For working parents with young kids at home, there isn’t enough time to do it all. It’s a uniquely different experience from many others during COVID-19. Our older parents are stuck in their houses and lonely. To stay sane, our single friends have to form social bubble groups with other adults that make us jealous. Our couple friends without young kids at home get to travel around and enjoy the fringe benefits of working from anywhere. We have small kids. For us, it’s impossible to do this well all of the time. OK, just accept it. As my wife Robin says, “We have good days, and bad days.” That’s OK.
Here are the five new habits I’ve designed to make working from home with kids during COVID-19 slightly more manageable.
#1 — A Mindless Mindfulness Calendar
This is my latest personal breakthrough. Robin and I recently setup a shared Google calendar called “Mindfulness.” No, it’s not filled with scheduled meditation times, yoga sessions, massages and the like. What was on it this week? Four solo walks, one “Couples walk,” two workouts (she doesn’t schedule hers), a video game “veg” session, and one Presidential debate. I know, we are likely the only adults in America who included THAT Presidential debate in our “mindfulness” routine!
So what’s going on here? Our “mindfulness” calendar isn’t about doing any specific traditionally associated behaviors. It’s about planning out and making room for what’s important to each of us — and supporting each other to get it. This week I’ve done OK… I worked right through my video game time and I missed one walk. But, the couples walk was great because Robin and I rarely have time to just be alone together before we are both exhausted from the day’s activities.
And the debate? Yeah, that sure was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire. It left us feeling even grosser about the state of our beloved country right now. But, we made room for it because we felt it was important. And because that was the plan, there was no guilt in taking that time out from everything that “needs to be done” and anything our kids endlessly want from us. That’s what it’s all about — allotting time out in an expected way so you can take it while being supported with zero personal guilt.
#2 — Directionally Less Unfitness
I’m not going to break my Peloton personal record from February soon and I’m a few pounds heavier now. At any moment, I think fitness is mostly about where you are aimed. You are either pointed in the direction of getting more fit or becoming less so. Few of us possess the discipline required to reach or personal ideal, let alone enter into a “maintenance mode” to keep it.
So, my only goal here is to continuously repointing myself in the direction of getting more fit over time. The quarantine interrupted a good fitness thing I had going. After all, we can all afford to eat a little more ice cream and pizza for “three weeks” until this thing blows over, right?
For the past few years, I done 50 sit-ups on an incline bench in my bedroom every morning, no matter what. It’s not that hard, takes two minutes and a little extra core strength feels good, all around the clock. ;) Sometimes I do push ups too. I’ve started layering regular walks around the neighborhood. My own Peloton arrived recently and I’m almost up to a regular twice weekly routine now. My hope is in a few months the list is slightly more impressive. Meanwhile, I’ve switch to making my insanely delicious homemade pizza every other week instead of weekly.
Unfortunately, this is not a good week for me to discuss alcohol or sleep habits so I’ll make a mental note, but just choose to ignore them here for now.
#3 — Prioritization Funnels
Again, there’s not enough time to do it all. If you have small kids at home, this is your reality. Your work is still demanding. Household tasks (cleaning, laundry, dishes, lawn-care) are stacking up faster than ever because we are using our house more than we ever expected. “School” for your kids requires your continuous active participation. Your relationship is living mostly off of memories. And your kids constantly want us to do things for them.
I had to stop trying to do it all. At the start, I was personally getting a little worse every day by neglecting my own needs just to keep failing at trying to deliver everything to everyone else, all at once, all of the time. Then I read about putting your own oxygen mask on first in the Harvard Business Review. Now, I’ve become a prioritization junky.
I’m careful about meetings I sign up for and have them all perfectly color coded by topic between my personal life and companies. I do regular backward looking assessments of how my time is proportionately being allocated to make sure it is in line with my goals. This is how I schedule my priorities before prioritizing my schedule. Our Mindfulness Calendar fits in perfectly to make sure we can work in our personal needs at home too.
I am not an organization freak by nature. This has just become a necessity. So, now I’m an iCloud Reminders power user as well, again with everything organized neatly by topic. It’s nice that iOS 14 has made bubbling these tools up on my Home Screen easier.
#4 — Everything Zero
I’ve adopted a habit of aggressively eliminating anything that’s not adding value. Less is more. This started with going through all of my phone apps, deleting what I don’t want installed and organizing them all into one screen. The automatic folders on iOS 14 are nice but you know your room is still a mess. Don’t rely on software to do what you can do better yourself.
Now, it’s a habit everywhere — everything zero. I use the Spark email app for the classic Inbox Zero with heavy use of the Snooze feature. I regularly unsubscribe from the junk as it appears. A couple times a day I “do the email,” that’s it, you have no power over me. I boldly leave Slack channels when their content is taking more time than I can afford. When something comes up in Slack I use it’s little know Save feature to catch up on it when I can, if I can. It’s Snooze for Slack and it’s great.
That’s it right? Wrong. Everything means everything. I went through every article of clothing I own and dumped anything I don’t like for any reason. Wrong color, slightly poor fit, bad memory, gone. Robin and I have been decluttering the house for nearly two years, we’ve put that into overdrive now. The less stuff, the less to do. We are a single car family. I sold my second bike. The garage is clean.
Basically, I look at something (a message, a pillow, a news article, a jacket) and think does this serve a good purpose in my life? If it does, I put it in the best spot (out of my immediate way) so it will be there when I want. If not, goodbye.
When things like unread Slack messages, email, and mail stack up, it doesn’t stress me out anymore. I just prioritize making some time to to force them back into the submission level that brings me peace.
At home, we’ve adopted this “funnel” mentality like this: Make one list of everything that is critical to get done every day — celebrate with personal grace and pride when it is done. Make another list of everything that needs to get done eventually, but can usually wait — blow it off as needed and help each other tackle whenever we can or absolutely have to.
#5 — No Meeting Thursdays
I don’t really do this but I’ve tricked myself and it helps! Whenever possible, I avoid scheduling meetings on Thursdays. By the fourth day of the week my level of feeling overwhelmed has usually peaked. Everything takes longer than you think. By Thursday, I’m still catching up on my goals from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I use Thursdays to get my sh@* together. By Friday morning, I’m usually back to my Monday morning let’s go tackle it attitude!
There are a lot of exceptions to this rule. Just like when I cut out fried food. If the server brought the fries I asked to exclude as an honest mistake, I should just eat them. It’s just polite! I will schedule customer meetings on Thursdays. They are making time for me and I serve them. My idiosyncrasies can take a back seat for the people who keep our lights on. The whole point of #nomeetingthursday is fixing Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. If the beginning of the week gets to be too much, I will happily punt meetings I want to do well into Thursday.
The value isn’t ending the day Thursday without having had any meetings, it’s being able to be my best at everything else that happened before Thursday even arrived.
It will never be the same
We’ve got good days and bad days. It is a moment in time. It will pass. I just want to look back and be satisfied I tried to be the best father, husband, and coworker I can. One day, things will change again and this will be one incredible memory. We may even see some silver linings among the tragedies to be grateful about.
Meanwhile, I’ve actually really enjoyed spending this much time with my family at home — more than I would have ever expected! Professionally at AMPLL, I’m being motivated by my personal work-from-home journey as we explore how new Remote Work age practices can be applied on teams.
During WWII we adopted a 35 Mph “Victory Speed Limit” to conserve oil. Today, advancements on fuel economy help slow climate change. There is a lesson there for us. Short of inventing time travel, we are not going back to the way things were. Remote work is here to stay, at least for far more people than it was before. We might as well use this time to imagine and develop new knowledge and skills aimed at being our best selves in this new reality. The strategies we do out of necessity now may become big advantages for us in the future, whatever it looks like.