Ross and I have worked from home in various capacities during our adult life. This has changed as we have added more kids to our brood and while we have dealt with childhood cancer in our household. We’ve had to learn how to make it work in the middle of difficult situations – sometimes this has been ok, other times it’s been a real challenge. After a season of having an office to go to, helpful childcare and defined working rhythms, we’re back to the drawing board – along with all of our colleagues and the teams we work with! We’re learning again how to operate and survive in this strange new housebound normal. Having said that, we’re utterly convinced (and pretty stubborn) that God still invites us to be part of God’s mission, even when life is difficult.
Many parents have now suddenly found themselves in this situation, so here are some tips for those who find themselves at home with increased childcare responsibilities but still working and on mission. If your situation is different I hope you’ll also find them helpful. And please realise that all of these ideas only work on our very, very best days – our home is far from perfect and this is far from easy! Did I mention I need to tidy my desk and close a few tabs?!
Here are just a few of the things we have discovered along the way…
1. Establish good rhythms
You’ll probably find that your day is punctuated by work calls and e-mails that will naturally give some structure to your day. However, for the independent tasks that you need to complete, try to establish some working rhythms. Most of us have a time of the day when we work most productively. Work out between the two of you when your most productive time of the day is, then try to use these to the fullest potential – there’s no point in staring at a computer when you know your brain isn’t going to function! In our household, I work best in the early morning, whereas my husband’s brain comes to life late afternoon through to late night. This works well for us but we need to remember to set aside time when we take breaks together or it feels like we’re working all the time! You’ll also need to make sure that your line manager is content with these working hours and that you’re available for team tasks.
Communicate with the kids – they will be more settled if they know what the routines are and what to expect. Try to set up some signals so that the kids know who is working. For example, the person who is working being behind a closed door or going out of sight probably works best for a toddler. For older kids you could have a sign or write on a notice board which parent is working. You’ll have less interruptions if they understand which parent is available to help with tasks, get lunch etc.
Communicate with each other – even though you live in the same house, keeping a shared electronic diary will help here so that your work calls don’t clash! It’s also important to communicate expectations to each other, particularly how your spouse can help create the space you need in the assigned work time (e.g. taking the kids for a walk so that the house is quiet for an hour, preparing food etc). And don’t try to make plans and decisions when you’re mad, sad, tired or when the kids are creating bedlam around you – try to set aside (or grab hold of!) calm times to talk.
3. Concentrate on Concentration
This is going to be a challenge – make good ‘to do’ lists and then take your list and assign tasks according to the length of time/amount of creativity or imagination needed. Save the creative/imaginative tasks for the times when your brain works best. Small tasks could be done while sitting with a toddler writing/drawing or while older kids are doing home learning tasks. On a day when you’re struggling to concentrate, yes, work has to go on, but what are you most passionate about? Can you spend more time on that? If you can’t settle to a task set yourself a timer on your phone and just start! Put on headphones and music that helps you concentrate. Without Words: Genesis from Bethel Music is my go-to when I need to focus on a task. You’ll find it here. Sometimes with a more creative task it might help to give yourself half an hour at your desk and then go and do something that puts your brain into semi-idle mode so that it can create (e.g. driving, gardening, hanging out the washing, going for a walk).
I love what Pete Greig has to say about this in his book “How to Pray”…
“The ‘gentle whisper’ of God sometimes comes to me as an idea or a mental impression during a time of quiet prayer, but more often it comes afterwards, during a subsequent time of distraction. You’ve probably noticed how often some detail you’d forgotten – a person’s name, where you left your car keys – suddenly pops into your head when you’re no longer thinking about it later on. In a similar way, once you’ve asked the Lord to speak to you about a particular thing, it’s often a good idea to stop trying too hard to hear him, and to occupy yourself instead with the kind of activity that engages you enough to be absorbing, but not too much so that you mind has a little space to wander. This might be gardening, hoovering, walking the dog, or going for a run. Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists explain that these sorts of activities switch the brain onto its ‘default mode’, a state in which we are better able to access our subconscious, connect disparate ideas and solve nagging problems.”How to Pray p148 (Pete Greig)
Home-based working might allow for the creative process to flourish in ways that sitting at a desk might not. This is a good time to make the most of it (as long as your spouse stops the kids from distracting you)!
N.B. Don’t forget to concentrate on the kids when you’re not working. Try to be present and have fun together!
4. Lean on Your Team
If you’re part of a team and working from home it is likely that the rest of your team are too. Connect with your line manager. Work hard at being team even from a distance. Have regular video or phone calls. Make sure you share what you’re struggling with. Your bad day might be a colleague’s good day! Perhaps your colleague might have energy (or capacity) for a task that you’re struggling with. Talk about it and don’t presume that anyone will know you’re struggling if you don’t tell them. We’re all adapting to this new normal – we’ll be so much better if we journey this together rather than struggling alone.
5. Go easy on yourself and each other
This will take time – moreover, just when you think you have it cracked something changes – the toddler drops their afternoon nap or a child gets sick and you have to make new plans to make it work!
Set yourself and each other realistic expectations – The worst expectations are the ones we put on ourselves! You’re probably expecting more of yourself than anyone else is. Make sure you are clear what your spouse, colleagues and line manager expect of you. Don’t feel overwhelmed without talking about it.
Stay healthy – connect online with friends and family, eat well, exercise, take a social media break, pray. (Why not check out the Lectio 365 app?)
Have a catch-up day – The world is not going to fall apart if you don’t achieve home-schooling perfection every day. If you’re both under pressure, allow your kids to watch movies, use their screen for more time than normal. It’s ok every once in a while!
Pray together – Go easy on each other, pray together and give each other hugs (or elbow bumps)!
Have a family day off – turn off your computer, set your e-mails aside and have some fun together as a family. Even if working days are full, the promise of a day off will not only give you something to look forward to but will restore you!
What ways are you adapting to working at home? Share some of your best tips in the comments below!