By Marie Burrus
Thanks to technology and the fallout of COVID-19, many schools, businesses and meeting places have closed their physical doors and set up camp online. We can only imagine more will do so in the coming days. This decision has left millions working and studying from home. Those with children who are also staying home from or not yet going to school may find it especially challenging.
As a work-from-home mom of two young children, I say, “Welcome to my house”—literally. Per usual, I’m writing from my special corner of the couch while my babies snooze away.
Working from home has its highs and lows. It allows you to better integrate the different aspects of your life. It’s also an opportunity for one part of your responsibilities to invade and choke out your other healthy habits and roles. Done right, you can flourish as a whole person employed at a myriad of different things. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
1. Know yourself.
Everyone is different, and everyone’s ideal time and situation to work are different, too. When you work from home, it’s important to know and be honest with yourself. Are you an early riser? A night owl? When do you do your best work? When do you have the most time? Do you tend towards sloth or overworking to the detriment of other responsibilities? Consider these questions when you plot out your schedule.
As many times as I claim I will get up before my kids and work, it never happens. I may easily wake up early, but attempting to work in the morning is almost always a bad idea. I know this about myself and accept it. I am a night owl and will always prefer to work later in the day. The morning is for quiet and slow meditation and thought.
Setting up a place and situation where you usually work helps your senses to get on board with the task at hand.
2. Make a realistic plan.
However, as an adult, I have lots of responsibilities to consider. As any of you with young children may know, night time is precious (if unreliable) sleep time. It’s also when I meet with my small group, connect with friends or revert the house to beauty base zero. Because of my many obligations, I can’t expect the world to operate on my ideal schedule. That’s where we have to be realistic about our lives and come up with a sustainable plan.
As stated, I would ideally work into the wee hours of the night/morning. But knowing my current life stage means night time is bonus time reserved for projects that must be done on a timeline. I say “bonus” because it’s not healthy or sustainable for me to use this time for work if I’m also to care for my family, my community and myself. Instead, my usual work time is in the afternoons during nap time. That’s a natural rhythm in my day that I can reasonably plan for.
3. Set the scene.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about the benefits of a “flow state” for creativity and optimal work. Though I have conflicted feelings about the idea of flow, it definitely does help to cue your brain and body that it’s time to work.
Setting up a place and situation where you usually work helps your senses to get on board with the task at hand. If you’re planning on working from home in the long term, get a desk that you use specifically for focused work, and set the scene. Ideally, set that desk up in a place that’s comfortable enough but also far enough away from leisure or sleep settings so that you can focus.
For me, work usually starts by reheating my unfinished morning coffee, grabbing my laptop, phone and to-do list, and settling down at my desk—or special couch corner. I make sure the things I need are within arms reach so I don’t have to move around and risk waking the babies or getting distracted by the neverending pile of laundry.
4. Communicate clearly.
To maintain that balance of your activities, it’s important that you communicate clearly with all the people in your life how you’d like your schedule to look. That means, your boss, spouse, kids and anyone else in your home/office should know what they can/can’t ask of you and when. As a people-pleaser (note point 1), I clearly communicate when I’m working and actively fight my fear of man and my personal drive to prove myself.
Though I have general times where I’m likely to be found working or not, my schedule is still fairly unpredictable. My bosses know that I will reliably do my tasks and Slack a 👍response when I’m actively working on a task.
If my husband or family members call me throughout the day, I tell them if I’m working or not. If I’m mid-task when the babies wake up, I let them know I’m still working and set them up with a snack or fun activity they like. Then, I make a point to close my laptop and be present with them. Clear bookends to tasks are good for you and everyone else.
While everyone might ask more of your time than you have, it’s worth it to make clear and kind statements about when you will and won’t work. Be willing to periodically reevaluate you schedule to see if it’s working for you and those around you.
Make clear and kind statements about when you will and won’t work.
5. Be flexible.
Working from home requires the ability to adapt. From time to time, one responsibility will need to override even the best-laid plans. Kids wake up early, a novel coronavirus shuts down your office, plumbing blows up and other things happen that require your immediate attention.
Because my work hours end when my babies wake, I have a running to-do list stuck to my computer in case I need to pull out of a task quickly. When I hear someone stirring, I wrap up what I’m doing and write down where I need to start next time.
When a matter is particularly pressing, I explain it to my kids, and they get to watch some extra Sesame Street. It can be a win-win for everyone if you’re otherwise keeping a healthy balance.
6. Get away.
Assuming you’re not actually quarantined, it’s helpful to find times and places you can go to get some focused work (or even play) done when needed. I take full advantage of our local YMCA and babysitting swaps with trusted friends in my community. When my husband was at the height of dissertation writing for his Ph.D., I had a weekly appointment with a babysitter so I could work, schedule phone calls or simply go to the grocery store unaccompanied. Make use of the resources you have available to you to create something sustainable.
Every stage of life and work-from-home situation will differ, but when you’re aware of the way the entirety of life is lived before God, you can create a beautiful blend of work and play that lets you have it all. When you work from home, you can better understand the purpose of your work, play, and tasks in ways that honor God.
My ultimate goal at the end of the day is to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” to all the ways I have spent my time—whether working as unto him, resting in him or enjoying the good gifts he’s given.