Staying Home? How to stay sane

With most countries going into the restricted movement order or lockdown, more of us are getting familiar with the concept of working from home (WFH). For me, I have not had any problem working from home, but I do see that it can get challenging from some of us who are not used to it (just yet.)

There have been many tips written on WFH productivity (e.g: set routine, designate a separate work place etc), and I don’t intend to repeat most of them. However, I wanted to share some tips on staying sane as a working mother.

(Disclaimer: My children are all grown up, so I will not even pretend that it will be easy for mothers with young children. For those in this category, you have to set your expectation lower that you are likely not going to be able to sit more than 2 straight hours working and that you will require extra support.)

First: Pre-planning is key!

A day before the effective movement control order, the kids and I had a fun family breakfast meeting on the agreed schedule. Since they are used to the self-monitoring concept and also have been empowered to make their own choice, it was quite natural for them.

Here is the summary of their proposal (from my teenage boys and tween daughter):

  • Morning prayer
  • Family breakfast time
  • Independent study / work: 8.30 – 3.30pm
  • Family / Fun time: 5- 7pm
  • Dinner and prayer
  • Free time

We decided to not worry about specifics but be guided by these block schedule and our own commitments. Each child needs to reflect what commitment he/she has (mostly academic work or their passion project).

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Using the same principle, I have also asked my team at the office to get their preferred time and frequency for group check-ins. This would be much harder if we did not have a strong work culture, trust in the team and also a way to monitor and report out the work progress: hence, I would say that these pre-requisites must take place way before the implementation. We had the opportunity to start doing this more naturally beginning of this year – so the transition was not particularly hard for most of us.

On top of pre-planning, we need to take into account other enablers to make this successful. For me, the food preparation was key for the children and the IT infrastructure (including cloud storage) was important for the team at work.

Second: Flexible is equally critical

Quickly, midway on Day 1, I found our plan is not 100% foolproof 🙂

What do I mean by that? As a human, we all need interaction and I am very sure that even all of us in the office would not like to be glued in front of our computer for 4 straight hours (save for some other critical roles like surgeons that require laser focus in long extended hours.)

What we learned is to cut some slack without losing its intention for the specified time block. We ended up taking 10-minute breaks, checking on each other, making jokes — and happily resumed our work/ study after that. (Also, sometimes they kids will mock me during my teleconference. 🙂 )

I also found that I work better if I don’t cram all the virtual zoom meetings back-to-back. Spacing out 10 – 15 minutes in between or moving around help to keep my sanity (and also keep my step counts!) It sounds common-sense but it was not as common when I was engrossed in work.

Above all, be human

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

This is my biggest lesson learnt for the last 2 weeks. I have learnt to insert and entertain some ideas of fun and love in our daily schedule and do more of those. Even during work breaks, I decided to entertain jokes from our residence court jester (i.e our second boy) and also to make sure I incorporate exercise, and time to do things that I enjoy such as swimming, yoga, reading books during our free time at night.

For those who want to feel accomplished, I highly recommend learning new skill (I am reading a book on Ultralearning which is super fun) or carve out your own side project (cooking, baking, painting). For others, the night time is an ideal time for quiet reflection, and connect with God. I am not a subscriber to Netflix binging and have not done that yet (because it is just not my habit), but if you are into something that you like, feel free to do so (but remember, be balanced!).

I also found that this is also the time to really connect with myself and the people that matter. Share your care, ask friends how they are, send encouraging words – I was surprised how touched I was when some friends as far as in the US reach out to me with well wishes.

In summary, be prepared, be flexible and be human. It is a challenging time, but it is also an opportunity to reset - just the way Nature resets itself now.

God bless and stay safe!

The quest for work-life balance

In various conversations with the young professionals and female professionals, there seems to be one common topic that almost always get to the center of the conversation: How do you balance your life as a mother and as a leader?

That got me thinking a little deeper since I was also curious on how I can share and sprinkle some ideas to this important question. After much musing, I thought of distilling it into 2 parts: Definition & Systems

DEFINITION – Work-life balance redefined

Firstly, I would reframe the question slightly differently as “how do we (as a family) integrate and prioritize our family life and career”?

There are a few important aspects why the reframing is important:

  1. We (my husband and I) see the importance of running our family as an enterprise, as a form of partnership. That way, it is not a one-person’s job, but rather, it is our collective responsibilities to keep the family dynamic in harmony and at optimum-level. Also, any decision on career is holistic since it is interdependent.
  2. We recognize the importance of integration to ensure our values remain consistent for both worlds and we understand how one affects the other.
  3. We see the act of prioritization as a way to manage conflicting demands, given the dynamic nature of both worlds.

SYSTEMS – How does everything fit as a whole

When we see running the family as an enterprise, just like running a business, naturally we see the need to set-up effective systems so that most aspects can run concurrently to meet certain objectives, with clear roles & responsibilities and feedback mechanism.

Before I lost you with all these technical terms, let me simplify the definition further:

  1. System is a way how we plan and organize different components to meet certain objectives.
  2. Examples of different systems that we implement in our house:
  • Housework: do we delegate some, who does the chores and when
  • Logistics: how do we set up the logistics for our kids and ourselves; if we have to travel overseas, how do we set up the support system (keyword here is support)
  • Learning: what are the principles about learning (i.e we learn because we are curious and we love learning, not because of the pressure); how does each member be empowered to learn at their own pace, with others’ support
  • Family cultures: We have an annual family plan to review our values and goals for the year (see Family Business Plans), quarterly reflections, weekly family meeting and daily bedtime routine
  • Family values: How do we model our 8 family values on a daily basis; how do we make decision based on sets of guiding principles

As in any system set-up, the starting point will require a little bit more thought and momentum. However, that early investment generally pays off later, once it is stabilized. Sometimes, we even get prompted to further simplify our life further, after many years of practice (simple examples can be simplifying my closet, or the kids’ reading material. Or, can be as big as simplifying our asset management and financial loans). I also have accepted the fact that I won’t play such an active role in the parents group, but will continue to support where I can – that made my life much simpler.

Yes, systems may sound boring (they are!), but they work. Once we get these to work without much thinking, that gives a lot more freedom for others.