Working from Home – Part 2

April 27, 2020

Time to get systematic

After the third week of lockdown in much of the US, I know many people are still struggling to get used to working remotely. Away from the familiar routine of office life, it’s not easy to maintain your usual productivity. Throw in spouses and kids sharing the same spaces all day, and it’s not easy to maintain your usual sanity!

In my last blog, I mentioned the importance of systems in order not just to ‘balance’ work and family life, but to integrate the two. I think that’s the secret of maintaining both productivity and sanity, so this time I’ll go into a little more detail.

First, there is no point having a personal work routine if you’re surrounded by family members who are out of step with that routine. So start by getting everyone on the same page with a coordinated schedule. That includes spouses, kids and anyone else in the home: if you care for an older relative, for example, it’s important to include them so they feel valued and useful. In the same spirit, a family can benefit from shared values just as a company does. My firm’s values are Trust, Collaboration and Creativity, and I’ve found all three are also essential when it comes to the ‘family firm’.

Let’s start with creativity. For my kids, ‘school’ is now at home, but they can still have a morning ‘commute’ to get them into the zone. In fact, they used to envy the kids who lived close enough to school to walk or ride their bikes there. Now they can too! Every morning, I get them up, and after our morning routine, we walk or ride our bikes around the neighborhood before returning for school or work. On colder days, we literally drive into the parking lot of their school and back again, so they experience a familiar mental cue as part of their new routine, and when school starts again, it won’t throw them off. Harnessing the power of habit in this way makes difficult changes much easier on them. (The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a great book to further understand this concept – free on audiobook too!)

The fixed points in the schedule are the kids’ class Zoom meetings, so we work around those, incorporating nap times for those who need them, which is also quiet study time for the older kids and quality work time for the grown-ups (as tempting as a nap would be sometimes!)

Aside from work and school, there are chores that need to be done to keep the household running smoothly. In fact, now that our housekeeper can’t come every few weeks for a deep clean, there’s even more for the family to take on. And that’s where the values of trust and collaboration come in. We all play our part, and know we can rely on the others to do theirs.

It took a lot of trial and error before we hit on a method that really works. Everyone is involved with after dinner clearing, but for other daily chores like loading and unloading the dishwasher, collecting and putting out the trash, each family member takes on a different role, rotating every month. Laundry is washed on Sundays and we fold it watching a family movie. For other weekly chores we have a jar full of sticks representing different tasks. Every family member picks five sticks each week, and to make it fun we have a few sticks that allow for a ‘pass’ (only one is allowed per child!) and another that lets the holder play with the baby of the house in lieu of a chore. Once we all get through our tasks, which takes one or two hours, everything is done! Then the kids are allowed to play video games. Rewards are a great way to make any habit stick!

We also plan our family meals on a weekly basis, but we’ve started stocking up on food every two weeks to cut down on visits to the grocery store. The kids are involved in picking the dinners, so no one is surprised – or disappointed – come dinner time. Creativity and collaboration are vital here to ensure meals are healthy and well-balanced as well as tasty and popular. We use an app to keep track of our meals and the ingredients we need to make them.

And that brings me to another vital aspect of any successful system, and one that draws on my professional expertise: budgeting. Trying to manage a household without a proper budget can be a recipe for disaster, and a major source of stress. Taking the time to plan out a budget in advance makes things so much easier and less stressful down the line. And now that so many of us are at home most of the day, we have a chance to really think about what’s important and what’s not. In my last blog, I mentioned #covidopportunities, and this is a great example.

This is an opportunity to reflect on whether our spending patterns really reflect our values and priorities. Maybe even to get a proper savings plan in place so we are better able to withstand future economic shocks like the one we face as a result of the shutdown. On that note, it’s a great time to reach out to your tax accountant to ensure you’re taking advantage of all tax savings opportunities. Why not take this opportunity to start a health savings account, planning for retirement or even a college savings plan for the kids? After all, this is no time for luxury vacations and fancy cars. And I’m not ashamed to admit I’m wondering when I will ever wear all those shoes in the closet!

To sum up, right now could be a great time to get systematic about planning for the future as well as managing day-to-day.

Stay safe and healthy.

With gratitude,
Eaman Shebley