I have said it a few times before and I will say it again. I kinda lost my voice during the pandemic. Between my husband and I, with no help, two full-time jobs, and a very, erm, active toddler, the pressure of day-to-day living was so high, that I had no time for reflections, articulations, expostulations. But more than anything else, it was because every time I opened my mouth to speak about my life, I felt the prick of conscience. Of guilt, at being in the privileged position of having enough to eat, more than enough to live by, while being able to shut myself in and the virus out. So I would stay my tongue, clamp the jaws shut, and get on with the day.
But not very long ago, a couple of people reached out to me to ask how I managed my days during those times, and surprisingly my answers seemed to help them. They also kind of pushed me to write about it. I had been putting that off (because who likes to give productivity gyaan), but now that we are entering a similar phase again, with this dratted second wave, I thought it might be useful if I did put down some of what got me through those months. Indeed for the best part of a year.
Chop the day into pieces
Most working moms or parents will know that when you are managing multiple demanding streams, that will pull you in different directions, you gotta carve out slots. So that’s what I did. I created a regimen for myself that a Swiss watchmaker would be proud of.
My day started really early, I put in a solid 3 hours before kiddo woke up. Then for the next couple of hours, it was all about the kid, breakfast, online school and what not. After that I skipped back to work for a couple of hours, turning a blind eye to kiddo laying waste to all of the aforementioned education by turning the house upside down. Then I took a break to do lunch things, bathed the kiddo and promptly, before he got another idea, marched him to bed and gently patted him into a 3-hour long siesta. Those 3 hours would be pure bliss, as kiddo slumbered and we picked up the broken pieces of our sanity that lay scattered all around in the guise of torn books, the entire contents of our wardrobes, so on and such like. Once kiddo woke up, we lounged around a bit, then back again it was to the preparation and consumption of the evening meal. Watch some TV, dance to BTS with kiddo, go to bed.
So three big slots to work. Two big slots for the kid. I followed this for almost a year. Some changes happened during the course of it, for example after 9 months, when we started calling our cooking lady in again, she took our meals off my hands, and I started making kiddo’s meals in bulk in the evening for the next day as well. That gave me an extra hour during the day, and kiddo got to expand his savory palette with vintage khichdi. Win-win.
2) Not every bone in the body does the same job
Now I didn’t realise till very recently that I was doing this. Only when Preethi (of Krya fame) asked me whether there was any difference qualitatively between the work I was doing in each of the three slots, did I realise that yes, there was a difference. I used the early morning slot for the more strategic pieces of work, that needed calm and quiet, and could be done by myself. The second slot in the mid-morning was for strategic conversations and meetings. And by the time the third slot arrived, I was good only for the more transactional pieces of work and conversations. My job is a mix of strategic and extremely operational, so I guess my mind found a way to slot them in, in alignment with my energy levels during the day. Of course it was never so very neat, but more or less.
3) Now vs Never and everything else in between
One always has more work than one can or should do immediately, and it was no different for me last year. Hence the need to prioritise for the now, the later, and the much later. I have a notes app on my laptop that has my daily plan, my weekly plan and a monthly plan. The planning gets less granular as we move away from the epicenter, but it helps me spread tasks out and keep perspective so I don’t miss the woods for the trees. One can spend entire days fire-fighting especially when one is an entrepreneur, and so the weekly and monthly plans reminded me to slot some of the more strategic work-streams into a daily window.
I purposely keep my plan very low-tech. I don’t use calendars or a planner app etc. One can lose themselves in the plan, shifting, tweaking, pushing and pulling, until all you are left with at the end of the day is a 1000-watt plan and not much else. Oh wait, you will also have the anxiety of not having met said plan.
No sir, my plan is on a word-like document, with no beginning time and no ending time. Just the tasks, slotted under different slots in the day. It works for me.
That’s about it, as far as productivity goes. Even I was surprised when these folks I mentioned earlier found it useful; because every day on Twitter I see more hard-core productivity wisdom than there are molecules in the world, but maybe these people are not on Twitter. Or what is more likely is that they don’t factor in the active management of a kid in their productivity equations.
And now for some of the softer elements, the Bollywood music to the Zumba class that was this year.
4) You are not Alexander the Great
No, for one, I don’t desire world domination. Besides, my biggest happiness mantra is to let myself lose some battles.
- The pandemic made us realise that screen-time while eating can actually be very beneficial for a 2 year old. He gets to learn so much. We get to learn so much. Who would have thunk you could make multi-colored popsicles from fruit that were ready to be picked from one’s own backyard. Thank you pandemic.
- The pandemic brought us closer to our original states, back to the days before cleaning agents and vacuum cleaners existed. Being educated thinking adults, we defied the propaganda of big FMCG that daily cleaning of the home and surroundings is necessary. Thank you pandemic for opening our eyes.
- We went the Steve Jobs way, with food. After a bit of experimentation, I hit the sweet spot of time spent cooking vs taste of end product, and decided to lock and load for life. The husband and I ate tomato paneer rice for lunch and for dinner for 9 months. Maggie broke past the stronghold at times, and once we started ordering in, a weekly Pizza. But that’s about it. Thank you pandemic for initiating us into the bodhi life.
5) Support and all that Jazz
Now I cannot joke about this, because this is serious stuff. I am speaking of supportive co-workers who you can delegate some stuff to, who can be the safety net when you are trying an exceptionally difficult maneuver mid-air (think Investor call when it’s just you and the toddler at home), and who will tolerate all this slicing and dicing you have been doing with your day.
I was lucky to be working with my friends and to be co-running my own company, privileges again, that not everyone has. But to whatever extent you can, seek support.
6) The pursuit of Happyness
In all of this, I kid you not, I managed to watch triple digit number of hours of K-dramas, my poison of choice. I would take some time out in the mornings, before the kiddo woke up, and it made me happy, kept me sane. Need I say more?
And finally, one might wonder, where the husband was. Well, he had his tasks too. While I took the day shift, he did the graveyard one and handled all the back-end child and home management jobs. We did squabble and joust, did the dance of wrath a few hundred times, but we made it work, together.
Being a start-up parent and a human parent is tough enough. Add to it one portion pandemic, and the combination is lethal. You can get through with some planning, some letting go, some escape routes, and the strength of your close ecosystem. But everyone is different, and in all of this, the most important thing is your own mental health. It’s your most precious resource, more than time can ever be.
Stay healthy, stay safe.