Sharing My “Home Office” With a 3-Year-Old

Adjusting to the blend of work and life while living in social confinement

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I have essentially worked from home in some form for most of my career. Before the arrival of COVID-19 I was splitting my time between air travel, teaching in Manhattan, and working out of my home office. So, for me the idea of holing up and working from home seemed pretty natural. Or so I thought.  

So, what’s changed? Well, more than I anticipated. To be clear, working from home and working from home while confined with your family are two very different experiences, particularly when your family includes a 3-year old. Juggling call schedules and getting actual work done all while caring for wily a 3-year old can be incredibly taxing both personally and professionally. Here are a few of the changes I have noticed so far.  

The Morning Routine: On the days I worked from home my big push in the morning was to work with my wife on getting my 3-year-old son Zachary fed and ready for his commute to daycare. As most parents at this point in their child rearing journey, we had a pretty decent routine. Nowadays we start-off comparing call schedules and negotiating who will take him at what time, so as to free the other up for conference calls and whatever else the day may bring. This usually happens over a cup of coffee (I don’t recommend negotiating before coffee).

Doubling Down on the Myth of Multitasking: Zachary is no stranger to my home office, but his exploits were always after hours. Now my office is as much a daycare facility as it is a workspace. He spends his time rotating between my wife and I (more my wife) as we toggle our attention between him and our keyboards. Balancing work and life has always been a struggle, but it’s tougher now than ever before because we have resorted to multitasking at a breakneck speed. As a psychologist I know that decades of studies from Stanford professors like Clifford Nass and Anthony Wagoner have demonstrated that multitasking is truly a myth and in fact counterproductive. Yet, I’ve doubled down on multitasking and feel I’m drowning in a pool of unproductivity. At the same time my son isn’t getting the attention he deserves.     

Working Lunches: I used to be guilty of trying to work through lunch with a sandwich at my desk, but this just felt counterproductive. I then moved to catching the local news in my living room with a sandwich. Now, I enjoy lunch time with Zachary, which is certainly a newfound joy, but also has its challenges. On the positive side I do give him more attention and make a point of staying off my phone. However, one thing I have learned is that Zachary has a much more communal approach to dining than I’m used to. I often find myself fending off his relentless attempts at stealing my chips and poking at my sandwich all while trying to negotiate some kind of snack trade. I can’t imagine a better lunch.   

Video Conferences: It really used to bug me when uninvited guests would show up at meetings or float into conference calls unannounced. Now Zachary’s unannounced drop-ins have become part of my video conference routine. It all started last week when one of my teammates asked about the noise in the background. That noise was Zachary belting out a mishmash of lines from Frozen and Star Wars all while flinging himself into a pile of pillows (Don’t judge, it kept him occupied). Now his appearances have come to be expected and my colleagues genuinely seem amused. It has become a nice blend of both the personal and professional sides of my life.    

Social Loafing: Let’s be honest here, we are all guilty of random web surfing throughout the day. Whether it’s checking out the latest updates from your favorite celebrities (wishing the best to Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson), to tracking politics (there is still a presidential primary going on), to following sports teams (can you believe Tom Brady is leaving?), to updating your social feeds (posting this on LinkedIn), we all do it. But now I find myself browsing through the onslaught of advice videos telling me how to adjust to living and working from home. My LinkedIn feed is blowing-up to the point it feels like a 24/7 live streaming self-help conference. Come to think of it, I should probably record one of those too! Stay tuned.  

The Bright Side: At the risk of sounding a little Pollyanna I do believe times like these are a potent reminder of how thankful I need to be for my family and the life we have together. Even though I need to manage it better, I am spending more time with my wife and son and I need to make the most of it. We are in unprecedented times. We are all in this together and we will all need to exert a little more self-discipline to maintain some level of normalcy (while at a distance) in our lives. We can also use a little more patience with each other to keep our sanity as we adjust to this new, and hopefully temporary, normal.   

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