How easy do you find it to flick a switch in your brain to go from professional to parent? It never fails to amaze (and amuse) me how different our lives can be within the space of a few minutes. There we are signing off from a conference call or doing something equally important-sounding and business-like, and the next we’re down on our knees changing a corker of a nappy or trying to get dinner on with a toddler in our arms and a 4 year old desperate to show us his latest work of art
As a freelance coach and trainer I’m either out delivering sessions, or I’m at home – in which case my commute is all of 9 seconds from the office downstairs to the kitchen. What I noticed was that switching from work-mode to Parent-mode when I was working at home was sometimes difficult. If I’d had to leave something half-finished, or hadn’t gotten through everything on my to-do list it would be playing on my mind, making it more difficult to be fully present with the boys.
I used to find myself feeling slightly envious of my husbands commute home – getting to listen to the radio or unwind from the day. Don’t get me wrong I know commuting can suck. I lived in London for 8 years and regularly commuted anywhere between 2-4 hours a day, so I really appreciate being able to work from home sometimes. But there is something about having that that space between work and home that can help you to switch off and leave work behind you.
I thought it was just me struggling to switch off until I was working with a mum who had returned to work from her 2nd maternity leave. She explained that even though she had a commute home she was struggling to mentally shift from full-on-professional-woman mode to being a parent. The analogy that she used was that she felt as if she was flying a jumbo jet, and that she was trying to go from flying at 35,000 feet (being at work) to landing (at home) in a matter of minutes. The result was that she often had a bumpy landing. She’d end up feeling harassed the minute she walked through the door and feeling frustrated with her kids, then annoyed at herself for feeling like this when she’d missed them so much. This struck a chord with both of us and we reflected that when you’re on an aeroplane there are set procedures that are always followed to ensure a smooth landing. So together we devised a plan about what we could both do. At Mumager we also did some more research – reading up on switching off, talking to other parents and trying different things out. So here are some ideas and tips that will make a difference:
1. Do you suffer from the ‘Zeigarnik effect’?: Over 70% of us find it difficult to switch off from work. That’s because our brain is programmed to remember unfinished tasks whilst erasing tasks that we’ve successfully completed – known as the Zeigarnik effect. Tip: Create a 10-minute buffer at the end of the day where you write down what you have achieved (so there is a good reason to write down actions on your to-do list just so you can have the pleasure of crossing them off!) You can then re-prioritise your to-do list for the next day.
2. Manage your boundaries: This is one of the big areas that we talk about on our Working Parents workshop. Having clear boundaries around your working and home life is essential. If you must do work in the evenings to catch up on urgent issues, agree with your partner upfront what you’ll do e.g. work between 8-9.30pm and then turn everything off. The benefit of doing this is two-fold. Firstly it helps you to be present when you get home as you know that you have your allocated time-slot later on. Secondly it forces you to be productive and only do truly urgent work in the evenings. Setting a time limit helps otherwise it could be 11pm and you’ve had no down-time, or time with your partner at all.
3. Set switch-off triggers: If you have a commute home, a really good tool from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is to set parameters. Pick a landmark that you pass every day. Give yourself permission to think about work, or do your to-do list, emails etc until you pass ‘x’ and then stop. Turn off your phone. Read a book or magazine – anything to get your mind thinking about something else.
4. Eat: It’s hard to be present and focused with your children when you haven’t eaten since lunchtime. Getting into the habit of having a small healthy snack on your way home can help you function when you walk through the door.
5. Clothes: changing your clothes as soon as you get home can help you ‘take off’ your work persona and feel more relaxed.
6. Turn it off: Put your phone on silent or out of sight. We check our phones on average 150 times a day. Having it there is like having a plate of cookies out in front of a child – it’s irresistible. Put it away.
7. Get down and play: When we come in from work the temptation is to start into what needs to be done – getting dinner on, unpacking school bags, homework etc. If you can, take just 10-15 minutes to give your children your undivided attention. Ask them about their day, get down and play or just put a favourite song on and dance around together. Once they’ve had some of your time they’re much more likely to be happy to entertain themselves whilst you go and do what needs to be done.
8. Know your ‘crunch points’: Look for patterns and what we call ‘crunch points’. Where do you feel most pressure when you’re coming home from work? Is it battling the traffic? Are you constantly late in leaving work? Or maybe you only think about what’s for dinner as you’re walking through the door (this is my big one I have to watch out for). Once you’ve identified where the pinch is, think about what you can pro-actively do to manage it e.g. setting an alarm to go off 10 minutes before you leave the office, investing in a slow cooker and putting dinner on first thing in the morning (its changed my life!). Small changes can make a big difference.
9. Routine: we all know the benefits of children having a routine. It can work for us adults too. Creating a flow to our evenings and having set things that we do every day can help everyone adjust and have a smooth landing after work. For example you arrive at the crèche or at home on time, you feel focused because you’ve done your to-do list before leaving work and have eaten a small snack. Your children know that they’ll have 15 minutes of your time before you go upstairs and change, and then dinner is served – straight from the slow cooker. What’s not to love? Happy campers all round.
10. Meditate: If your schedule allows then a 5-10 minute meditation break may help you switch off from work. At Mumager we really like an easy to use app called Buddhify that provides guided meditations for every occasion.
It’s hard to navigate the switch from professional to parent, especially when you’re tired and we’d love to hear which tips work well for you.