Following on from my last article about how to work from home productively for Business Business Business – I thought I would follow up on how to do so with children. Personally, I have a three-and-a-half-year-old and a just-turned-two-year-old, (neither of whom are in care) so I have also spoken to several of my clients who have children of school age and combined all of our advice.
Warning, your days might bleed into nights, and you might find you are sitting at your desk with a coffee ready to do the work that you couldn’t fit in while the sun was still shining.
That might be the way that it’s going to be for a little while, and that’s OK. If you are one of the lucky ones who got to keep their jobs and work from home while we deal with this pandemic – while working eight hours a day in your pajamas sounds like a dream for some, for those of us with children – it’s a bit more challenging.
Here are the things that I advise to make working from home as seamless as possible:
1: Have a routine
This is the for the kids, not for you! You might have to work whenever, and wherever you can. Routines are important for children and teenagers to feel safe. Raising Children Network highly recommends the use of routines. While every child and every family are different, key ingredients for children are sleep, outside time, food and connection. Scheduling in time for meals and snacks, play time outside and time with your kids will make them less likely to be whiny and clingy. Personally, when my kids get up at 7am, that first hour is all about them. We play whatever they want to play, we have breakfast and usually do something outside. I also have set times when they do arts and crafts during the day (they seem to be a bit quieter at these times) and I can usually help them and answer emails or calls at the same time.
2: Don’t worry about the mess and use ZONES
If you expect your house to look perfect while you are trying to work and look after kids at the same time, you will stress yourself out. What I do here is move them to a different area of the house with some specific toys that are only for that area and let them make a huge mess. Once they start to get bored of that area, I get them to help me clean it up before we move to the next room. Now, this is easier said than done if you live in a small apartment, but the other option is to have toys in boxes that you keep in cupboards and bring out at different times, so they don’t have access to all of their toys at once. Let go of perfectionism – that one is a hard one to learn but will save you much mental anguish.
3: Use others for connection
If you have a grandparent or relative that is at home and can do so, getting them to Facetime and read a story to younger children, or chat to older children can kill two birds with one stone. One, your parent gets to see your children, two, you get possible 30 minutes to make phone calls uninterrupted!
4: Set your calls or video meetings for times when you know your kids will be quieter
My two year old sleeps from 1.30pm until 3.30pm every day, so I book as many meetings as I can in that time period. I also leave anything that can be done over email as non-essential. If I get an hour of quiet, I use that time to do as much of the phone calls and video meetings that I can.
5: Be prepared to work outside of “normal” hours
Sometimes the best work that you will do (especially if I need to do heavy thinking stuff) can occur outside of normal hours. Personally, I will set an alarm for 5am which gives me two uninterrupted hours of work before the kids get up. I also do all of my admin, emails, and things that require less “thinking” after the kids go to sleep at 7pm. I have on the bottom of my emails that I work flexibly and do not expect any responses outside of normal work hours, so people don’t feel pressured to respond to me.
6: Organise your food!
Knowing what you are going to feed the kids and yourself each day (I prepare the night before) saves so much of your “working time”. Having to stop and make lunches or dinners takes up valuable work time. I actually got this tip from one of my friends who is a senior executive and it has paid off!
7: Communicate with your colleagues
My colleagues know that they can call me at 6am, or after 7pm any time if they need to. They also know that the best time to call me is between 1.30 and 3.30pm if they want my complete undivided attention. At the end of the day, most people are OK with children’s voices in the background – it’s not the end of the world!
8: Create a workspace
If you can, try and create a space that when you are there, your kids know that you are working. I’ve also found getting them pretend computers and having them sit at the table “doing work” has gotten me some serious time in uninterrupted work, and the toy computers teach them letters and numbers. Double score!
9: Look after yourself
Don’t forget that you also need to take care of you. My personal wind down involves a vino in the bath. It’s not every day, but the days that I especially need it!
Hopefully some of this is helpful! I hope you are all keeping safe and well.