Increasing Personal Productivity During Distance Learning
This was my year to finally hit some writing goals for myself. My youngest is going to full-day kindergarten and for the first time in 9 years I was going to have large portions of time to myself to knock things off my to-do list. Having my last baby go to school full-time was definitely bitter sweet. Last year, I began dreaming about how I was going to use this time. Other than the never ending chores and errands, I was going to dedicate days on my calendar for writing. If I could get away with it, I was going to dedicate a portion of everyday to my writing. But thanks to the pandemic, my kids are all distance learning from home and my husband has been working from his home office since March.
Having five other people home means my house is never quiet. While each child has their own space for their school time, they all have different schedules so when one is on break, another is still in class. My makeshift office has always been the kitchen table. But since I was only able to dedicate 1–2 hours two days a week to my writing, it has never been an issue. Now, my “office” is at the end of the couch next to my kindergartener’s dedicated learning space. She’s fairly independent, but as she reminds me, she can’t read yet so I still have to help her navigate getting online for her class. I thought this set up was going to put a damper on my writing goals. Everyone else had a dedicated desk space, but me. But I have found that sitting next to her has actually made me more productive! How is that possible?
Have you ever heard that adage from Lucille Ball: If you want to get something done, ask a busy person. I’ve always wondered if it’s true, but if you look at anyone who volunteers or those who are on several committees at work, it’s totally true. It also seems like it’s the same 5–7 people doing several different jobs. But they have learned to time manage effectively. When I became a stay at home mom there were months where I was busier and worked more than when I was working full time as a teacher. I was volunteering weekly at my children’s schools and their after school activities. My day started before theirs and often times ended well past a typical duty day if I was working a traditional 9–5 job.
So here we are four weeks into the school year and in my makeshift office at the end of the couch I have cranked out more stories than I thought possible. I know that I only have x amount of minutes to get anything written before any of my four children are on a break. Even as I write this my teenager has just approached me talking to me about assignments and grades. Sometimes my children flit in and out of my peripheral vision to share something about their day and then move along before I can look up.
So how do I do it? How do I write while juggling 4 children’s schedules and their various breaks? How is it possible to get anything one with someone always vying for my attention? Here’s what I do:
- I write in time chunks. I write for 15 minutes at a time and take a break if needed. If no one needs my attention right away I keep writing until someone asks for my attention. 15 minutes seems like a short amount of time, but it’s dedicated time. I’m not wandering aimlessly on the internet. I know it’s just a matter of time that I have to stop, so I write as much as I can in the time given to me.
- I take a lunch break when my children take their lunch/wellness break. It does force me to stop what I’m doing, clear the brain, and talk about something other than what I’ve been writing. When lunch is over and everyone is back at their desk, so am I. Surprisingly, it works. I know that I only have another small chunk of time before someone asks me for something.
- I dedicate time to work when my children are working. I could probably get other things done, but I’m treating this writing gig as a job despite the lack of a real office or office hours. So if they’re working, so am I. I put an imaginary do not disturb sign on my laptop and get my work done. I don’t answer superfluous texts, emails, or the rare phone call that do not pertain to the work I’m doing at that moment in time. I’ll spend an hour after my work day to do that.
- I don’t have time to waste. If I waste it on something other than my work, I don’t have time to go back to my writing until the kids are in bed or until the next day when they are back in school. Honestly, I am just too darn tired to go back to it at night. Once upon a time I was a night owl and I could be uber productive after dinner. But then kids happened and that time is spent with them or making sure everyone has underwear for the next day. So there’s that. When school is over for the day is when the laundry, housekeeping, cooking, and other chores get done. The nice thing about the pandemic is that we have no where to go. No after school sports or after school clubs. Self quarantining does have it’s been benefits. Not a lot, but I’ll take what I can get.
- Creating boundaries. Working at home and working in close proximity to my children at all times means I have to create boundaries. Because I’m not behind a close door, like my husband, doesn’t mean I’m immediately available. This has made my children more independent. If they see my fingers flying over the keyboards or if I put my finger up as they approach me with a question or comment, they’ll wait. I try to take up every second of that 15 minutes block to get down my thoughts. It has made them more patient and more independent. They have found that they don’t need me for every.blessed.thing and that’s okay.
- I don’t always finish my sentences. This is a tip I learned from Stephen King’s book On Writing. He suggests letting a sentence hang there and later when he gets back to it he has jumping off point to begin again. When my timer goes off and my children need me, I actually leave off my sentence and attend to them. When I come back to my piece, I reread and sometimes I find a new trajectory or a better ending for that sentence. I know that this isn’t possible for everyone and every situation, but for writing, give this one a try and see how it works for you.
When I found that we were going into distance learning with the kids, I was mourning the loss of having time to myself to get things done. I honestly thought I would have to put off being productive in my writing for yet another year. My husband’s job isn’t flexible. When he’s in a meeting, he is in a meeting and no one can interrupt. I had no idea how many meetings that man could have in a day and now I do. I’m glad that it’s him and not me. Yes, the kids are in school, but I’m constantly called away to help them print something, access technology, follow up on an assignment, or answer a random question. While more independent day by day, my kindergartner wants me working next to her while she’s online for her class. That has more to do with anxiety and that some personal health issues that have cropped up for me so she’s in this phase of always wanting mommy around.
But now that we’ve found our groove, I am more productive in the last 4 weeks than I have been in the last 8 months. I can still get my work done while attending to all the ups and downs of distance learning. It is possible without neglecting my children or my work.
I’m not so arrogant to think that these tips will work for everyone due to job expectations and the ages of the children at home. Take these tips with a grain of salt. I know that this does not take into account families with younger children at home. That’s another ball of wax, but doable, and requires a lot more maneuvering of the day. It doesn’t take into account if you are needed in meetings many hours throughout the day, like my husband. And if you’re a teacher working from home while your children are also distance learning, thank you for your dedication. You are a true superhero. But for the rest of us, it is possible to check off your work to-do list amidst the chaos of distance learning.