Pandemic Productivity (And Sanity!)

By Marisa Pensa & Troy Pensa

Working from home full time can be a wonderful benefit (when not travelling). But what happens when you’re forced into an unfamiliar work situation along with a spouse, children and maybe dogs? Cats, at least not that I’ve ever heard, don’t typically bark when deliveries come to the door. 

This will obviously stretch all nerves to a breaking point, but there is hope. We have been working from home for many years (Marisa for 16 years and Troy for the past 7 years). Before getting into tips, let us first say we are incredibly grateful simply to have work. There is a totally different dynamic going on when one spouse is working and one is on furlough or temporarily dismissed in this crisis. 

For us, the first thing we would suggest is:  Take the Emotion Out Of It. What we are about to tell you is common sense, but when emotion gets involved, our logic tends to take the vacation the physical part of us cannot take at this time. We both (ironically) educate business professionals in our respective fields. Being on webinars and conference calls forces us to focus 100% of our brains on the task at hand, so when time calls for background silence, the dogs go into their kennels. With both of us working out of the house, we see each other…A LOT! 

When Troy started working from home, he wondered,

1). How loud should I talk? 
2). Where do I set up my own office? 
3). Can I borrow some office supplies?
4). What are we having for lunch and should I run out to Starbucks or make French Press? 

Vexing questions to be sure, but not impossible to answer. Here is where honest communication comes into play. Negotiate. Talk it out. Many people are now forced into tighter quarters with others, both human and non-human. Rest assured, you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone who can work remotely is doing just that. Even if you have a place to yourself, you still need to figure out how to make it all work.

1) Find your own spot to work and claim it as your own. If at all possible, do your best to create a space that is not the kitchen table. Boundaries are key and being able to unplug and separate work from non-work time is something we have both learned is vital to work/life balance.

2) Communicate. Plan the week, or at least the next day in advance. If you have planned webinars, conference calls, sales hours, etc. that you already have on your schedule; let the other person know and coordinate when children need to be cared for or dogs handled accordingly.

3) Set a couple of times each week — or daily if possible — to get out of the house for a walk and talk. Parks may be closed, but even if it’s in the neighborhood, the fresh air and getting out with the kids, dogs and each other is a way to change your scenery and mindset.

4) Put away the devices. People are starting to return to the kitchen table. For some this may be a new habit, for others it’s routine. Everyone needs to put away the devices and talk. Sharing what’s on your mind, working through this as a cohesive unit and sharing a meal is an amazing way to create quality time.

5) Post a “Grateful for This Week” poster where you can see it and update it daily. We absolutely must lean into gratefulness at this time. There is always…always something to be grateful for. Write it down so you can look back at all the positives and blessings in times of doubt.

Now what about kids? 

Since we don’t have children, we interviewed parents about how they are navigating home-schooling and balancing work. For young children, the best feedback came from a Mom in our church’s small group who has seven children (yes seven!).

Her Tip for Young Children:

Practice the 15-45 rule. Spend 15 minutes of focused time interacting with your kids. This means no work/phone/tech distractions. Then you should be able to spend 45 minutes (minimal) working without interruptions. Having time focused only on the kids lets them feel connected with you and they are more likely to then work independently for a chunk of time. Also let them be on webcam from time to time and get their 15 seconds of fame. 

Another parent we interviewed with older children shared these tips:

Since they are more independent and can work at their pace while you work, give them “due dates” and keep a schedule just like you would normally. Give them more responsibility to walk pets and create fun incentives for them to help. 

What about if you are single, or have an aging parent or ill yourself? How do you cope?

There are so many dynamics that we don’t have the expertise to share but we definitely acknowledge there are dynamics across every home that are different, challenging and personal for you. Share with others and learn from others during this time! One silver lining is seeing everyone help each other at this time.

In closing, and we cannot say this enough, communicate and take the emotion out of it. We will all be stressed and nerves will be frazzled, but discuss what’s on your mind. Take logical, purposeful and deliberate approaches to set boundaries, spend quality time and have fun. 

Yes, you can have fun and you can laugh. If you have a whiteboard or a chalkboard, write funny statements on it. Put trivia on it each day. Have fun. Laugh at yourself. A little self-deprecation goes a long way and a calm logical approach to our current situation will help you weather this storm.