It seems like an oxymoron right, work + kids – I mean, we all know kids are work but how could you possibly work from home without completely ignoring them?
I’ve experimented with productivity and work for the past 10 years. I first started trying to reimagine work because I was burnt out and stressed. This was my burning platform for change. For others, the pitter patter of tiny feet is a new kind of motivation to explore new ways of working. The thought of leaving for the office before the baby is supposed to be awake and getting home half an hour before they are supposed to be asleep is enough to make any parent renegotiate bed times and work hours. For the sakes of everyone getting the sleep that they need, I encourage everyone, parents or not to explore ways to hack their lives to create more space for joy and wonder! So… how can you hack your productivity to make working from home with kids… work?
Productivity for me means making your effort count. There is a reason why so many parents transition to part time work so successfully. They work out how to make their effort count. They learn fast how to prioritise, juggle, plan and hack into the desert stomach of productivity. Dessert stomach of productivity… yep, you heard it here first people but you all have one. Just like you had a dessert stomach when you were 5, when you couldn’t possibly fit another thing in, except dessert. Suddenly, as full as you apparently were, you could fit in apple pie, ice-cream, chocolate cake or whatever was on offer. There is always room for dessert. The same applies to time. When people say to me “I have no time!”, “No time, we have no time”, I always think, no time for what? If someone offered a free trip away, a special lunch, a special project, the chance to do X, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly people get their shit together and reprioritise their lives to fit that special something, something in.
For my husband, dessert is golf. It doesn’t matter how busy he is or how long his to-do list is, if I said to him “honey, do you want to play golf today” – the answer is always yes. We all have magical abilities to make time for things that bring us joy (with permission of course 😉 ). So how can we leverage this for productivity?
First, you are going to have to take a long and hard look at your life. What are you doing and where? How long does it take you to travel to and from work? Do you love what you do? What do you always WISH you have time for (but never seem to get to). Get realistic. Understand what you need to do, where and then you can start to reimagine the how.
Ok, now, imagine that I am a magic genie (stay with me), you have 3 wishes. Write them down, what are they? Too often people shy away from setting goals because they intimidate them. Wishes are a good insight into our hearts desires. So wish away! Then take a little time to reimagine these wishes and understand why they are your top 3. What motivates you for these? What would you feel if they all came true? What would like look like?
Ok, back to the practical stuff. We waste a HELL of a lot of time on tasks that are not counting towards the outcome and activities that delay our achievement. We do lots of things we think we should do and we do lots of things that other people think we should do too. We also waste a HELL of a lot of time every day travelling to and from work (which is why I work from home these days, the time driving to and from work in this technologically advanced day and age boggled my mind!).
During my corporate life, I was lucky enough to be trained by a Six Sigma black belt. I spent 4 months mapping processes, creating SIPOC diagrams and looking for process improvements. As a team we identified $25 million worth of targeted savings through minor process improvements. When we map processes and look for ways to improve them, we look for steps that do not add value and look for time wastage, hand offs and ways to improve the overall process. I took this and applied it to life, but I also looked for tasks that I call “soul destroying activities” – hopefully this made you smile. We all do them. A good deal of our jobs are made up of them. They do exactly what they say they do, they destroy your soul. The problem with these activities isn’t just that they destroy your soul however. It is the collateral damage they cause. The way they impact our lives. You see, when you are doing things you loathe, you use a lot of energy and you have to pour more time in to make your effort count. Imagine you have 100 units of energy per day. You use energy for every task that you complete, whether you enjoy it or not. But what if you used less energy for tasks you enjoy? Or, what if, you almost gained energy by doing things you loved? What if they were like collecting coins in a video game or giving you an extra life? Would you save these for the end of the day (when you potentially have no units of energy left…) or would you do them at the beginning of the day so that you could get the bonus points?
I reengineered my life way back when. For me, getting up early, rushing out the door to be in meetings that had little or no benefit to the outcomes I was supposed to produce for my role drained my energy bank. I then had little or no energy left at the end of the day to enjoy the activities that could have given me energy bonuses! So I flipped it. I started my day with the things that brought me joy and I hacked my most productive self…. I ate dessert first.
So what does all this have to do with working from home?? Well, you need to make sure you have enough dessert during the day to fuel the chaos. I’m not going to pretend that working from home is all blow waves and manicures… because the reality is that it’s a hot mess. It is taking conference calls while doing dirty dishes. It’s changing nappies under the desk, it’s skyping with a lick of lipstick whilst in your pyjama bottoms and ugg boots – but the pay offs are SO worth it. The time, the special moments with the little ones, the feeling of being a present and hands on parent… just wow.
So, If you understand yourself, understand what dessert is and renegotiate, hustle and hack your life; you to can be a present, engaged and happy parent and you can make your effort count and do things you love. You can thrive. You can make your energy go further and with more razzle dazzle.
So here are my tips:
- Know your desserts – if you don’t know what fuels you, how can you use this to your advantage!
- Understand technology, know what tools you need to feel empowered to work from anywhere! For me, it is my iPhone and outlook, I couldn’t function without my outlook calendar (I tried and missed all the appointments, life fell apart). Know your tools and invest in the right equipment to make sure you can do what you need to do! Experiment and play but make sure you don’t try and cut corners, trying to work from home without internet or laptop = what the?
- Identify times during the day where you get into flow… if that isn’t when your kids are easily distractable or asleep, think about hiring a nanny for a few hours so you can maximise these blocks.
- Take breaks! Working from home can lure people into “always being on” – if possible, create an office space, zone or area that is for WORK. Log on and off like you would in a workplace.
- Prepare craft activities (hello pinterest), set it up, get the kids involved and then check a few emails or take a few calls.
- Try and take calls during walks with the pram or in the car.
- Make daily to-do lists! Pat yourself on the back when you make your effort count.
- Batch process like tasks.
- If you have forms to fill out, or finances to crunch get a babysitter for a few hours and get them done – trying to do this sort of intense work dipping in and out of concentration can be tricky!!
- Maximise nap time for work, not cleaning!!
- Set boundaries, no-one is there to tell you what to do, it is up to you to set your outcomes and make your effort count. If people have unrealistic expectations of you and your outcomes, then redefine them, set yourself up for success by making sure your goals are achievable.
Remember, productivity is all about making your effort count. That means EFFORT IN for QUALITY OUTCOME – it is not about X hours at X location, it is not binary, it is not about face time, presenteeism or doing things in a prescribed way to make other people happy. Focus on the outcome. Understand what you need to get there. Invest in the right technology to set you up for success. Quality outcomes are not entirely defined by the process, so rethink your best way of working. Understand your best efforts. Take time to think about when you work best and why. Know what you need to get done. Prioritise. Know what you want to get done, look for opportunities to leverage needs and wants for work. Focus on your effort and make your effort count.