Home-schooling: 10 Lessons from 2020 for a More Productive and Peaceful Day

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“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ―C. S. Lewis

2020 was a year of firsts in many aspects but the biggest adjustment for me was homeschooling. I can say there were moments I got it right and days where I felt like I had failed dismally.

This has been echoed by my coaching clients this year and has inspired me to write a dedicated piece about it.

If you don’t have children or they have left school, I encourage you to read on. These lessons are not just applicable to homeschooling but the school of life.

As a coach, trainer, and a mother, I have made a conscious decision to take the lessons and the growth from 2020 and leave behind the negative associations and old emotions linked to it.

Those train tracks will always be there but by applying the lessons I learned, I am able to put down new, fresh, and more effective tracks for 2021.

I do not view 2021 as a cut and paste of last year but an opportunity to get back into the ring and make better choices with the knowledge I have gained from round 1.

Here are some things to consider when you find yourself back in the juggle of work, homeschooling, and life:

Focus on what needs to be done

“If you don’t have time for things that matter, stop doing things that don’t”. — Courtney Carver

The thought of 2020 and it’s new challenges like homeschooling and permanent remote work conjures up memories of a time scarcity mindset.

It’s that dreaded fear that you will not be able to get to your most important tasks in a day and naturally this is a breeding ground for anxiety.

However, when you are making progress on your work, this anxiety dissipates. The relief of completing your important outputs fuels you with the energy to tackle everything else on your plate.

The solution to this permanent juggle isn’t more hours but better hours.

How can you replace perfection with daily progress?

Interruptions and distractions will always persist despite the home-schooling and remote working. The key for you is to be incredibly deliberate about how you spend your time and knowing what is important versus urgent so you can make progress on what matters most.

You want to aim for 3 big items in a day. That’s it.

Avoid the long to-do lists, they will only lead to destructive behaviors like multitasking and procrastination.

What you interpret as a time management issue could perhaps be a people pleasing issue.

Remember that other people’s urgencies are not necessarily yours — this is not the time to say yes to irrelevant tasks because you are trying to please others at the expense of your productivity.

You get what you tolerate. This is the time to set your boundaries and stick to them.

Switch off all notifications on your distracting WhatsApp chats and social media feeds. Close Outlook if you are working on a more cognitive task like planning a strategy or preparing a presentation.

Failure to manage the distractions that are within your control will take you down the path of self-interruption and derail your productivity. The end result — your stress levels go through the roof.

“Your inbox is the land of the lost and we all get lost” — Tim Ferriss

Manage your emails by checking in at specific times during the day rather than hitting refresh every 10 minutes. If something is urgent, you will get a phone call.

Multitasking is not a solution

“Multi-tasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time”. — Gary W. Keller

This is especially pertinent on your Zoom/Teams meetings. Although you feel like multi-tasking will enable you to get more done, it has the opposite effect.

Multitasking is a myth. It is the kryptonite to productivity.

Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains why — “The kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance.”

Cal Newport, author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ says:

“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate”.

Multitasking not only drains your attention but your energy. That’s why you often feel in a brain fog and fatigued despite a good night of sleep.

You need your energy tank to be full, so you can give it to your family and team. You cannot be of service to them if you are starting with your tank in reserve.

Manage expectations

“The greatest cause of anxiety is endless expectations.” — Radhanath Swami

Sit down with your family at dinner time and discuss everyone’s schedules for the next day. Make it clear when you are off-limits because of an important meeting and when it is acceptable to come into your working area.

When your kids know your availability, it gives them the peace of mind that they will have access to you, and their anxiety dissipates.

If possible, can you have lunch together or find pockets of time in the day where you can spend some bonus time with them.

15 minutes of focused attention off your devices is better than 30 minutes of distracted guilt-ridden attention. They can pick up the difference and will always call you on it.

How can you make this fun for them?

If you have younger kids, you could ask them to make a special sign with a red side and a green side. When it is non-negotiable to come into the room, have the red side on the door.

Make them feel part of the solution, not the problem.

Equally manage the expectations of your teammates. Let them know if you are unavailable at certain times during the day and communicate what you require from them.

When you have the peace of mind that no one is expecting you to answer your emails during their homework session or when you are doing lifts again, it frees your mind to focus on your family without guilt or anxiety.

Press the mental pause button

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” -Mark Twain

When you feel yourself speeding up in pace and overwhelm sets in, this is the time to press the mental pause button.

It feels counterproductive to slow down because you have more to do in the same time period, but this will make a huge difference in creating an environment of safety, calmness, and mental agility.

When you can feel yourself getting highly anxious, angry or some emotion that isn’t serving you, the first thing to do is name it.

When you name it, it loses the power it has over you and you create some distance from it.

William Ury, author of ‘Getting to Yes with Yourself’ provides a great strategy for dealing with these emotions.

He says we need to go to our own private mental ‘balcony’. The balcony is a metaphor for a mental and emotional place of perspective, calm, and self-control.

“This is the point: whenever you feel triggered by a passing thought, emotion, or sensation, you have a simple choice: to identify or get identified. You can observe the thought and “identify” it.

Or you can let yourself get caught up in the thought, in other words, “get identified”. You can notice the feelings of frustration or get into a full rage and take it out on everyone around you.

This is why pressing the mental pause button is so important; it is the difference between responding thoughtfully versus reacting with regret.

How do you practically do this? Ury suggests the following approach:

‘Imagine sitting at a kitchen table. As each familiar thought or emotion such as anxiety or fear, shame or pride shows up, I offer it an imaginary seat.

I have learned to welcome all customers, no one excluded. I seek to treat them as the old friends or acquaintances that they are. As the kitchen table fills up, I listen to the free-flowing conversation of feelings and thoughts because naming them neutralizes their effect on you and helps you to maintain your state of balance and calm.

As soon as you name the character in the play, you distance yourself from him or her.

This simple practice of putting a little space around our thoughts and emotions enables us to experience them with a detachment that frees us from the compulsion to act them out.”

You can meditate on patience and calm all you want but the true practice of mindfulness comes out in the situations that frustrate you the most.

Instead of resenting your reality, use it as a tool to develop your self-awareness and self-management. It all begins with a pause.

Everything is impermanent

“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

Although it feels like you have done a copy and paste of 2020, remember that nothing is permanent.

Schools will return, your schedule will change, and life will start to take on a new normal routine.

Yes, it may be chaotic and stressful now, but it will shift.

Once you are used to that version, guess what — it will change again.

When you are having a day where it feels like it will never end, remind yourself you are doing the best you can with the resources available to you now.

Set your intention: Be responsible for the energy you bring

“Live life less out of habit and more out of intent” — Unknown

You need to think of yourself as the diffuser of the home. Instead of filling the diffuser with vanilla and lavender oils, you are filling the diffuser with your energy.

Do you want to filter the energy of stress and overwhelm or the energy of calm and patience?

Life will always feel hectic and stress is a permanent fixture in our lives but don’t forget you get to choose how you want to show up.

What does your family need right now? How can you show up in a way that cultivates a sense of calm despite the external demands?

Think about it from your kid’s perspective — they are missing their friends and being able to see them daily. They don’t need to feel like a disturbance and a burden on top of this.

I’m not saying it isn’t stressful for you, of course it amplifies your responsibilities. However, when you have a sense of empathy for their needs, you will become more mindful in your response.

This applies not only to your family but your team, colleagues, and customers. Emotional contagion is real and the people you work with can feed off your energy even if you are working remotely.

We know smiles and laughter are contagious but unfortunately, it works with the opposite emotions of anger, anxiety, and tension too.

Before you log onto your next meeting, take a minute and set your intention ahead of the meeting:

· What do you want people to know, feel and do as a result of your contribution in the meeting?

· What skill you want to demonstrate?

· What energy do you want to bring to the meeting?

· What would make this an extraordinary meeting?

· How can I move the energy of the team from coping and fear to direction, collaboration, alignment, and an excitement to perform again?

Have the courage to be vulnerable and share your home-schooling experience.

You cannot be the only person feeling like this. Invite your team to share their challenges and discuss how you can better support each other during this time.

Perhaps it means scheduling meetings after their school day is done? If you feel supported by work, it will make the experience easier to manage.

Now bring your actions into alignment with your intention and you’ll be amazed how your energy and engagement levels soar.

Then do the same thing when you log off for the day and set your intention for the next role ahead — parent, partner or friend.

When you do find yourself in a funk and the diffuser is circulating negativity, simply notice it and press reset. You get to choose a different flavor to infuse into your diffuser any time you want.

Know your triggers

“Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise” — David Zindell

When you know your triggers — the things, people or places that set you off, you can start to take accountability and control over how you respond to them.

Is it a time of day — meals, your kids’ teeth time, or bedtime?

It could be a specific person or a meeting that triggers you.

Know in advance what these trigger moments are and create an if/then plan to manage it more effectively instead of heading into autopilot with your default reaction.

For example, “if I start to get frustrated during my child’s homework session, then I will take a deep breath and go and get a glass of water”.

By interrupting the usual pattern, you can start to shift how you manage it.

Imagine you are watching an episode of your life. Create some distance so you can be objective in how you are really handling the situation.

Take a step back and be aware of how you are showing up to the situation.

Are you already full of tension and resentment before the situation has happened? Are you pre-empting a response?

The triggers will still be there, but you have the power to decide in advance how will you respond.

You won’t always get it right but having the intention before you face the situation will give you the tools to begin true change.

Rethink your metrics for self-worth

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” — Marilyn Monroe

This was a huge lesson for me last year. With homeschooling, I had to limit the amount of training and coaching work I could take on so I could be around for their school day.

This affected me dramatically because I had linked my self-worth purely to work achievements and business metrics.

I had to shift my perspective from seeing homeschooling as a distraction from my “real work” as being equal and part of “my real work”.

Give yourself permission to reframe how you internalize your self-worth. It should come from multiple areas and roles in your life. We are not one dimensional; our sense of achievement cannot be so linear either.

Perhaps this year you are faced with home-schooling, looking after elderly parents or simply being a support to your community.

When you find worth in all the roles you play, you bring more meaning and purpose to the time dedicated to them.

The time is not “spent” on them but invested. When you choose to place value on the roles external to work, you drop the sense of resentment about where your time “should be” better spent.

Forgive yourself

“We have two lives: the one we learn with and the one we live after that”. — Bernard Malamud

There will be days where you get it right and days where you feel like you have failed as a parent, partner, team member, and a human in general.

Even with every great intention to be patient, calm, and content, you will lose your temper.

You are human and doing the best you can.

On those days, don’t obsess about how you messed up and what you could’ve and should’ve done.

Simply forgive yourself.

Have a sense of curiosity about what triggered you and what you can learn for next time.

Perhaps your self-care is non-existent, and your stress levels are through the roof as a result of poor energy management on your part?

This is the science lab of your life and you can only experiment to discover your winning formula.

Replace balance for harmony

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen Covey

Work-life balance was a myth before Covid, and it certainly does not exist now. The idea that you can achieve some semblance of a perfectly balanced day is ludicrous.

Instead, aim for harmony.

Harmony looks different for everyone, but the goal is to create the version that works for you and your family.

Do not fall into the trap of comparing your reality against someone’s curated life on social media.

They are showing you the version they want you to see, not necessarily what is their true reality.

Think about the following to determine what your version of harmony looks like:

· What does a great average day look like in your life?

· How do you want to experience your days?

· How do you want to feel at the end of the day?

· How do you want your family to remember you during this time?

· What memories do you want them to reflect on a few years from now?

Once you know what matters to you and your family, you can let go of trying to have a perfect schedule and embrace the version of harmony that is imperfectly perfect for you.

I hope these ideas bring some perspective and at the least, know you are not alone in this.

Here’s to 2021 done your way,

Warm wishes


I’ve created an ultimate guide to Show Up To Yourself: In Life & Business to help you build new habits, manage your inner critic and truly own your days.

Get the ultimate guide here!



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Lori Milner

Lori Milner

Author. TEDx Speaker. Trainer. Coach. Mother of two. Passionate about personal growth and creating work/life harmony.