A job, a couple of kids, a stressed-out spouse, and a stay-at-home directive: Is there a more perfect recipe for work-life imbalance?
Even parents who are accustomed to working from home are struggling as more than 32.5 million public school students move to home-based learning. Everyone is trying their best to create a new normal in the middle of a global health crisis, which is exactly as difficult as it sounds.
Despite the whole world being out of whack, working parents still have to get the job done. They need to work, exercise, make meals for themselves and their kids, stay on top of household chores, and somehow — somehow — carve out time to unwind.
Like every other working parent, you have to find that balance for yourself. But also like every other working parent, you can use technology to point you in the right direction.
Find Your Baseline
Finding your ideal work-life balance begins by understanding where you stand. How much time are you spending on calls? How often are you responding to emails after hours?
Tools like RescueTime can pull data from your calendar, email, and app utilization to help you understand how you spend your days. If you find yourself among the 40 percent of people continuing to use a computer after 10 p.m., it’s time to reconsider that habit. Use the data to shift more time toward work or relaxation, depending on where you might be falling short.
One suggestion: Don’t try to straddle the two. Working while watching your favorite TV show not only isn’t relaxing, but it also isn’t particularly productive. Dedicate yourself to one activity at a time.
Are you tempted to sit and scroll through your news feed when nobody’s looking over your shoulder? Use an app to help you stay focused — ideally, a gamified one.
A tool like Flora can keep you off your phone during working hours. The app utilizes elements of behavioral psychology and is based on the concept of planting trees. Simply select how long you want to be off your phone, then click “Plant a Seed.” This launches a lock screen to keep you from going to any other part of your phone. If you successfully stay focused, the seed gradually grows into a healthy tree.
What happens if you leave the lock screen? You kill the tree. And if you don’t mind being a tree killer, you can tie monetary value to your tree. Even though $5 isn’t a lot of money to lose, a psychological quirk called loss aversion makes it feel like a big deal.
Use Flora in your free time, too. If you can’t seem to put your phone down when it’s time to relax with your kids, plant another seed. Quality time is more important than ever when work-life boundaries blur.
Block Out Noise
Apple’s AirPods may be popular, but they aren’t necessarily ideal for blocking out loud noise. When it’s time to buckle down and create a distraction-free zone, you’ll wish you had an over-ear pair.
Make donning your headphones a morning ritual and a visual signal to your kids (or spouse): When you put them on, everyone around you knows you need to work. When they come off, it’s a cue that you’re free to answer questions about schoolwork. No need to be the tyrant who insists on quiet time for eight hours per day.
Put on your headphones, too, if others need to work while you’re relaxing. Just because they’re on a video call doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite book or playlist in peace.
Jot It Down
When your kids, chores, and job are all pulling you in different directions, you need to be able to jot down notes for later. Leaving sticky notes all over your house isn’t a good system.
For a note-taking app that can handle more than text, look into Evernote. Images, audio, sketches, scanned documents, and clipped webpages can be imported. Plus, the app organizes them, making it easy to find ideas and files that relate to each other.
Carve out two categories, one for work and one for home. Your colleagues don’t need to rifle through your recipes, and your kids don’t care about your project management notes.
Just be sure to set a password. Kids are curious, and unless you mean to share them, your notes should stay private. The business version of Evernote has collaboration and chat settings that can help you pass notes to other members of your team.
Connect in New Ways
Working parents have to make tough choices about how they spend their time. Between juggling their responsibilities to their family and making sure they keep up with their work, many working parents are having to sacrifice their professional networking time.
While there’s no substitute for in-person events, video conferencing tools like Vast Conference can help busy parents virtually network from home, even during a pandemic. Get to know co-workers through virtual coffees or happy hours, or attend virtual seminars and webinars with video breakout groups. Don’t worry too much about kids and pets in the background if you’re enjoying a virtual lunch with peers, but do maintain a professional space for virtual networking events to make a solid first impression.
Learn Something New
This next tool isn’t just for parents. When kids can’t go to school, parents have to take a more active role in their education. Online learning programs are a great way to provide support.
Nonprofit Khan Academy has created a variety of resources available for parents and students to support remote learning. Feel empowered to brush up on trigonometry yourself before trying to help your child with her homework, but if you don’t know the subject matter, don’t worry. Use this opportunity to be a role model of curiosity and learn alongside your student.
Khan Academy is also a great professional development tool. If you’re being asked to develop a content campaign, but marketing isn’t your area of expertise, a self-guided course can get you up to speed quickly.
Working from home with kids has its challenges, but if anyone is up to them, it’s the people who’ve been juggling work and family for years. Even a pandemic is no match for seasoned working parents — especially when they’ve got some extra tools in their back pocket.