This week Diana Forbes joins us again and shares her secrets for feeling productive during the pandemic. Diana’s advice for destressing over the summer was spot on. I couldn’t wait to dive into this and any parent at home with their kids unexpectedly will be able to relate and benefit.
Realistic Pandemic Priorities: 4 P’s to feeling productive – even if you can barely get out of pajamas
Keep everyone fed, clothed, and taken care of.
Keep the household running.
Get your work done.
Keep a million projects moving.
Take care of yourself.
Rinse. (really – you could use a shower!)
Motherhood feels ENDLESS, and that’s a HUGE stressor in parenting – even before you were quarantined 24/7 and given the “bonus” job of teacher/tutor. It’s impossible to focus when everything seems important, and enjoying some down time with your family feels rare, knowing there’s ALWAYS something else you think you should be doing.
With school closings and stay-at-home orders nationwide testing your patience more than ever, now is the ideal time to reconsider (and lighten up on!) your expectations.
To help, I’ve got four “P’s” you can work into your priority-setting process so you can take on this uncertain time feeling more proactive, productive, and peaceful.
P1: PERIOD (OF TIME)
How do you define a “day” of your life? The answer is simple: 24 hours goes by, the clock turns midnight, the date changes. There’s no debate over what a “day” is because there’s a clearly marked beginning and ending, with only so much possibility in between.
Parenting has no such clear-cut distinctions, and with many summer activities already cancelled at the time of this posting and big looming question marks around the 2020-21 school year, its endlessness feels impossible to bear.
How can you expect yourself to slap on a smile and keep going when the road is steep and monotonous … with no end in sight?
I recommend giving yourself some sort of light at the end of the tunnel by defining a PERIOD to focus on – something you know will come to an end. Your brain will function better with a clearer idea of what to expect and knowing it has a goal to look forward to. Without something to focus on, it will keep assuming worst-case scenarios, hijacking your body into a stressed-out “fight or flight” status.
Start with a milestone a few weeks away – like right now you might choose the end of the school year. If you want to go further out, you might say now through the end of summer is your period of time, or even further could be now through the end of 2020 … but shorter is usually easier to work with. In fact, if you’re barely making it from day to day right now, you’re not alone – shorter periods like 10 days, a week, or even a day at a time may feel more manageable to you.
I know “PURPOSE” is a loaded word, but stay with me, OK? Try to relax into it by giving yourself permission to define “purpose” ANY way you want for the period you choose. I suggest that the less ambitious or “productive”-sounding you make it, the better! Just think of defining “purpose” as giving this period some intention, reason, or meaning.
Be creative! Be silly. Be practical. But whatever you choose, make this period’s purpose something you truly believe will positively benefit you. Bonus points if the benefits extend to your partner, kids, or other VIPs in your life!
A good way to think about this is to ask yourself, “By the end of (time period), what do I want to say I was proud of … or even got to enjoy?” You can pose this question for yourself, as part of a couple, or for your family as a whole.
Period: Now through end of school year
Purpose: Get through whatever degree of distance learning you choose to enforce, recognizing that it’s been a huge disruption to your norm. In this case you might choose daily habits that lead to your kids being proud of their participation and work, your kids enjoying it solely as a social outlet, or perhaps being able to relax their standards a bit if their 4th quarter won’t be graded.
Period: Summer 2020
Purpose: With many summer camps and vacations cancelled, your family might be able to spend that allocated money for a new game system, fun outdoor playthings (hello, trampoline!), or saving for a bigger future trip. You might have more time to seek out close-to-home family adventures, plant an herb garden, cook as a family more, or work on other health, nutrition, or financial habits. Even if you’re just as busy as ever, you could still declare a values-based purpose for the summer such as “We’re going to let our kids get bored and encourage them to create their own entertainment.”
Assigning such purpose to this time will help you register even a mundane, regular day as meaningful in some way – because every day you mark off the calendar gets you closer to that purpose you’ve defined for the period. And instead of feeling depressed thinking of what you were supposed to be doing, setting a meaningful new purpose gives you something positive to focus on and a sense of hope to keep alive.
Now that you have your time period and purpose sketched out, you’ve got a clearly-defined line in the sand to consider what to do … and better yet – what NOT to do during this period! This can help you make any previous load of PRIORITIES much more manageable.
The beauty of first defining the time period is to ease any fear of missing out you may have. You’re just trying something for a short time – not forever! Your world won’t necessarily fall apart just because you change the way you usually do things for a while. You can always make a different choice when the new period begins.
For the time period chosen and the purpose you’ve given it, what priorities make the most sense for you and your family? I suggest no more than three, using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (physiological needs first – then safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization) as a good resource to refer to.
Here’s how that might look for a dual-income family feeling lucky to be able to work from home, keep their jobs, and have some flexibility:
Period: Now through end of school year
Purposes: Get through it, save money toward something the family wants, look forward to one regular family activity or block of time together each weekend, use this time to redefine family chores and spread out responsibility
1) Structuring most decisions around the less flexible spouse so they can get their work deliverables or hours in
2) Other spouse getting several hours alone time each week (with clearly defined days and times) to have a break to look forward to amidst managing their own work and kids’ schooling
3) Housework expectations lowered getting through the school year, but each family member learning and practicing newly assigned roles they’ll keep beyond the pandemic
Priorities will vary widely, but the bottom line is that you get to define how simple your requirements might be for this period of time, and just by checking each day off the calendar, you should be able to feel satisfaction and fulfillment in trying your best to maintain the purposeful priorities you’ve chosen for that period of time.
P4: PROTECT (YOUR TIME)
Finally, there’s one other “P” you can work on that supports your priorities and helps you come out of any period feeling a sense of accomplishment: PROTECT your time!
I recommend working on this skill ONE block at a time so you can practice enough and single out factors when you fail. If too many time blocks or people or goals are thrown into the mix, it gets WAY too overwhelming – which is why you probably saw so many of those beautifully color-coded “first day of homeschool” schedules go right out the window!
How do you choose the best hours of time to start protecting? Work down your priority list and choose an hour or two of your regular schedule that’ll give you the most bang for your buck.
In the P3 “priorities” scenario above, for example, if one partner’s work schedule is already going well, then the next item down the list might be making sure NOBODY bothers the other parent as they start claiming a 3-hour window of “leave me alone, pretend I’m not here” time hiding out in the guest room every Sunday.
For whatever time period chosen, define it, train everyone on what’s permitted and what’s not, explain how it will benefit everyone in the family, and expect that some practice will be required to help it become a habit. Bribe heavily, if necessary – especially with younger kids who need the extra encouragement!
Pandemic Pause Now = Perpetual, Purposeful Productivity
While similar time management concepts have been explained in probably millions of courses, books, articles, and workshops, clearly there’s a disconnect … because so many people keep trying new approaches, gurus, or planners to find something sustainable!
I hope that you’ll be able to use this strange time in our world’s history – this pandemic pause – to take some time alone to reflect and figure out the priorities that will best benefit you and your family. It may feel slow to work on “only” one or two things at a time, but once you get it right with what matters most, you’ll eliminate infinite roadblocks, headaches, and wasted time. It’s totally worth it!
If you’d like some guidance working through these ideas with an objective, supportive professional, I’d love to help! Please visit my “Support” page, where you can book a free 30-minute phone call, link to my free Facebook group, or check out how to create a Pandemic Permission Slip – which guides you through every step this article mentions!
About the Author:
Diana Forbes is a certified life coach who lives in Herndon, VA, with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. Since 2010, she’s been helping dozens of working moms to figure out what matters most, get support for what they need, and lighten up their load so they have more time to relax and enjoy their families.
If you’re a mom who feels overwhelmed trying to do her best for too many people – especially if you’re sick and tired of being in charge of ALL THE THINGS – you can find support and solutions at www.dianaforbes.com.
Like this article? Check out Diana’s other guest blog on this site on how to downsize your to-do list.