If you are a parent currently working from home, you may feel there’s always too much to do and never enough time to get it all done. As we navigate the global pandemic, managing our time can be even more challenging. It’s possible to be on 24/7, and trying to achieve a healthy work/life integration can seem impossible when we are all under the same roof.
“It’s one thing to be close to our kids physically, it’s another to spend quality time with them,” says Sarah McEwen, Ph.D., a San Diego-based cognitive psychologist and Director of Research and Programming at Providence Saint John’s Pacific Brain Health Center. “When we are working at home, our minds can be constantly engaged elsewhere.”
A 2017 report found that on average, working parents spend very little leisure/play time with their children (mothers spend 27 minutes, fathers 17 minutes). Now, finding that time can be even harder. As McEwen notes: “Parents have the best intentions, but inevitably find themselves dealing with a never ending stream of video meetings and work deliverables. There’s a competing pull.”
“You want to spend time with your children, to be a fun parent and build positive relationships,” Lorraine Thomas, Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy, tells Thrive. “But it often feels as though you’re fighting a losing battle — juggling conflicting schedules — and you climb into bed exhausted.”
There will never be enough time for everything — but there is time for everything that truly matters to you. “Remember that time management is really all about energy management,” says Thomas. “If you are boosting your energy levels and taking care of yourself, you will achieve more in the time you have, because you will be more creative and productive.”
Try these tips to help you manage your time effectively.
Carve out “me time” when you wake up
Put yourself first — first thing, says McEwen: “Once the workday and kids’ day begins, all bets are off to find time to yourself. So aim to get in that meditation, workout, or reading before you start your daily routine.” Make this time that you cherish. Since variety is a key ingredient for motivation, McEwan has this advice: “Mix up what you do every morning, like yoga one day, then an online cardio dance workout the next day.” Research has shown that the benefits of aerobic exercise are greater when performed in the morning.
Stop multitasking — do one thing at a time
For years we’ve been told that as parents we are brilliant multitaskers. But science shows that multitasking doesn’t work. If we focus on one task at a time, we do it more effectively. “Instead of ‘to-do’ lists, try writing each task on a Post-it,” recommends Thomas. “Spread them all out on the wall or on your desk and choose one to get done first. It may be the one that is easiest to do, or the one that will have the biggest impact.”
“Be present both as a parent and as a professional,” says Thomas. “Focus on what you do with your time when you are with your family — rather than feeling guilty about the time you spend away from them working.”
Break up your day to increase focus
A good time management tool to try is the Pomodoro Method, says McEwen. Set a timer for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. After four 25-minute sessions, take a break of 15 to 30 minutes. Continue throughout the day. “During breaks, fight the urge to scroll through social media and instead, if you are working from home with your partner, use this time to have a brief coffee/water top-up break together and hear about how the other’s day has been going.”
Map out the day
Create a visual map for your family so everyone knows how the day is structured, suggests Thomas, adding that young children will enjoy drawing illustrations on the “map.” “Make sure you all have energy breaks and that you have arranged with your partner (where applicable) to be responsible for the children at certain times.”
“Block off time in your calendar to stop work and have lunch with the kids,” recommends McEwen. “Even better, take them out to a nearby park for a picnic.” Protect time to play with your kids, she recommends, instead of rushing past them for a quick hug en route to another conference call.
Use positive words and listen to your kids
Consider whether you treat time as a blessing or as a burden. “Tune into your attitude towards time and the messages you send to people,” advises Thomas.“Take the word ‘only’ out of your vocabulary. When we say to our children, we’ve only got 10 minutes to get ready — it puts you and them under stress.”
Save time by learning to talk so your children listen — and listen so that they’ll be more comfortable talking. Instead of telling them what not to do, tell them (and show them) what you want them to do. Our brains find negatives harder to process, so get into the habit of using positive language, says Thomas. “When it comes to time, there are lots of things outside our control. Let those go. Invest your time and energy in what you can have an impact on.”