"In the Covid-19 economy, you can have a kid or a job. You can't have both," declared cookbook author Deb Perelmen in a recent, much circulated New York Times op-ed that perfectly captured the mounting despair of working parents during the pandemic.
Time-management expert Laura Vanderkam disagrees.
Not that Vanderkam, a mother herself and author of several successful books on time management, would probably disagree when Perelman writes of her fellow working parents, "Every single person confesses burnout, despair, feeling like they are losing their minds, knowing in their guts that this is untenable."
Trying to balance a full-time job and full-time (or in the case of some school districts, half-time) child care responsibilities is desperately difficult and unsustainable in the long-term. Typically it's even tougher if you're running a business. But Vanderkam recently told Business Insider that there is a schedule working parents can use to keep the juggle going for at least a little bit longer.
Divide and conquer (or at least survive for now)
It should be noted, before I get into the specifics of Vanderkam's recommended schedule, that it applies only to some, relatively privileged parents. Implementing it requires that two adults are working at home, and that they have at least reasonable flexibility to set their own hours. That definitely doesn't apply to everyone, and finding a remedy for business owners, essential workers, and single parents is even trickier.
But if you're in the enviable position of having a partner to help you manage the kids, here's what Vanderkam recommends. First, give up on trying to simultaneously parent and be productive. It just isn't possible.
"If you have young kids, and want to work from home effectively, you cannot be the adult in charge during the hours you choose to work," she writes, leveling with parents. Instead, try to divide and conquer, splitting the day into A and B blocks so that each caregiver spends half the day wrangling kids and half the day getting something done professionally. She explains the details:
During half the weeks, party A works from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. window is "pure" focused time; the 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. window is probable time (when party A is "on" but this is understood to be screen/nap time). Party A also works from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.
Party B works the opposite hours: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday (with 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. being focused hours, and 1-3 p.m. being probable hours).
During half the weeks, the parties flip the Friday schedule, so party B works from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays and party A works 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
That may sound fairly complicated but it allows each responsible adult a solid (if not outstanding) 29 hours a week of focused work, as well as availability during normal work hours for meetings and other collaborative work.
Vanderkam offers several additional tips and caveats in the complete post. If you're thinking of giving it a try, check them out. But no matter how thoughtfully you divide your days, I still can't see this schedule working indefinitely (my 5-year-old is watching Netflix on my iPad next to me as I type this) but it's at least a stopgap solution that might help some families keep from completely losing their minds.
Do you think this schedule could work for your family?