Real-life examples of successes (and attempts) by Propeller consultants to manage the work and homelife balancing act.
As many non-essential companies are requiring employees to work from home, and schools and childcare options inevitably shutdown for the unforeseeable future, life and routine as we know it has been turned upside down. For some, it’s just a change of pace. For working parents, however, it can be a logistical nightmare. This is uncharted territory for everyone, and many parents are forced to balance parenting and full-time work under the same roof.
I realize I have taken for granted the routine, energy and attention in the day-to-day for what the education program and teachers have effectively put into place. — Diana Hernandez, Consultant
Parents at Propeller are not immune to the crisis and are forced to change and adapt. Out of the chaos comes some well-timed humor and much-needed glimmers of hope as many have leaned into their organizational skills to develop schedules and a new cadence to mediate the impact of the new, temporary normal.
At this point, most families are reaching the point where patterns emerge, and there’s some sense of what’s going to work and what won’t. Maybe this post will provide that “aha” moment for you. Maybe you’re already checking all the boxes. Maybe you’re one meltdown away from having your own breakdown. Whether you discover a life-changing idea, or just get the validation that you are doing everything right, know that you’re not alone.
We spoke with a number of Propeller parents, who have kids of all ages, in Portland, San Francisco, and Denver, about what worked and what didn’t. Not everything on this list works for everyone. We’ve summarized some helpful tips, tricks and resources to get you through. You can also download a PDF version of this guide here.
1. CREATE STRUCTURE:
Pick a routine and stick (mostly) to it. Maybe you make breakfast at 10:15 AM and lunch at 3pm. Whatever it is, create some structure so everyone knows what to expect at the beginning of each day. A visual schedule is particularly helpful for kids. Some of our employees got creative with window space to create their own cadence:
Our family has a daily stand up, and we call it ‘every day is a new day!’ We walk through which activities we would like to do and then slot them into the hours of the day. I’m always sure to leave a few “free” slots. This has helped us avoid confusion later in the day. — Brooke Graham, Sales Operations Manager.
Other ways to build routine into your day:
- Use productivity apps like Forest, Donut Dog, or Habitica.
- Set timers and schedule house-wide quiet time each day.
- Random fun is okay! Random breaks help reset your brain and lead to lasting memories.
- Celebrate the end of the day with fun alarms, short dance parties, or brief walks.
2. MANAGE THE TO-DOS:
Some parents recommend having a system to keep track of tasks by labeling them by what still needs to be done, what is in-progress, and what has been completed, even if it’s a piece of paper taped to the fridge.
Kanban boards are another task management tool that works just as well for chores and schoolwork as it does for software development. Check out our video on how to stay organized (and get more stuff done) using Kanban boards. For a Kanban board in a pinch, use painter’s tape on a window to create three sections and use sticky notes for each task.
“My consulting approach has given my family structure during these ambiguous times,” says Graham. “We created a Kanban board on our kitchen wall. Each day we place post-its on the schedule to prioritize activities for that day.”
"Kids setting their own schedule gives them some sense of ownership over what happens during the day," says Marguerite Svendsen, Propeller Consultant. "My son gets pretty excited about 'resetting' his schedule each night and deciding for himself how to allocate time for the next day, with some restrictions, of course."
Let’s be real though, while Kanban boards are a great way to visualize work for some, be prepared for some less than ideal responses to your obsessive organizational skills:
I unveiled (my Kanban board) this morning and was met with...quite a bit less enthusiasm than I was expecting. Clearly, my love of Kanban planning and workflows isn't wholly genetic. — Carl Terranova, Consultant
- Create a boredom list of things you did as a kid.
- Lean into interests – check out this coding school for kids.
- Get the wiggles out with a dance party or visit Go Noodle.
3. DIVIDE & CONQUER:
Taking shifts can help lighten the load and allow time for focus, which has been a critical component for many consultants.
We learned last week that my husband and I needed to split the day up into solid chunks of focused work time. I get focused ‘office hours’ with the door closed in the mornings and he gets it in the evenings. — Marguerite Svendsen, Consultant
"This required some initial shifting of our existing schedules, but colleagues and teammates have been really great about working within these time blocks."
Consultant Claudia Black follows the same time blocking methods, though the needs of her one-year-old son are quite different:
“For some of the older kids who are at home now, their reality is more about cognitive and academic activities. But for a one-year-old, he needs to climb on everything. The parenting is very different at that point. We're trying to balance these competing priorities of total work focus and creating a reality for a child that is not so jarringly different. That's really the calculus here — how can we all stay relatively sane, relatively calm, and as productive as possible?”
The common ground shared by all parents, regardless of their children’s age, is creating intentional inflection points to gather together as a unit, take a mental break from the work, and then disperse again. Sometimes, that means getting up extra early to get work in, before the kids are awake, or logging back on after bedtime.
“Whatever allocation, shift, or time blocking method works for you, it’s important to be intentional and find your new comfort zone,” says Black.
It is about finding comfort again, some sense of normalcy. Part of that is transitioning away from any sort of guilt around a perceived reduction in productivity or any change in the way you visually present to your team. — Claudia Black, Consultant
Leaders play an important role in easing employee anxiety by embracing these remote work considerations and best practices, which include simple reminders like being patient, empathetic, and aligning on expectations (and being flexible) for when people will be available – particularly those with children.
“My (project) sponsor is awesome,” adds Black. “He has three kids himself. I'd say 40% of our team has at least one child. It's definitely become the reality of the way he's managing his team.”
4. MIX IT UP:
While time blocking, schedules and routines are great for evoking that feeling of normalcy we all long for in these chaotic times, the occasional spontaneous deviation from the “new norm” may be just what some kids need to stay engaged:
We have an hourly schedule we follow every day. But one day my kids wanted to make a home movie, so we put the schedule aside and they spent three hours in dress-up clothes making videos. — Jenni Jayne, Sr. Brand & Marketing Manager
- Develop a signal system that lets kids know you can’t be disturbed for a few minutes. This will also help establish physical boundaries with your kids.
- Host a virtual working session. Hop online with a co-worker or two (optional microphone mute). Sometimes productivity can be contagious, and it helps to know you are not working alone.
- Consider a daily challenge with other families, like building a tower or going on a nature walk. Group message the pictures or start a private Facebook group to remember that you are not alone!
5. ASK FOR HELP:
Everyone we talked to sought help from someone else, whether it was advice, feedback, moral support or literal physical help.
Fortunately, Propeller parents were able to create a Slack channel to share tips and tricks, ask for advice or opinions about online learning programs, and even offer the space for occasional venting. It’s all about supporting one another. Most of the content for this post was crowd sourced from that Slack channel.
Sometimes, help can come from within your own household, through realigning expectations, asking your older kids to help out around the house, or just requesting an enhanced level of respect for shared spaces:
“I have older kids, and there’s recognition that we are all sharing the same space and know that how we ‘leave’ the space may impact others,” says Hernandez. “I have asked them to take on more for helping around the house and keeping certain places neat and tidy. They, in turn, have negotiated the time for when things get done.”
- Talk to other parents via text, email, Slack, or call to share ideas of what does and does not work. Host a virtual parents’ lunch with fellow parents or friends to discuss effective WFH strategies.
- Stay social with Marco Polo, a fun new app alternative to Snapchat that lets you send short video recordings with fun filters and voice changers. Unlike Snapchat, the videos don’t disappear so you can watch that encouraging message or hilarious rant again to get you through a tough day.
- Establish regular touchpoints by setting up a regular time to talk with someone outside your home, like your work team, coworker, friend, and/or your child’s teacher.
- Find a healthy way to process through journaling, meditation, music, or an art project.
OTHER LINKS & RESOURCES:
- Homeschooling While Working From Home During a Global Pandemic Bingo
- Complete Guide to Educational Resources – Google Doc
- Virtual Museum Tours – Travel & Leisure.com
- Agile for Families – Video
- 20 Days of Learning, Reading, and Inspiration – Scholastic
- Animated Educational Site for Kids – BrainPOP
- Curriculum platform for K-12 teachers – Freckle.com
- Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems! – KennedyCenter.org
Hopefully you find these tips valuable. Be sure to check out Propeller’s new microsite, Holding Altitude, for more helpful remote work guides, tool kits, and other useful links.