Most of your child’s virtual learning issues have been ironed out. You’ve figured out what school supplies will help streamline virtual learning beyond three-ring binders and gel pens. And for better or for worse, your kitchen table has become the default household classroom.
You’ve got your kids to keep it all together amid virtual learning. You, on the other hand, are still reeling with the stress of it all: constant alerts on your smartwatch about the latest developments with the pandemic or politics; Slack alerts from your coworkers; and the general unease of being cooped up inside. And despite your best efforts, you can’t stomp out every issue with your fifth-grader’s curriculum. After all, you haven’t done long division by hand since, well, you were in fifth grade.
You’re not alone. Tired, Stressed, and Distracted are three of the Seven Dwarfs of Quarantine. Yet, unlike Snow White and her crew, you don’t need them following you around in your workday pursuits. Here are some tips to help you charge forward in your own workday.
- Recognize your stressors.
A calm mind is a productive one. We’re often the most productive when we’re happy and relaxed. Think about how much middle school would have been better if it weren’t for the bullying. Or how about that old job? The work itself was exactly what you wanted, but that passive-aggressive co-worker made your life just so miserable you set sail elsewhere.
Stress is inevitable. Whether that stressor is something that comes up during the course of a workday, such as a misfired cc on an email, or something about life and the world around us, stress is going to weigh on our productivity, despite our best mindfulness efforts.
The first part of managing your stress is to learn how to recognize what’s triggering it. The Mayo Clinic suggests making a list of situations that make you feel stressed, as well as topics and issues that have been weighing on your mind particularly recently. Points out the Mayo Clinic, “you’ll notice that some of your stressors are events that happen to you, while others seem to originate from within.”
Figuring out exactly what’s bothering you won’t just help your mental health and productivity: it also can sustain your physical health.
A Polish study published in journal Medical Science Monitor in November 2013 showed that people who had been diagnosed with depression were more likely to encounter stressful events by avoiding or denying what was happening. This, in turn, can lead to prolonged stress and anxiety, which limits productivity even more and can lead to physical problems such as insomnia, headaches, and a weakened immune system.
The take home lesson here: don’t fight stress. Identifying your stressors will help your brain process the world around it, and learn to adapt to its new normal — and help expand your intellectual capacity in the process.
Learning to cope with whatever crosses your path soon after it happens can help the event be less of a stress, meaning your workday will go much more smoothly and you’ll feel more refreshed and ready to spear that next deadline.
2) Negotiate a different schedule.
Millions of people across the country are finding themselves in a similar predicament of having to juggle their workplace commitments with their child’s education. If you’re finding that it’s just too hard to hit deadlines while ensuring your children hit theirs, consider asking your company for adjustments to your work schedule. Perhaps you could negotiate a workday starting in the mid-afternoon and ending in the late evening, giving your household internet the literal bandwidth to navigate your child’s lessons in the morning and your virtual meetings.
If your company is on board, remember that you might need to set boundaries and expectations with your co-workers, just as with your recent office mates, e.g. children. Try to schedule meetings at hours that work with those of your colleagues and try to instill a mutual understanding about availability during your new non-working hours. Just as emails that come in at 11 pm at night likely aren’t going to get an immediate response from a 9-to-5er, for those working under a new schedule, an email popping up during your child’s 10:30 math class might not get fielded right away.
3) Use tools that let you concentrate.
If your child is older and self-sufficient at remote learning, but still noisy and distracting, there are gadgets to help you blissfully ignore ambient noise.
Noise-cancelling headphones, for one, can drown out external noise and create a peaceful, quiet zone wherever you are. That car alarm or squealing toddler outside will be silenced. Your spouse’s fidgety knuckle-cracking or sniffling will fade off into the ether. Fewer noises means fewer distractions. Plus, noise-cancelling headphones offer telecommuters an added plus: many models can connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone and computer, meaning your work colleagues won’t get snippets of that Cardi B hit that your roommate is blasting while you’re making a client presentation. While you’re at it, grab another set for your children, so they don’t have to hear each other’s lessons, helping them zero in on what’s going on in their virtual classroom.
Another tool new to the market can actually train your brain to concentrate while you’re performing routine tasks like going through email, reading an article, or Slacking with a colleague. Sensors on Narbis’ neurofeedback smartglasses track and analyze brainwave activity, then send that data through an algorithm developed by NASA to train pilots. If the system detects that the wearer is distracted, the lenses change tint, alerting the wearer that it’s time to focus. When the system detects that the wearer is paying attention, the lenses lighten back. Eventually, regular wearing of Narbis smart glasses can train the brain how to and what it feels like to focus.
The glasses have a setting for “peak performance,” which helps your brain learn how to attain focus and mental clarity. Business guru Tony Robbins has credited neurofeedback for enhancing his ability to multitask, allowing him to visualize two separate tasks simultaneously; for example, typing an email to one person while having a conversation with another person.
4) Don’t fight against interruptions. Embrace them.
There will be times when your student just can’t help making noise. It could be their virtual band rehearsal. It could be their virtual physical education class. Or maybe it’s just their fingerpainting session. Whatever the case may be, those times might not be the most opportune time to sit and do work that requires long-term focus. Rather than gritting your teeth and letting yourself get stressed, look at it as an opportunity to take a break. Is your child doing yoga or a HIIT workout? Join in off camera! Physical exercise can help refresh your mind, helping you to be more productive later in the day. The extra-long virtual meet that requires them to actively participate and answer questions might be a good time to take a walk or catch up on errands such as grocery shopping, knocking something off your at-home to-do list.
There’s scientific evidence to back up this line of thinking. A July 2009 study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes showed that in order to perform well on a task that comes up by way of interruptions, people need to disengage fully from the previous one. Then, people will be more likely to nail that subsequent task.
5) Designate office hours.
Just like your college professors had set times to meet students, bounce off questions, and discuss course material, you can set up specific periods of the day when you’re open to field questions from your own in-house scholars.
Granted, the youngest students in your household might need softer boundaries. But for older elementary students on up, established hours for when you’re available for homework help has two main benefits: You know when to be on work and on teacher mode; and second, this sort of schedule can help foster more routine with your children — something that can also help them concentrate on their school work.
A half hour after lunch and another half hour at the end of your child’s school day can dovetail perfectly with your child’s school day and the ebbs and flows of your usual 9-to-5: this is typically when your child would be out of the classroom and when you might find yourself in need of a break from your screen and of a cup of coffee. In addition, adhering to a set schedule can help make for a seamless transition between virtual and in-person learning, if or when your child’s school adopts such a schedule.
During this era of quarantine, work-life balance is paramount. Under usual circumstances, your commute home would have formed some sort of boundary between home and office. When your office is within the home, the boundaries need to be mental. Alas, mental boundaries are often harder to keep in place than physical ones. Nevertheless, while we are all struggling to survive this new normal, caring for your own needs as a knowledge worker should be considered a necessity, not a luxury.