COVID-19 has put many parents in the difficult position of trying to figure out how to work from home with kids – without going completely crazy.
Due to school closures and social distancing, everyone is cooped up in the house together – and many are finding it incredibly challenging to get work done.
If you’re in this situation you might be feeling frustrated and overwhelmed trying to balance childcare, work and everything else on your plate. It’s time to stop, take a deep breath and make a plan.
Although it is difficult to be productive when you are working from home with kids, there are practical steps you can take. It IS possible to work from home with kids and stay productive!
The trick is to be proactive and take control. Here are some tips that will help:
Things You Can Do Yourself
First, let’s look at the things that YOU can do to squeeze more time out of the day – and make yourself more efficient in that precious time.
Focus On The Big Picture
Do your best to focus on weekly goals rather than daily goals, as the day can be unpredictable. On some days, your kids will play together quietly, you’ll get lots done and you’ll feel focused and relaxed. On other days, you’ll find yourself mediating sibling fights, mending scraped knees and pleading with your little ones to stop using the pots and pans as a drum set.
Looking at the week as a whole, rather than measuring your progress daily, will help you feel less stressed out about the odd unproductive day. If the kids are restless, you can take a break and play outside without feeling pressure. You’ll make up for it on other days, so just trust that everything will even out in the end.
Have a Clearly Defined Office Space
Work in a room where you can close the door and let your kids know not to interrupt you. It can be a dedicated home office, or simply a spare bedroom with a desk in it. The most important thing is having a lock on the door.
If your children are old enough to play unsupervised, let them know that they should only knock on your office door if there is an emergency. (An emergency more serious than wanting a cookie, or a turn with the TV remote.)
How you set up your home office really makes a difference as well. Working on a bed or a comfy chair is a big mistake. There’s a risk of work time accidently turning into nap time. A desk or a table where you can sit upright will help you focus and avoid back and neck pain.
Also, get yourself a pair of headphones that will help you tune out noise during work calls. The Krisp app is incredibly helpful for parents working at home, as it uses AI technology to cancel out background noise. Even if your kids are watching Frozen for the 5,694th time and singing along – no one on your conference call will hear a thing.
Work In Small Bursts
Divide your work up into small tasks that can be done while the children watch a TV show, or take a nap. You might not be able to work on a large project for three hours interrupted, but you’ll be able to get chunks of work done throughout the day.
Small tasks don’t seem like much at the time, but they will move you forward. A great way to take advantage of small periods of time is to use the Pomodoro Technique. Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, this time management method has been shown to improve focus. It requires you to decide on a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, then work only on that task for the designated time.
Working on one task at a time in such a focused way will make you more accountable, and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating. Many people find that a task that might have taken them an hour when unfocused, can be completed within a 25 minute “Pomodoro” session.
Look for Time-Saving Measures in Your Work
Since you have less time than usual to work, this is the time to employ any possible productivity measures that will save time.
Here are some useful apps for making your workflow more streamlined:
- Text Expander: If you find yourself writing the same thing regularly, use this app to quickly insert “snippets” with a simple keyboard shortcut.
- IFTTT: Use “If This, Then That” to connect all your tools together and make them work harmoniously. For example, you can set it so that if you star an email in Gmail, a task on your to-do list is automatically created.
- Evernote: An incredibly useful app that can be synced across all your devices, Evernote makes it possible to jot down ideas on your phone while watching your kids play – then access them in an instant when you’re back at your computer.
- Buffer: If you use social media in any capacity in your work, Buffer can be a life-saver. It allows you to quickly schedule out content over all your media channels in advance – so you can forget about it for the rest of the week.
Looking for more? Check out these productivity-boosting apps.
Keeping your kids cooped up inside will make them more restless. Soon enough, you’ll have wild children climbing the walls and becoming increasingly loud and disruptive.
Instead, get outside in the backyard and run around. Play very physically demanding games, such as tag, team sports or relay races.
The key is to make them them all tuckered out so they will be calmer for the rest of the day. You might even find that they fall asleep earlier – so you have more time to work.
Get Up Early Or Work Late
Make the most of the time when your kids are asleep. If you have older children who tend to sleep in, get up before them and squeeze in some work in the morning. If you have young children who go to bed early, your prime work time can be in the evening.
And of course, there’s always nap time. If you’ve used the strategy in the last point and your kids have been playing energetic games all morning, they might be ready for a nap in the afternoon.
Things Others Can Help You With
You don’t have to struggle through this alone! There are many ways others may be able to help you achieve your work goals. Here are a few things others can help you with.
Encourage Older Kids to Entertain Younger Ones
If you have children old enough, let them teach or lead their younger siblings. They can teach their younger siblings a skill, lead them in a game or read them a story.
This is a great way to keep everyone occupied – and it also teaches your older kids responsibility and how to care for others. You might even find that the together-time strengthens the bond between siblings as well.
Let Them Video-Call Family Members and Friends
Your child can call an aunt, uncle, grandma or grandpa on the phone and video chat with them for a while. They can read stories, play games, talk, sing, dance and much more. While they are occupied with the conversation, you can get some work done. It’s almost like having a virtual babysitter!
By doing this, you’ll also be ensuring that your children stay connected to the other important people in their lives. Staying connected with family is more important now than ever.
Swap In and Out With Your Spouse
If you have a partner who can help with the childcare – things will be a lot easier. You may find that the most productive strategy is to alternate your workday schedule. Take turns working and taking care of the kids, allowing each adult time to concentrate solely on work.
If you or your partner has work that needs to be done without interruption, the other can take the kids outside to play or on a walk. This type of teamwork can be essential for figuring out how to work from home with kids.
Above All, Set Reasonable Expectations
The truth is that you won’t get as much done as usual. This is a very strange situation, so don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t feel guilty. Set reasonable expectations with your employer so they are aware that your work calls may be interrupted – or you may need longer deadlines.
If you are a freelancer and you set your own deadlines, this is a great opportunity to use the strategy of “under promise and over deliver.” In other words, if you think you might be able to complete something by Wednesday, tell your client Friday instead. You’ll have the extra time if you need it, and if you get it done by Thursday you’re ahead of schedule rather than being late!
Also, this is a time to cut yourself some slack when it comes to parenting. It’s a worldwide pandemic, after all. Don’t let it stress you out that your kids are getting more screen time than usual – it might be necessary for getting through the day. Letting them have a few more special indulgences doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent. It means you’re doing what you need to do to get through these difficult times.
Have you had any success figuring out how to work from home with kids? Do you have any tips to share? We’d love to hear them – share your tips on Twitter and make sure to tag us!