How to make working from home work for you

I’ve been working from home as a freelance content creator, writer and editor for the past 6 years.

With three kids in primary school and an elderly at home, working from home is like wearing many hats — at the same time. There are days where I’m frazzled and grouchy, and less than efficient. Then there are days where things run smoothly and kids are cooperative — this up and down pattern is to be expected.

Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you find them handy if you’re also working remotely during this period:

how to work from home

1) Give yourself time to adjust and find your bearings

When you first start working from home, it may feel like loads of freedom. It’s true that you enjoy some pros: You can work in your PJs, go without makeup, and in some cases work at your own pace and time.

However it is also a constant juggling act. I may start work at 9, but take a break at 11.30 to get groceries or prepare lunch for the kids.

Once the kids get home around 2pm, it’s a frenzy of feeding them and ensuring that school work gets completed.

When I’m settled in at my desk again, it might be 3-ish. Then I usually start preparing dinner at 430/5pm. So it’s another 2-hour duration of actual work.

It will take time to adjust to this stop-start lifestyle, so don’t beat yourself up if you seem unable to get much done in the early days.

2) Work with your own rhythm, not against it

Everyone has their own natural rhythm. Some get into their zone at night when the house is quiet. Others are morning people and do their best thinking and work at dawn.

It is best to use your natural rhythms to your own advantage. And while there are some timings that are not within direct control, such as team meetings, working from home does offer a bit more control over when you choose to tackle what tasks.

For me personally, I try to eat my frogs in the morning. Once I get my hardest thing done and over with, it makes the rest of the day a lil breezier.

3) Get your kids’ buy-in

If you have school-going kids, it is helpful to let them know about your new work situation. If they understand that you are home physically but need to work during certain periods in the afternoon, it is likelier that they will cooperate and give you room to do it.

For me, the kids are quite used to the fact that I work at home. But it doesn’t mean they always give me the quiet space and time I need. On some days, they are playful and rowdy and just being kids, so I’d just pick up my laptop and shift myself physically from the living area to my bedroom.

When I need to do a work call, I will preempt them by letting them know I am not available between this time to this time. It usually goes without a hitch…but if they do barge in, I try not to make a big about it. I just remind them that I’m on a work call and I’ll attend to them after.

4) Expect disruptions

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something important, the kids get into a tiff and it can be mighty irritating. Or my littlest will come and ask me to cut him some fruits for a snack.

I’ll usually tell him “10 minutes” then I’ll try to finish my train of thought or hurriedly jot something down so I don’t forget it.

The truth is–it is hard for their young minds to understand that while mum is physically home she is mentally taken up by work. So we have to accept that kid-related disruptions and interruptions are normal.

Understanding this will help us to be more accepting and calm when they do pop up. And after answering their needs, I occasionally find I receive more time in return to focus on work after.

5) Communicate regularly with your team

Now that you’re working from home, it also means you need to make an effort to communicate with your team members about what you’re up to, and the status of various projects you’re handling.

Be proactive wherever you can. Early in the week, update your boss and your team about what’s on your plate, and what your priorities are. This also allows you the opportunity to raise issues or ask for help (if needed) early, rather than struggle with a problem quietly on your own.

6) Set a break time

The whole idea about me working from home is not just to provide for the kids physically, in terms of food and safety, but also emotionally. So I have to intentionally set aside playtime with them.

I aim for 2 afternoons where I will get active and bring them for a game of badminton or just a romp at the playground. It could be just an hour or so, but the benefits we reap to our relationship and mental health are aplenty.

7) Minimise distractions

WhatsApp messages and other notifications often distracts me from work. So I keep my phone on silent and leave it a distance away from my work area so I don’t peek at it so often.

I have a friend who swears by a work playlist on Spotify so you can try exploring that too. Recently I’ve found that putting on instrumental music (in particular violin pieces) gets my creative juices flowing.

8) Keep healthy boundaries

It can be hard to draw the line and say “Ok work ends at 9pm.” Very often I think about my work even when I’m tackling the dishes or doing the laundry.

This can be a bit unhealthy, especially if you’re not getting sufficient sleep. (In the past I would work till close to midnight and find that my brain cannot shut down until an hour later!)

So now, having understood my own body, I try not to work past 10pm; nor check my emails after that time. I will spend the hour or so after that to relax with a book or make a chamomile tea and chat with my spouse. If I have tight deadlines that week, I will channel the worries into a to-do list, which helps me focus on the important tasks the next morning.

Have you started working from home recently? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Love in the time of coronavirus

It’s Valentine’s day this week but I don’t think the florists and restaurants are going to be that busy—at least not as busy as previous years.

Many couples will choose to go low-key, because of the nCoV19 virus that’s been spreading on our shores.

For the hub and I, this will be our 15th Valentine’s day together. Not that we are big on celebrating it, we’d never splash out on an expensive dinner just because it’s V-day, but I do insist ask that he bring home a small trinket each year. Whether it’s chocolate, a small bouquet of flowers, or a special meal (so I don’t have to cook up a sweat), it’s just a little something to remind him that he still needs to pursue me, to make an effort now and then, even though I’m legally and lovingly his wife.

This year will be pretty special. Well, we’re definitely staying home…because he’s arranged to meet an ID at our place to talk about the design of our new home.

When I found out, I wasn’t mad. But I said sarcastically: “Oh so clever, like that we don’t need to celebrate.”

To which he replied: “I think it’s romantic.”

To be honest, just like how the CNY mood quickly dissipated into the air when news of the virus hit our media (and minds), it may be hard to conjure up lovey-dovey feelings this week, as we hunker down and prepare ourselves for when the spread gets worst.

Since we can’t go out on dates (well unless you count walking out to the hawker centre to get takeaway a date), we are going to make use of the time we have at home to:

  • Plan for our new home
  • Read books (I’ve downloaded The Handmaid’s Tale and The Meaning of Marriage into Overdrive)
  • Ask each other questions (like these or these)
  • Create a bucket list of places/things we’d like to do and visit
  • Play more board games with the kids (our hot favourites currently are Organ Attack, Monopoly Deal, and Go Nuts for Donuts.
  • Do devotionals regularly at night (we use ODB’s Give Us This Day, kindly gifted to us by Susan from A Juggling Mom. You can also request a copy online.)

 

If like us, you’re planning to keep it simple this Valentine’s weekend, here are some small but meaningful acts of love you can consider:

  • Plant a kiss on his cheek before he leaves for work
  • Sneak a card into his briefcase
  • Cook him a nice steak (or whatever he likes) for dinner/pack a surprise dinner and let her have a break from the kitchen
  • Gather everyone into the room for a movie (yes this year, the kids will get to experience Valentine’s day with us)
  • Watch your tongue and use more affirming words, while reducing critical or harsh words
  • Take care of the meals/laundry/housework without complaining
  • Go for a leisurely walk at the park if weather permits
  • Light some candles or open a bottle of wine, just because

 

I started out writing about marital love, but in thinking about the virus and human behaviour I’m now inclined to talk about a different kind of love—the kind of love that sees (people’s needs) and serves.

  • The hospital staff who are tirelessly serving the needs of their patients and their family members.
  • The security people working hard to guard the entry into office buildings and schools.
  • The teachers who while constantly worried that they may get exposed to the virus, choose to place the needs of their students ahead of themselves.
  • The mums and dads who try to secure groceries and other goods in a bid to ensure their families get fed. (Particularly those who refrain from going overboard and get just enough or a bit more.)
  • The common folk like you and I who are just trying in our own little ways to remain calm and spread calm.

Love in the time of coronavirus

They say that laughter is good medicine. But at such a time as this, love is an even stronger medicine.

And this love, it begins with our words and actions at home.

You may have heard of the famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Here’s a little twist on it in light of our times.

Love is patient (when you have to stop to take temperature). Love is kind. It does not envy others who have masks. It does not hoard food supplies it doesn’t need. It does not tell medical workers to not board the bus. It stays home if it has been given Leave of Absence or if feeling unwell. It brings food to those around who are in need.

It is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered.

Love does not delight in hearing there are patients in critical condition, but rejoices when even one of them recovers fully.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Two parenting skills I’m practising in the new year

What are you looking forward to this year?

What hopes and dreams do you hold in your heart?

I haven’t been blogging much. With all 3 kids in primary school now and my writing work on the side, I just don’t have the mind-space to write as much as I used to. But I will keep trying.

And today, I want to share about two new parenting skills I picked up in December.

1. Empathetic listening

A person who sits down with you, opens his ears and heart to listen to you, doesn’t judge, and tries to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes—this is empathetic listening.

As with many parents, I’m prone to giving instructions and advice. Perhaps we live in a pragmatic society that values efficiency and we won’t want our kids to make too many mistakes. We tend to go straight to problem-solving.
But by listening empathetically, actively, with your whole presence, we give our kids “psychological air”—the space to feel what they feel and to know they are safe in spite of those huge, hard feelings.

In doing so, we also get to help them identify some of those big emotions. They also learn to be more in tune with their feelings.

Left out during recess? “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that… did you feel more lonely or sad?”

First day at school? “How do you feel about your first day tomorrow? Are you feeling worried?

Favourite snack sold out in the supermarket? “Oh dear, that must feel so disappointing. You were really looking forward to eating it.”

Crying because she had to leave a party early? “I can see you’re feeling really upset and frustrated we have to leave. Do you want to talk about it?”

Results so far?

Practising this skill at home has helped me be more patient in handling my kids when they’re having difficulties or feeling upset over something. I find that they calm down faster, and are more willing to listen after they feel like I’ve understood.

I’m definitely motivated to continue this. I feel kids in general need help in building their emotional skills and EQ. I believe this will strengthen their foundation in coping with life’s stresses and challenges!

2. I-messages

This isn’t the first time I’m learning about I-messages but it is the first time I’ve practised it consistently with others in different scenarios and contexts. Basically, I-messages focus on my (the parent’s) feelings when a certain behaviour is seen. It could be positive behaviour, for example, “I like it when you are honest with me.” Or “I enjoy seeing you try your best in practising violin.”

It could also be negative behaviour, such as “I get very agitated when you guys shout or fight in the car. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on driving.”

At times it can also express a certain belief or value, for example, “I believe in working together as a team to tidy up.”

What is so powerful about I-messages?

I-messages are opposite from you-messages, which are unfortunately what most of us are used to dishing out daily. (“Why are you so untidy?” Why can’t you just listen to what I say?”)

The power of I-messages is that they don’t accord blame or guilt; they simply describe the feeling that is caused by a certain behaviour.

The best form of I-messages that I like to use is “I feel ______[emotion] when [describe the situation or action].”

So, they are compassionate and respectful, while also communicating the need to change the behaviour or to reflect on one’s wrong actions.

I think it’s powerful because it helps me be assertive without being aggressive. Thus reducing the need to shout or yell over anything that goes awry. 

Results so far?

Similar to active listening, I feel this skill has helped me to slow down and express my wishes in a gentler, less aggressive way. In the beginning, my kids laughed because they weren’t used to it. Maybe I was still using an angry tone, rather than a reconciliatory one to express my needs. But I think they are slowly getting the hang of it!

Parenting classes in Singapore

If you’re keen to start the new year with new parenting skills under your belt, check out Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). Developed by psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962, PET offers proven communication skills that enhance relationships in and out of the home.

There are weekday and Saturday classes coming up in February, so do check them out and sign up early! Classes are also available in Mandarin here

Here’s to building stronger relationships with our kids this year!

 

mum and young son bonding

Disclaimer: I was offered to attend the PET training workshop for free in order to write this review. Views shared above are my own.

Don’t wait for big problems to arise to see a marriage counsellor

We recently went for marriage counselling.

Some friends raised their eyebrows when they heard the word “counselling” and I found I had to quickly explain that while we don’t have major problems in our marriage, we wanted to work on our weak areas and have a plan for our growth.

Our coach was Winifred Ling, who is based at Promises at Novena Medical Centre.

Overall, our experience was comfortable; nothing too intimidating or intrusive.

During our first session with her, we played a simple game. She gave us a stack of questions like “What do you admire in your partner” and “What is your biggest worry at present?”

We took turns answering some of the questions and tried not to laugh while doing so. It was actually quite an insightful exercise as we don’t often get the opportunity to think about such things, much less share with our partner about them.

Over the three sessions we had with her, we each discovered a couple of things.

One, my hubby realised that he wasn’t sure how to support me through my grieving (my godmother has a terminal illness). While he had been through loss of his own, the context was different and his way of dealing with difficult emotions was to park it somewhere and move on with life.

Two, I realised that there had been times when I would silently sweep my struggles under the carpet instead of opening up to him and asking for support. When times are hard, I am more inclined to stay silent than to cry out for help.

Perpetual problems vs temporary problems

We also learnt that there are perpetual problems (problems where there are no real solutions for) and temporary problems (problems that can be resolved). Many of us are not aware of this but it could well be the reason why we sometimes argue over the same thing.

Perpetual problems are usually linked to very fundamental values and aspects of our personality. For example, to him, money is something to be saved for a rainy day, while to me, we also need to enjoy money for the here and now. So disagreements linked to finances can sometimes boil down to this fundamental difference in the way we perceive money.

Or he may be neat and organised in the home, while I have a higher tolerance for mess. Rather than insist that the other person changes their ways, we need to find ways to cope with such differences, or come to a middle ground.

Winifred also guided us to practising healthier ways to communicate during conflicts and deal with our differences.

She also helped us see that we bring different strengths into the marriage, as well as different weaknesses.

The dream behind the conflict

The best part for me was when she made us re-do a conflict situation using a simple principle: Behind every conflict lies differing dreams.

Often the dream is linked to some of our own experiences growing up, or just something we value, like freedom, creativity, or stability. We don’t often express this dream but it silently drives our behaviour, and sometimes, it makes us hold fast to our position and it becomes a struggle to let go of whatever it is we want to achieve.

It can be very frustrating for both parties during such a stalemate, because we don’t articulate and understand each other’s dream and vision behind the conflict.

This was the biggest ah-ha moment for me. Not only did it help me in my own self-awareness, it also helped me understand his perspective and why he behaves the way he does.

Marriage is for a lifetime. It is worth investing in.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my thoughts are: Marriage counselling isn’t such a scary experience. It is actually very helpful to have a professional guide sit beside you and facilitate the digging deep and unveiling process (similar to peeling an onion, and yes some tears will flow too).

Many couples will think, “We don’t need it,” and place it on low priority…until something blows up in the marriage. Just like we go for regular health checks, it is totally worthwhile to invest in your marriage for the long haul by going for a marriage checkup.

Problems and issues will be unearthed, and new strategies and ideas will be learned and applied. Your marriage and family will thank you.

Special for readers

Winifred is offering a 10% discount for the first session to all my readers. (U.P. $300 for a 1.5 hour session). To make an appointment, call 6397-7309 or email wini@promises.com.sg.  You can check out her credentials here.

PS. Winifred was kind enough to offer us pro-bono counselling sessions as she wanted to raise more awareness in the community of such marriage coaching services. I utterly enjoyed the sessions and was thankful my husband was brave enough to join me! Thanks Winifred!

great marriage quote

 

Why Mothers Never Ever Give Up

Motherhood is often stressful and messy.

But it also makes a good faith stretching exercise.

Amidst the messes and failures, the broken toys, the deeds of mischief and wrong-doing, the tears and quarrels and strife, amidst all these things, there remains something of a spark of hope still flickering within us.

And that’s what makes mothers mothers. We just don’t give up easily.

Even when one kid throws his fifth epic tantrum of the day.

Or when they get into a scuffle and refuse to own up to their mistakes.

Even when they lash out at us in anger.

We may cry, flail our arms around, throw our crumpled faces into our pillows, and send angry, ugly messages to our significant other…

But we don’t give up.

We cling onto hope.

We pick up the pieces, hit the proverbial reset button, and move on.

I’ve learnt some things from seeing how my own mothers put up with the “dirty dishes in the sink.”

I have three mums. They each have a fire in their belly that they are actually unaware of.

This gets them solving problems (often not of their own making), scaling higher heights and staring challenges down in the face.

My late nanny soldiered on to raise her two children even after her husband walked out on her. She somehow made space in her heart to accommodate more children eventually, and I was blessed to be one of those under her loving care.

My mother refused to walk out on her marriage even when things got rocky, for the sake of my brother and I. She walked through the storms with an undying optimism.

My godmother made many personal sacrifices for me, and she taught me about God and His ever-powerful presence in our lives. Even to this day, she continues to shower many blessings and prayers upon my children and family.

Every mother has that fire. It’s within you even though you may not notice it.

It calls you toward making sacrifices of love that you never thought yourself capable of, doing things you never thought you would, and it calls you towards a higher life.

Regardless of the challenges facing you right now, know that you have the shoulders of friends and family to lean on.

Know that you never walk alone.

Generations of mothers have walked the path before you, and many still will follow after you.

You have the power to choose how to write your family’s story and the kind of ending you want.

May your story always be filled with hope, love, and an unbridled, burning fire in the belly.

A Mother “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13, on love)

mothers never give up

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