The question on many peoples’ lips right now is: How am I supposed to home school, hold down a job and stay sane….. indefinitely? Anyone?

I’m not an expert on this, but as I write I’ve been in isolation for a full 3 days now with my civil servant partner and our 5 year old daughter and 3 year old son. She has a cough (but otherwise fine thank you for asking). So here we are, valiantly ensuring the Department of Education is protected from fraud (him) and being present for coaching clients, action learning set participants, organisational clients (me) and, crucially, both of us being present for our kids.

It has been a very steep learning curve but here are my ten top tips combining what we’ve learnt this week with what I’ve learnt in the last decade as a leadership coach:

  1. Communicate as parents: work out what both of need to do urgently, need to do at some point that day, what you need to plan for and the meetings you can’t miss. Do this daily and in a quiet moment (when you can find one) for the week ahead. You know how if you’re managing a team at a distance it’s good practice to check in with them at certain agreed points during the day? Do that with the other adults you live with. Ask them how they are. Ask them how their morning was. Be interested.
  2. Positive intent: Enter conversations with your partner assuming they have your best interests and well-being in mind. Remember the ‘who is most tired?’ competition when you had a 6 month old baby? Try not to enter into a ‘who is more busy and important’ competition. However much you believe that really you are Much more busy and important. Unless one of you actually is a key worker, keep quiet.
  3. Communicate with your boss: you know the phrase ‘bring your whole self to work’? which is about showing up honestly and being OK with showing vulnerability and asking for help, that phrase could have been made for 2020.  Never has there been a more pertinent moment to share with your manager what is and isn’t possible, what ‘good’ looks like, what ‘good enough’ looks like what you need to help you deliver that.
  4. Create a schedule with your child which works for all your family, chunking out the day into fun and necessary activities, (pictured, complete with dubious spelling.) As well as helping younger kids know what’s coming next, if you have to handover parenting in a 10 second window because the phone is ringing, you know roughly where you are. But be flexible, there so many great examples of schedules you can keep with your kids on the web, and everyone will have different priorities as parents (I love the Facebook group: Family Lockdown: tips & ideas). We’ll be doing music and dancing each day but you might do a science experiment every day or set an older child a longer history project to do. But don’t put pressure on yourself. It is not a competition as to who can produce the best and most well-rounded home school curriculum. There will be no prizes (or indeed exams, perhaps, but that’s another blog…)
  5. On that note, where possible take 10 mins between parenting/work shifts to handover, rant about work, have a water cooler moment with your partner, make a cup of tea, breathe.
  6. Boost your resilience. I recently pulled together an article full of tools to help boost your resilience (below) but the model that I feel is the most relevant for where we are right now, is Stephen Covey’s circles of influence. He talks of three concentric circles, the smallest is our circle of control – the stuff in there we can do something about. Slightly bigger and around the first circle is our circle of influence – things go in there which are not directly within our control but certainly something we could influence if we worked out how. The final circle represents that which we can as individuals neither directly control nor influence, like a global pandemic for example. It’s called the circle of concern.The more time we spend in that circle of concern, thinking about things which we cannot control or influence the more stressful it is, and the less agency we feel we have. However, the good news is that the more time we spend on what we can influence or control the more resourceful we feel. And, crucially, the more our circle of influence expands. For me right now I can control how tidy my home office is, but I don’t have the energy to control the amount of craft materials on every surface in my kitchen. I’d rather use my energy where I can influence for the good: reaching out to clients who are in need of my support at this time, checking in with friends to offer moral support, carrying on delivering my work to the best of my ability in the circumstances. What’s in my circle of concern is pretty much everything you’ll find on a news app. I look twice a day tops, because reading about the doom and gloom puts me firmly back into the circle of concern- things I can neither influence nor control, and that’s not good for my mood and ergo my resilience.
  7. Talking of resilience, Good Day at Work in their resilience model talk about social connection, so don’t forget to arrange it for both your kids and for you. Our five year old has a list of friends she wants to face time over the next week – we’re having at least one call with a friend every day. But ensure you stay connected with your grown up friends too: virtual book club, google hang out birthday drinks, these are all already in my diary.
  8. Get into the fresh air. We are blessed with countryside nearby but even planting some seeds in a pot in your back yard or sticking your head out the window to do a nature watch counts. Make like an Italian and serenade your neighbours from your balcony.
  9. Know yourself: The more you work out what you need the easier it will be to what works for you in this new virtual working/parenting world. For example some of us need human interaction to feel energised. Some of us need alone time to recharge. Some of us are focusing on the big picture impacts of this crisis, some people are focusing on the details, ‘they are working out if Sally in finance can get even get online at home’ as one contact said to me today. We need folk to focus on the big stuff and the detail, the huge decisions, the small decisions, the strategy and the people who will deliver it.  Play to your strengths and be useful where you can best be useful.
  10. Whatever your needs are to stay sane, be clear on that with the other grown ups in your life and make time for it. We are all different and as we switch to a virtual world, we are all the same humans with the same emotions and needs, just coming atcha via Zoom Skype or Teams (other platforms are available).

Do add your own tips to the comments – I’m not the expert, but like all of us I’m doing my best to ensure that I have a full enough tank to support the people who need me (family, friends and clients) with presence, perspective and my sanity intact.

For the full resilence a blog here:

If you’re leading a business or team through this, read this:

If you’d like to contact me to talk more about coaching, workshops (sorry, webinars!) virtual action learning or other support for you or your people, please use the contact form on my website. You can also follow me on Twitter @Jenthecoach or on Facebook (type in McCanna Coaching.) Stay well x