By Shawn Scott, Hall Scott PC
I bet most of you reading this are better at lawyering than teaching. I know I am. Yet, many lawyer parents across the greater Indianapolis community, and all over the country, are finding themselves in the role of teacher this fall as many schools are starting the year in a virtual format or a hybrid in-person and virtual format. As working parents, and especially as lawyers who bill for their time, we are up against some bad math.
In Indiana, elementary school students are required to receive five instructional hours per day and students in grades six through twelve are required to receive six instructional hours per day. My children’s school district and many others have virtual learning models set up to mimic traditional school days that include short breaks, lunch, and recess. My family has children in elementary and middle schools and therefore we are “in session” from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. This means we need an adult (the “teacher”) on virtual learning duty for thirty-seven and a half hours per week. I’m no mathematician (or math teacher for that matter) but 37.5 + the billable hours that I need to accomplish in a given week + non-billable professional obligations + general childcare responsibilities + general household responsibilities + a dash of sleep = 1,000,000 hours -approximately (note: there are only 168 hours in a week). It’s bad math, right? But we can solve this math problem with a little resourcefulness and creativity.
Time Block with Your Co-Parent
Lawyering and multi-tasking are not compatible. As lawyers, we are typically paid for precise solutions derived from deep focus. With children at home it is practically impossible to work uninterrupted and get to that deep focus state. Time blocking with your co-parent or other childcare provider can be a great way to get those focused hours of work in. Time blocking is where each caregiver handles all child related duties for a block of time freeing the other caregiver to work during that block.
My husband and I often employed this strategy pre-COVID by alternating who stayed home on days one of our children was sick and for school closures which allowed the other to keep their professional obligations. We quickly employed this strategy during the early days of the pandemic and have implemented many versions of this over the past few months. We have split the day with one of us working from 6 a.m. to noon and the other from noon to 6 p.m. Sometimes, we split the day up even more to accommodate schedules by alternating working and childcare hours in two-hour blocks. Time blocking allows us to work knowing we will not be interrupted by childcare obligations or virtual learning needs. This also allows us to manage our client calendars more effectively by allowing us to schedule client meetings during our work blocks with the confidence we will not have to cancel or reschedule.
Time blocks can include evening and weekend hours as appropriate for your family as well. For example, if you need to facilitate virtual learning each Monday, you can work on Saturday or into the evening one or two nights a week to get it all in. Be creative and flexible and figure out what works best for you and your family.
Create Learning Pods
Learning pods consist of two or more children that do their virtual learning together as a group. There are many ways to form pods but the goal is to generally free up each participating parent one or more days per week to allow them to work. Some families form pods and hire a teacher to facilitate a classroom-like experience. Some pods have children rotate among participating households and have a parent on duty each day to facilitate virtual learning at their home. Some parents hire nannies to cover their turn in the rotation.
My family is currently participating in three mini pods. My first grader rotates between homes with two other first graders in his class and my third and sixth graders each go back and forth between homes with one friend. There is another larger pod in our neighborhood that we intermingle with on a weekly basis as well for outdoor lunch, recess and after school playtime. At first, it seemed overwhelming to try to think through and have one more thing on my list to manage. We were also somewhat hesitant to take the related health risks from opening our home to others and sending our kids into other homes in the midst of a pandemic. However, the reality of our wanting to keep our day jobs and provide our children with positive social emotional experiences in addition to facilitating their education weighed in favor of us taking the chance.
We are in the middle of week three with no regrets. Our children are excited to pack their backpack with books, a computer and a lunch and get the heck out of our house. They are thrilled to have friends to eat lunch with and play outside at “recess.” They are paying attention to their virtual learning platforms because they have peer expectations for one another. And they are actually listening to someone else’s mom, dad or childcare provider rather than arguing with me! We entered our pods cautiously with open discussions about how we are each handling social distancing as families, safety measures in each home and communication about health and potential COVID exposure.
Outsourcing is one of the best ways to maximize your time. First, make a list of what only you can do and then outsource everything else as best you can. You are the only person who can do certain parts of your job such as meeting face-to-face (virtually or in person) with your clients. Consider who you can outsource other professional obligations to within your workplace. Maybe your assistant can manage your calendar and do the first draft of standard pleadings and correspondence. You could also consider asking your partner or an associate to handle projects that are just outside of your wheelhouse during this time. We all are better at certain things and while it is good to always want to grow and learn new skills maybe now is not the time to file your first bankruptcy case. Give that to your friend down the hall who has done it dozens of times and stick to what you do best.
Similarly, you are the only one who can do certain things at home. No one else can tuck your child in at night and have that special bonding conversation going over the ups and downs of the day (well maybe except the other parent and you could alternate nights!) but there are many things that you can outsource at home, including:
- Teaching/facilitating virtual learning (see pod discussion above)
- Home repairs
- Grocery delivery
- Meal kit delivery or in-home food prep services
- Housekeeping services
- Lawn care services
- Dry cleaning/laundry services
You can certainly pay for any of these services and you should if you want to and are able to work it into your budget, but you can also consider who else in your household can manage these tasks. Our 11-year-old can thank the global pandemic for my rush to teach her to do her own laundry and have primary pet care responsibilities. Our eight-year-old now makes her own breakfast and lunch. Apparently, ramen noodles counts for both these days –we pick our battles. We’re working on our six-year-old, but he does more around the house now than he did in February, for sure. You may have friends and family members outside your household who are willing to help right now as well. Just ask and think twice before turning down any offers out of pride.
And finally, make your decisions on outsourcing guilt free. You are only one person with a lot on your plate and I venture to say that one of the best ways you can serve your family is by continuing to excel in your day job as a provider, a role model and a balanced individual. If that means you pay someone to do your laundry despite your mother’s horror at the thought, let your father-in-law mow your lawn at his insistence to help and your kids eat ramen one too many times this week, so be it.
I hope the next few weeks are productive for you at work and at home. You’ve got this and we’re all in this together.