work”.
Give yourself permission to reframe how you internalise your self-worth. It should come from multiple areas and roles in your life.
“We have two lives: the one we learn with and the one we live after that”. — Bernard Malamud
There will be days where you get it right and days where you feel like you have failed as a parent. Even with every great intention to be patient, calm and content, you will lose your temper.
You are human and doing the best you can.
On those days, don’t obsess on how you messed up.
Simply forgive yourself.
Have a sense of curiosity about what triggered you and what can you learn for next time? This is the science lab of life and you can only experiment to discover your winning formula.
Replace balance with harmony
“The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”- Stephen Covey
Work life balance was a myth before Covid, and it certainly does not exist now. The idea that you can achieve some semblance of a perfectly balanced day is ludicrous.
Instead aim for harmony.
Harmony looks different for everyone, but the goal is to create the version that works for you and your family.
Do not fall into the trap of comparing your reality against someone’s curated life on social media.
They are showing you the version they want you to see, not necessarily what is the true reality.
Think about the following to determine what your version of harmony looks like:
- What does a great average day look like in your life?
- How do you want to experience your days?
- How do you want to feel at the end of the day?
- How do you want your family to remember you during this time?
- What memories do you want them to reflect on a few years from now?
Once you know what matters to you and your family, you can let go of trying to have a perfect schedule and be the perfect parent.
Your version of harmony is imperfectly perfect for you.
I hope these ideas bring some perspective and at the least, know you are not alone in this.
Here’s to being imperfectly perfect,