Imagine if you will being at your office. The ambient din of typing provides a calming, perhaps even motivating backdrop for your work. Conversations between coworkers happen throughout the day around you. A phone rings down the hall. Unless you’re front lines in IT or running the front desk, chances are good you’ve got time to get your work done throughout the day.
Now imagine your kids, the dog, and your spouse all show up to the office. The kids are running up and down the hall and can’t agree on who get’s to play with coveted toys. Your coworker Tom just sent you a message in Slack about a client that could use some help before the end of the day. Bingo needs a walk and a potty break, begging you with that face – you know the one. The next meeting is in 45 minutes and your presentation needs a little more polishing. The plumber just arrived and needs to be let in to fix the broken faucet in the kitchen. Your phone starts ringing – it’s your mother again, wanting to check in on how the family is doing and is starting to worry because you didn’t answer two hours ago when she tried to call.
Is your head spinning yet?
This my friends, is the experience of working from home every day. Our attention is a precious commodity we’re afforded only so much of each day. It’s no match for the demands of our home full of multiple people, doing completely different things under the same roof alongside our regular jobs. That is, unless we manage our attention using some simple tools.
Surviving, even thriving, takes some adjustments to how we manage our time. It takes more planning, flexibility, and communications that you’ve needed in the past.
Share and discuss the day with your family
Just as you keep in touch with your coworkers on what you’re up to, keeping your housemates appraised of your day is just as important.
Now that’s you’re all co-working under one roof, it’s important to communicate what’s happening with each other. Keeping the family informed of the changes can go a long way to keeping work effective and peace in the house.
When you work from home, there’s more of your day that impacts your family – and vise versa. A last minute important meeting, for example, might necessitate that your pets and children are tended to more actively to avoid unnecessary interruption. Your late afternoon video call might require your teenager to hold off on streaming that 4K movie until the evening. The toddler’s unexpected late nap might necessitate you using a headset and avoid talking loudly to keep the noise down.
At dinner each evening, we make an effort to discuss what’s happening the next day so everyone is on the same page. What important meetings are happening? Does anyone need to start their day early or end it late? Who’s in charge of making dinner? Any changes to the toddler nap schedule?
Block out work time on your calendar
While we can’t keep the kids, coworkers, pets, clients, and plumbers from needing our attention in the moment they need it, we can block out parts of our day for handling the most important tasks.
Historically, many of us used our calendars as a personal tool for scheduling important meetings and events. In times of yore, perhaps an assistant or a spouse was the only one who looked at or wrote things in your calendar.
Times have changed. Chances are good that your coworkers (and perhaps even clients) are looking at your calendar electronically to find time on your busy schedule. Since walking up and having a quick chat with co-workers isn’t as convenient when you’re at home, you’re also likely juggling more meetings for what used to be casual in-office conversations.
As luck would have it, we can leverage this new paradigm to our advantage.
When you know you’re going to need an hour to finish up a project, put an hour on your calendar for it. It sends a clear message that you have work to get done and need the time you’ve set aside to complete that work. You’re not available for meetings 9 hours a day, so don’t leave your calendar open 9-hours a day.
I often put time on the calendar in the afternoon to followup on client meetings from the morning.
Schedule everyday home responsibilities
Each day, our personal life routine responsibilities take a significant part of our time – just like our work responsibilities.
It’s helpful to take stock of these on your calendar and block out time for them. These are excellent opportunities for recurring events on our calendar. Here’s mine at the moment:
- The morning routine – (get up, get ready, feed the family)
- The evening routine – (making dinner + cleaning the kitchen)
- Family videoconference time
- Put the kids to bed
Once these are on my calendar, I have a clear time set aside for these important items each day. It’s a visual reminder of these responsibilities. If things need to change, I’m less likely to loose track of it and more likely to delegate those responsibilities.
Pad for the overlaps
While multi-tasking has been busted as an effective way to work, we still do it. This comes out in full view when we’re working from home and trying to balance our work and home responsibilities that overlap throughout the day.
If you have young children, naps are a great time to get work done. But, things can happen. Kids need extra attention for naps from time to time. Sure, kids who are settled into a nap routine aren’t likely to get up early or take extra time to get to sleep. They are, however, still kids. If you’re on an important meeting or have a big deadline, an unordinary nap can create a lot of stress.
When I’m on nap duty, I throw an event on my calendar that reminds me (and anyone looking at my calendar) that I can’t offer my full attention during that time as I might need to step away to tend to the kids. It’s best-effort for getting work done. So, this time is excellent for doing administrative work, catching up on lower priority projects, or light planning.
This same strategy works for when you’re expecting the phone company to show up “between Noon and 8pm”, the kids are playing in the backyard half-supervised, or are anticipating an important package delivery.
You can do this
If you’ve come to this point and are wondering “how on earth does anyone work from home with all these distractions?” – let me sum it up in one word:
Working from home means sharing a lot of resources we take for granted in the office – peace, quiet, shared goals, dedicated workspace, etc. We’re equipped differently at home and need to coordinate more, even when it means merely putting out there what we need to accomplish for others to discover.
Don’t expect to get it right the first day, week, or even month. It takes time for the entire family to adjust. Keep at it and adjusting how you and your family make it through the day. A new normal will form, even if it’s just needed for a short time – it’s worth doing.