How to be a designer, teacher and parent at the same time

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A woman wearing a black dress with a white collar and burgundy tights sitting on a green and blue tartan carpet. She is leaning against a wall and has a laptop on her lap. She is also wearing a headset.
Me working in the hallway while my husband works in the office and my kids run around the living room

The title of this post is misleading. It implies that I’m going to provide you with tips on doing all these things well simultaneously. I’m not. It isn’t possible. What I am going to do is share how I have been balancing my job as a service designer with homeschooling my 5-year-old and chasing after my 2-year-old during this most recent lockdown.

Like many parents, I’ve been faced with an almost impossible task – do your job while also giving your children an education. If your working day is seven hours, and a school day is six hours, and a parenting day is around 12 hours, that’s 25 hours of work to fit within 24 hours. And that doesn’t include eating, sleeping, cooking, housework and this ‘self-care’ stuff that everyone is so big on these days.

My schedule

I’m lucky that I have a supportive partner who also works from home and is able to share homeschooling and childcare duties with me, but it’s still a lot to manage. My typical day usually looks something like this:

  • 6:30-7:30 – Work
  • 7:30-8:30 – Feed the kids breakfast
  • 8:30-12:30 – Work
  • 12:30-1 – Lunch
  • 1-3 – Homeschooling/toddler-wrangling
  • 3-3:30 – Join stand-up (usually with toddler screaming in the background)
  • 3:30-5 – Homeschooling/toddler-wrangling
  • 5-5:30 – Check email
  • 5:30-6 – Eat dinner
  • 6-8 – Play with kids and get them ready for bed
  • 8-9:30 – Work
  • 9:30 – Me time! (Half an hour of reading/answering personal emails before falling asleep)

It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, just trying to slot all of the pieces together and hoping that you aren’t missing one. And it can be hard to stick to a schedule. Sometimes a colleague schedules an urgent meeting at the last minute and I need to join while my kids peer at the screen over my shoulder. Or I need to take a break from work because my toddler is having a meltdown.

Here’s what’s helping me manage:

Complete flexibility

Scottish Enterprise has been great about offering employees total flexibility ever since the first lockdown last March. They have removed core hours, so we’re free to work the hours that suit us (as agreed with our line managers). This has allowed me to piece together a disjointed work schedule that I can fit around childcare and homeschooling.

Remote tools

As a service designer, I’m lucky that there are a lot of useful tools that can help me do my job from home. The main ones that I use are Miro for whiteboarding, UserZoom for remote user testing and Slack for chatting with colleagues. They’re great for asynchronous working, since it’s sometimes hard to find meeting times that work for everyone.

Supportive colleagues

All of my colleagues have been really understanding when I’ve needed to duck out of meetings early to help my daughter with her schoolwork, or when they can hear my children singing in the background during a call.

And here’s what I’m still struggling with:

It’s hard to collaborate

Things move quickly in the design world and talking to people is key to getting things done. I regularly get calls added to my diary only a few hours before they’re meant to start, and it’s frustrating that I can’t always attend. I have to miss out on important conversations and then try to piece together what was discussed through emails and messages later.

Guilt

Despite having the support of my colleagues, I still feel guilty that half of the working day is spent with my children. Even though I try to make up the time in the mornings or evenings, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m unavailable for big chunks of the day. I also feel guilty about having to stick my kids in front of the TV when I need to focus on work.

Lack of thinking/training time

I used to try to block out some time in my diary each week to do things that would help me be a better designer – read articles that a colleague had suggested, try out a new feature in Miro, or watch a video about a design topic. I don’t feel like I have time to do that right now.

The struggle is real

I know a lot of other parents (not just in the service design world) are feeling the pressure right now. We aren’t sure when things might return to ‘normal’ and we’re struggling to keep on top of all our responsibilities. Today I made a puffin out of construction paper while attending a stand-up. These are not normal times. Just know that if you’re having a hard time balancing work and family, you’re not alone.

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