Now more than ever its crucial to have a schedule in place that you, your partner/spouse/hubby, your kids, and even your dog or cat can all agree on and that will keep you all on the same page (and hopefully avoid any unnecessary stress in the meantime). Whether you're starting a schedule on Day 1 or Day 31 of the Quarantine, having a structure in place will help you stay focused on the tasks you need to get done, when you need to get them done, and be as productive as possible in your work and with your family.
Here are my tips for creating a Work from Home Schedule that actually works:
1. Get your partner onboard ASAP.
Your partner is your right-hand man (literally) and should be someone you can count on and turn to, especially when your boss is asking for an update on your billables while the kids are hosting a WWE match in your living room over who gets the last of the Lucky Charms marshmallows – all before 7am. Sit down with him and have a detailed talk about what you absolutely need time for and what he absolutely needs time for in his own line of work and create alternating schedules. Maybe you work in the morning while he handles the kids and then you switch in the afternoon, or he can spend an hour on virtual learning with the kids while you go out for your daily walk and then you take over so he can make some calls and answer emails for an hour. Whatever the schedule will be, talk it out in detail and plan for emergencies. What is the backup plan when you have an 8am Conference Call with a client and your 3-year-old is screaming? (Real Life Tip: escape to your car and make the call from there!)
2. Seize the Morning
If you're juggling work tasks with virtual learning, you may have realized by now that kids tend to burn out by the afternoon. Between the reading, writing, different assignments, new digital format, and the overwhelming thoughts that they're not going back to their familiar schools, teachers, or see the friendly faces they've known all year (at least not here in South Florida), your kid is probably over the virtual learnings by about half day. Depending on your kid's age, 10-15 minute breaks every 60-90 minutes are super effective for freshening them up and re-charging their brains before getting back into it (that plus a yummy snack does wonders for my kindergartener). But if you seize the morning and get as much of the homeschooling done by about Noon, it makes the rest of the day much more seamless in terms of meals, outdoor play, and even crafts or hobbies. By simulating their actual school day (when they were in a classroom by 8:00am Monday through Friday anyway, ready to learn), I've found that kids are much more responsive, attentive, and productive in their homeschooling, which leads to less frustration and meltdowns on our ends as the parents-turned-teachers.
As for your own work, the morning is a great time to block off time to answer any emails or requests from the office, while scheduling phone calls with existing or potential clients for the afternoon (hopefully while your kid is now playing outside, building Legos, or otherwise engaged in some other hands on project) that buys you those 15 minutes to make some phone calls. Take advantage of the morning to get your self-care routine in (i.e. YOU time, exercise, meditation, journaling, etc.) and to tackle whatever tasks are the most thought consuming, labor intensive, while your brain is still awake, alert, and active, and before you also burn out by the time the afternoon rolls around.
3. Schedule Your Priorities
“The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey
Once you and your partner are on the same page about the new schedule, make sure you lay out all of each other’s priorities, including both of your jobs’ priorities as well as the priorities of your family. Identify 2 - 3 tasks that absolutely need to get done on a daily basis, and recognize these tasks will vary from day to day. If you’re able to get more those 3 tasks done during your set schedule, great! But if you don’t get to more than those 3 prioritized tasks, then prioritize the next day’s critical “To-Do’s” accordingly. This is not a time in your career to do everything you didn’t do for the last 6 months. Recognize the hard deadlines (i.e. statutes of limitations, if applicable) and what is actually DUE and get those few things done during your newly set work from home schedule. Don’t set yourself up for failure by striving to bill the most hours you’ve ever billed for your office or by taking on 47 new cases in a week when you know you don’t have time to get to them while also handling virtual learning, cooking, laundry, cleaning, 24/7 in home childcare, and maintaining your sanity.
Scheduling your priorities doesn’t only mean your work responsibilities. Do you and your husband want to make sure you eat lunch and/or dinner together as a family, everyday? Or will you sacrifice some family meals to get more work in at night, while he is feeding and putting the kids to bed? Whatever your priorities are, the consistent ones along with the daily changing tasks, identify them early, communicate them with your partner at least the night before, and stick to them.
3. Work in Family Time.
Although it’s difficult to ignore your needy clients’ requests for constant updates and your demanding boss setting up 17 pointless calls a day, don’t forget to schedule time for your little ones. Quality time with them will bring you the balance and levity you need to remember why you put up with all of the other “work” stuff. It may seem redundant at first to say “at 11:00am today, I’ll take a break from work so I can talk to my 5-year-old for 15 minutes” when you’re already stuck inside together, all day, every day, but this is the ideal time to make lasting memories with your family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, years from now, when you look back on this pandemic, instead of dwelling on the stress that your work, boss, and clients brought on, you remember all the times you spent laughing with your kids, actually playing with them, going for bike rides and long walks with your hubby, and eating lunch outside together on an old blanket, just because you could? It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and frustration of the changes these uncertain times have presented without stopping to appreciate the gift of time we’ve been blessed with here.
Before, I had to leave the house by 6:45am to make it to an 8:30am hearing in Downtown, and I barely glimpsed my sleepy babies before I left and didn’t get to see them again until it was dinner, bath time, and bedtime, only to repeat all over again the next day. Now, I see all of that former commute time as a blessing of extra time to be with my little ones throughout the day and though they may not be old enough to grasp such a blessing (hence their constant fighting, screaming, and crying some days), the more I appreciate and live in the moment with my family, the calmer I feel about the world around me.
Melissa Caballero Alton
I'm a working lawyer mom in South Florida, and these are some of my stories and tips to help you be productive as a lawyer, and happy as a mom.