Working from Home: 5 Productivity Hacks for the Pent-Up Parent

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“Stay at home!” was the firm warning recently issued to all Malaysians, who are now trying to grapple with their altered reality under the government’s recent Movement Control Order (MCO). We have been asked to remain indoors for four weeks in a crucial bid to #flattenthecurve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But how do we live out our new normal, when there are still pressing deadlines to meet and bills to pay? Significantly, with the closure of schools all across the nation, how do we as parents effectively balance our increasing childcare obligations with a productive work-from-home arrangement – while still maintaining a tether on our mental health?

With Team Makchic predominantly (and proudly!) consisting of Work-From-Home Mums, we’re sharing some productivity hacks we’ve picked up along the way to help you through this challenging period:

1. Set up a designated working area

Photo credit: JGI/Tom Grill /Getty Images/Blend Images

Get into the right headspace when it comes to work. To be effective, you have to mentally separate your role as a parent from your role as a professional. Do the same with your workspace.

Set up a designated kid-free area or home office to enable yourself to focus on your tasks at hand. It shouldn’t be anywhere as tempting as the bed or the sofa – and it helps if this space can be sealed off with a door to keep distractions at bay.

Some parents find that putting up physical signs on their doors to indicate a “do not disturb” zone (e.g. using red “stop” or green “go” signs, or affixing a note or ribbon on their doors) can help with defining boundaries. Explore creating these signals with your children, explaining their significance to teach your kids to respect your space.

Also, get out of those comfy PJs in the AM! Flip the mental switch for yourself (and your kids) from home to work mode by dressing up presentably in the morning. Studies have shown that employees can engage in their tasks more effectively when they are attired in clothes that carry “symbolic meaning.” So put those work clothes on to start “feeling” the part and your kids will gradually grasp this distinction too.

2. Work strategically

The early bird gets the worm – or, in this case, the substantial work is done – before the household awakens. It’s certainly a sacrifice, but many work-from-home parents find that their productivity levels peak in the mornings due to this uninterrupted time. Even if you don’t manage to complete any mammoth tasks, just sitting down with an early cuppa and reframing your thoughts can help you to organise your day effectively.

If you’re just not a morning person, however, make sure to utilise your nights well after your child heads to bed. Resist the temptation to Netflix the night away and use this time to focus on your work instead.

Capitalise on naptimes as well if your kids are still taking naps. Use this timeframe to focus on your high-priority work. Schedule calls or videoconferences during this block and tackle your less time-sensitive tasks when your kids are awake.

3. Set up a daily schedule

It can get more complicated when your partner is also working from home alongside you. My husband, our stir-crazy toddler and I spent the better part of MCO Day 1 struggling to adjust to this delicate balance, before figuring out what we needed to do. Work out a proper daily schedule.

With your kids:

Avni Patel Thompson, the founder and CEO of Modern Village, has some practical advice on how to set up a schedule that works for you and your family. Make sure to include time for both education and entertainment in the day, and don’t be afraid of utilising (healthy) screen time, if necessary. Check out quality content providers such as Common Sense Media, Scholastic or Go Noodle, as well as Makchic’s Instagram page (and our @mumsofmakchic account) for recommendations on fun activities and ideas for your kids at home.

Remember as well to post up your schedule in a prominent place in your home, so that everyone is aware of what’s happening at any given time.

With your partner:

Be considerate of your partner’s needs. Tensions can quickly escalate in a confined situation, but understanding and communication are key. Before the start of each new day,  discuss with your partner about your respective work obligations and expectations for the coming day. Identify the times when each of you will need to focus on uninterrupted work and try to accommodate each other’s timings in your schedule.

If you’ve got an urgent deadline to meet, let your partner know so they can help to keep the kids at bay while you concentrate. And if your workload isn’t as strenuous for the day, offer to take on the bulk of child-caring for a bit. Your partner will appreciate the breathing space.

4. Take regular breaks

As important as it is to stay focused, it’s equally as important to give yourself regular breaks throughout the day. Doing so shakes up the sense of monotony and helps to refresh your productivity levels.

Giving your kids adequate time and attention is also crucial. Having some bonding time with your children for 20 or 30 minutes every couple of hours helps the family to stay connected. As a bonus, you’ll often find that your kids are less likely to interrupt your workflow after they’ve had some much-needed quality time with you.

Take this opportunity to leave your work stresses behind. Be silly with your kids, play, dance and engage with them, cuddle them or simply be present in the moment with them. After all, you don’t usually get the chance to do this in your normal day-to-day working life – so treasure this opportunity while you can.

5. Safeguard your mental health

Watch what you surround yourself  (and your kids) with

Photo credit: AFP

Day in and day out, we’re inundated with COVID-19-related news reports and updates. It can get overwhelming, to say the least. Stay informed, but stop engaging in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Doing so often has a spillover effect on your kids too.

Allow yourselves to take a breather from the news by limiting your social media checks throughout the day – and try not to have the television on in the background. Keep focused on the positives, even while keeping safe at home.

Practice social distancing, but not social isolation 

A pervading sense of loneliness and lack of motivation can easily set in when you’re cooped up for too long. But social distancing doesn’t have to mean losing the human connection and sense of community that we all need.

Stay in touch with family members and friends throughout this period by utilising WhatsApp group chats, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom videoconferences, good old fashioned phone calls – whatever works! And remember to check in often with your loved ones to reassure them that they’re not alone.  Physical distance should never be an excuse for an emotional disconnect.

Photo source: #KitaJagaKita

It’s comforting to note as well that many organisations have adapted to our changing times by helping communities to stay connected, even while practicing social distancing. Whether it’s online fitness classes that help us stay healthy indoors, streaming services by religious organisations, or commendable local efforts to help out those affected in Malaysia, we say: get up and get involved!

And finally:

Be kind to yourself 

We know: it isn’t easy trying to juggle parenthood with productivity at work.  Stop beating yourself up if your perfectly planned day doesn’t go according to schedule, or if you let your kids indulge in a little bit more screen time than you would have ordinarily liked. These things happen! If you, or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, this is a list of support groups and professionals that may be able to help.

Allow yourself some grace, recalibrate your thoughts and your timetable. Resist getting sucked into the guilt trap of over-performance and start afresh tomorrow. We wish you all the best, parents – stay safe!

As a litigation lawyer turned full-time mum, Kimberly Lee finds that arguing court cases never seemed quite as difficult as arguing with an obstinate toddler over carrots. She writes about life, loss, love and everything in between as she explores her greatest adventure yet- motherhood.