The biggest challenge I’m facing right now with the work from home situation is the lack of contrast. Every day, all day it’s the same scene of trying to juggle the work, the kids, the schooling, the marriage…all in the same house, all the time. Where before “going to work” and “coming home” created separate disparate spaces, now all the same.

Dark needs light. Good needs evil. Home needs work and work needs home. Without contrast, everything becomes one muddled, jumbled mess.

With my wife and I both working from home, 6 and 4 year olds with thermonuclear energy sources that never waiver, there is no escape from the relentless pressure of not doing/being enough. 

Put on the noise-cancelling headphones? Great for my work focus, not so great for my wife trying to conduct her own calls as the kids are fighting, screaming, or want yet another snack…did they really eat this much at school?!?

Spend the day playing with the kids. Great for keeping them occupied and letting my wife get a reprieve, not so great for me, my team, or clients as work piles up and deadlines zoom right by.

I’ve done quite a bit of mindfulness training over the last several years to try and calm/focus my overactive brain, and it all comes back to being present in the moment, but here’s the thing, I’m finding it really, really hard to be fully present anywhere, when I’m never actually fully absent from anything…it’s all always there like an oppressive wet blanket that I just can’t seem to find the edges of.

I posed some of these thoughts to some of my team and found they were all feeling many of the same things. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to help remove the roadblocks for them so they can do their best work (and boy oh boy has this shift created a whole obstacle course of new roadblocks), so I started experimenting on myself new/different ways to try and create some semblance of contrast between work and home…and boy oh boy did it make a big difference.

Here are the things that are working really well for me:

  • Sunday night, my wife and I go over our calendars for the week, highlighting times when each of us are leading meetings and can’t be disrupted by kids, so the other can schedule play time if possible.
  • Actually schedule play/school time with the kids which cuts back on the guilt and power of the puppy dog eyes from the “Daddy will you play with me?” when I can respond “Not right now, but I can’t wait to at 1:30.”
  • Created a dedicated work space and removed all personal clutter, etc. I was relegated to our basement office/spare bedroom/extra-stuff-without-a-home-depot room, and for the first few weeks it just felt off, felt wrong. So, I went on an absolute purging binge and cleaned/removed/organized everything, removing all of the extra personal stuff from the work space. I don’t know much about feng shui, but I know it feels a whole lot better now.
  • Established a closing routine to the work day. When I leave the office throughout the day, I leave my laptop open, the lights on, the music playing, and close the door when I leave. When I’m finished for the day, I turn everything off, unplug and close my laptop, and actually leave the door open. It looks and feels like I flipped the Open sign hanging in the window to Closed.
  • Knocked out a bunch of those “someday” projects around the house. I cleared out a bunch of overgrown brush at the back of our property, re-wired the lights on our patio, planted the garden (a month earlier than normal), fixed the squeaky doors, organized the basement…all the things that nag at me everytime I walk by. Get it done.
  • Focused on creating not just contrast between work and home but also in the types of work I’m doing…which is a whole other post in and of itself.

Once I saw the impact these changes started having on me, I shared the personal struggles I was having and what I was doing to try to alleviate them with the whole team during our Monday Morning Huddle. Then I challenged them to experiment with their own ways to create more contrast and come back to share what did/didn’t work the following week. 

They came up with some amazing ideas that are making a huge difference. In fact, I received a text from one of our go!-mates earlier this week saying for the first time she “woke up with the same excitement I felt BC (Before COVID)”. Those are the texts that keep leaders leading during difficult times like these.

Here is a list of things our team is doing. Hopefully, these will spark some inspiration for you and your team:

  • Coordinate schedules with spouse/partner
  • Schedule play/school time during the day with kids
  • Dedicated workspace without personal clutter
  • Knock out personal projects around the house
  • Establish closing routine
  • Shut the door when you leave the “work room” to keep it in there
  • Turn everything off (closing ritual): lights, monitor, computer (pack laptop in backpack and put by door; grab after walk)
  • If dedicated space isn’t possible, close it down and pack it up; identify multiple work areas to prevent associating a personal space as a work space
  • Clean off the desk and reset space
  • Take the dog for a walk when the day is over (or just go for a walk if no dog–beginning and end)
  • Start dinner when getting back from walk shifting into personal
  • Switch to personal or home projects in the evening: go get the mail or run an errand
  • Build 30 minute break at end of work day before diving into personal routine; go for a drive
  • Physically relocate self from work space at end of day
  • Save personal computer projects for the weekend and move to another room if using computer for personal
  • Schedule workouts and personal time
  • Turn off notifications after work hours
  • Communicate to kids that you’re going to work even though you are home
  • Recreate to/from work drive time habits: listen to typical (audiobooks, podcasts, music) before/after work
  • Recreate work dress habits: dress clothes, shoes, jewelry…and then change into comfy clothes after work
  • Start morning with coffee and inspirational reading/browsing
  • Nighttime rule: phone only during airplane mode

During these times (and really probably all the time), your team and company will only rise to the level you yourself elevate to, so put your oxygen mask on first, do the work to create the contrast you need to lead effectively and inspire your team to do the same.

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