Today’s post will share a few thoughts on the second “P” of Ps and Q: productivity. A big part of the inspiration for this blog came from the challenge parents all around the country have had to face when suddenly they were working from home and had kids running around , doing the workplace interrupting that was usually the responsibility of annoying co-workers or chatty managers.
Full disclosure, I’ve actually been working from home for several years, and kids have been in the ecosystem for much of that time. So it isn’t as if I was totally unaccustomed to being on a work call while trying to quietly get a snack for a needy kid. However, in the old days I could always count on certain parts of the day being quiet with the kids off at school and preschool. COVID and quarantine changed all that.
My experience is certainly not the same as everyone’s. I have been extremely fortunate to be able to continue in my job, and I know that many have not been so lucky. But I’m sure like many of us who were able to continue working at home, my job did have to change dramatically. A lot of what I used to do involved visiting offices, giving presentations and traveling, and all of that came to a screaming halt.
So I had to, in many ways, reinvent what I was doing while also trying to coexist with kids in the house trying to do the same. I think the feeling of the early days is perfectly summed up by the very first picture I took for this blog, in my first post.
It was the first weekday of lockdown, the first day of the kids home from school. I remember a few hours before that photo was taken, I was actually thinking things were going pretty well. Later, it was lots of screamed demands for snacks, and here I’m trying to type with one hand while a melting down Henry sat next to me, holding my hand for support.
Every day since has been some version of that. Trying to be a professional with one hand and a parent with the other. I know we’ve all been fighting similar and yet very different battles, since every job and every family is different. But here are a few things I’ve learned.
- Be flexible, but firm. My work is for a precast, prestressed concrete association, and I spend a lot of time educating architects and engineers about the material. One of the advantages we preach is that it is durable in part because it is flexible. We have cool videos of precast performing in earthquakes and against explosion, and it holds up becasue it is just flexible enough to move with the seismic or blast force, and then go back to its intended position.
That concept applies to humans, too. To succeed and stand up to adversity, we have to be able to absorb disruptive forces, move just enough with it and keep doing what we’re doing. For me, working with kids running around, it meant making adjustments to how I do things. One of the biggest ones was moving away from blocking out certain times to do certain tasks and going more to a list system, where I have a bunch of stuff I need to get done, but I’m not so married to having do activity X at 10am, because at 10am maybe I’m doing IT support for Amelia’s distance learning or helping Henry get through a rough moment.
Of course, certain meetings or phone calls have to happen at certain times, and Erin and I work hard to try to coordinate our schedules so when one of us has something blocked out, the other one can be available for kid issues. And while the list approach may not work for everyone, it has helped me. It’s unrealistic to think anyone can have a “normal” office day under these conditions, so the best thing to do is to lean into that disruption and try to go with the flow as best as possible.
- Don’t be afraid to try, and fail, at something different. Again, this may not apply to everyone’s job, but in my case, having my main avenue of communication and outreach…in-person presentations…shut down due to quarantine, I had to get creative.Over the last year, I’ve thrown a lot of spaghetti agains the wall and tried lots of new things. I cold called tons of people and reached out to different organizations to look for opportunities to educate their members. Most didn’t return my calls or gave me a polite “no,” but several were super excited because they were looking for content, and I was able to line up some really good partnerships.
I tried some new social media and email campaigns, some of which went OK, and others were basically flops. But the point is you can’t be afraid to fail, because if you’re too tied up in doing only things that are sure fire home runs, you’re never going to take a swing. I did a lot of swinging in 2020, and at least had a few solid hits, so I’ll go with that. I’ve got lots of plans for new flops next year, and just maybe one or two will be surprise hits, too. It’s important to just put things out there and try.
- Recognize your own successes. I talked earlier about lists, and the sucky thing about lists of things to do is that lots of days see lots of those items not marked off. It’s easy to get into a funk about all the stuff you’re not getting to. And I’ve had many moments like that in the past year. There were days and weeks where I felt like I was trying to hard to be a good dad, employee and spouse, that I was sucking at all of them.
But somewhere along the line, my therapist suggested I start writing down successes each day. Just take a couple minutes and write a few things down. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I try to keep a gratitude journal, and the one I use actually has a place for writing in victories at the end of each day, and I was frankly never using it.
I highly recommend trying it. Because all too often we focus on our shortcomings and the things we haven’t done or done right, and we completely miss all the things we did accomplish and do well. So take a minute or two and just recognize those achievements each day, and it’ll help nudge your perspective in a better direction.
I do firmly believe, as I mentioned yesterday in the parenting post, that having to adapt and deal with working through this most bizarre and challenging of years will make us better, more nimble, more creative, more effective professionals in the post-COVID world. Not sure I’ll go back to handshakes, though.