Working from Home with Kids Is Not Glamorous
It’s been almost been 7 years since I started working from home with kids. People used to look at me, with a somewhat surprised look, and say things like, “That’s cool. Is it hard?” Now, under the current circumstances, everyone is finding out what I’ve known all along. It’s NOT hard.
Working from home with kids is damn-near impossible.
If you’re stuck in quarantine wondering if there are ways to make it easier, there ARE things I have found to be helpful. However, nothing will get better unless you address both the organization of working remote and how to manage the kids.
None of this will work all the time, and it’s not guaranteed to work for everyone.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Get Used to Working at Different Hours
Your previous schedule is out the window. Plain and simple. These are some options:
- Get up really early.
- Work late, after the kids go to bed.
- Work weekends.
- Work during nap time or screen time.
I know what you’re thinking…DUH. Of course, you can’t work your regular hours. But, hear me out.
In My World…
I often work from 4-7am without much interruption. When was the last time you went to work and spent hours working without interruption? I mean…maybe you lock your office door? But, in my world, during normal working hours, there are meetings and calls, questions and requests. It never stops.
Getting up with the birds lets me start out the day with 3 hours already done. I can usually get at least 2-3 hours done in other segments. My situation *may* be unique because I work seven days a week. And, yep, I even go on vacation with my computer. But, this also allows me to get a lot done.
Checking Email & Other Things That Tank Efficiency
I don’t check my email in the morning. There. I said it. If there’s one thing this situation has taught me, is how to work efficiently AF. Checking email is a time suck.
- Don’t start your day by opening your email–you’ll fall down that rabbit hole, not emerging for 1-2 hours. Do you have any idea what can be accomplished in 1-2 hours?!? (Because working from home with kids is ALL ABOUT efficiency, unless you have specific details you need to complete a project, don’t go there.)
- I don’t get on the phone with the team unless it’s vital. Conversations take way longer than commenting back and forth over what is necessary.
- Everything is within reach. When planning, make sure all elements are provided, all details are hashed out, links are available for assets. Looking for information, and waiting on others, wastes time.
Do I Check My Email?
Yes. I just don’t give it a lot of weight. I check it like I’m running out the door. I look for high priority ones first. Those are the ones that get opened, answered, and tasks scheduled to be completed. It’s also a task that doesn’t require silence or 100% concentration.
Break It Down.
Working from home with kids is going to force you to evaluate your work. You can accomplish an enormous amount of work in a small amount of time.
- Detail what you do.
- Break that into tasks.
- Identify how much time those tasks take.
- Decide which ones need extreme concentration.
How Do I Do This?
I specify the details. I have 15 businesses that I work for. I have a document that identifies each and every deliverable our company is responsible for. Those line items start at tasks/projects that take from 5 minutes to 3+ hours.
I keep a timesheet. If you don’t, you probably should. I used to work contract, and while it’s the way I got paid, what I actually realized is how much it helped me standardize my work. It’s what pushes me to break down projects into specific parts and knock them out. This also doubles as a “to do” list. Anything that needs to be done by EOD–and the following day–gets added. My timesheet is edited throughout the day, and it’s the last thing I touch. It also happens to be the FIRST thing I open at 4am. I don’t have to think about what needs to be done–it’s right there in front of me.
Sometimes work doesn’t get my full attention. I am not a brain surgeon. I specialize in digital marketing, and while it mandates important skills, there are plenty of things I can do without being in a “work bubble.” This goes back to knowing your work, and tightening up your efficiency.
Keeping Kids Busy
This is what everyone is really interested in, right? What is the magic formula for keeping your kids busy so you can work? As you’ve probably predicted, there isn’t one blanket way to do this. This is going to be individual trial and error.
It’s frustrating. It’s overwhelming. It’s full of parenting guilt. But, I also believe that by forcing the issue, it keeps me from over-parenting. Please understand that your kids are not my kids. You know them best. But, it doesn’t hurt to see things from someone else’s perspective.
Leave Them Alone.
My kids are super needy when I’m around. My 8yo can’t even get himself something to drink because his “legs are too tired.” Kids become a lot more independent when they are left to it.
My kids get along much better when I’m not around. Don’t get me wrong, I stay within ear shot. But, I don’t meddle. If I have to check on them, I’m stealthy. If they see me, they will suddenly NEED ME. They will immediately find reasons to fight with each other.
They get creative when I’m out of sight. When my kids have my ear, they’re bored. They don’t know what to do. The phrase, “When can we play video games?,” is repeated over and over. So, in many cases, I get them going, and I leave. They continue to play–and, they usually find new things to do for a healthy chunk of time.
How to Get Them Playing.
How do you get them to play independently? Jump start the process. This can take time. And, sometimes, it’s impossible. But, it’s worth a try. In order to move them toward playing by themselves, you need them to be engaged enough that they don’t need you. Then you need to step away.
Step One: Categorize the Toys.
We have two categories of toys/play stuff in this house:
- Toys they play with every day.
- Toys they play with for a couple hours. Then they sit untouched for a week or more.
This is low maintenance. You don’t have to spend hours on this.
Step Two: Stash the Toys.
When you identify the toys that just sit around, you stash them. You need some boxes or bins for “sets.” Toss these in boxes, and don’t get them out until necessary. What about toys they play with everyday? While these can stay out, some of the elements can be stashed for emergency times when your kids need a distraction. (Hot Wheels are a great example for us–they only come out about once a month. Legos stay out, but I will grab handfuls of mini-figs at times to stash. When those are “found,” it’s like a buried treasure.)
Step Three: Start Them Off.
They may need help. Set up tracks, get out characters, clear a space. When you get them started playing, it’s a lot easier to leave them to it.
Of course, you’re not going to leave them alone. When my youngest was a toddler, I could give her two baskets–one full of duplos and one empty. It would keep her busy for a huge chunk of time, putting items from one to another. A pile of papers, on the floor next to where I was working would give me 20-30 minutes.
Other Items to Bring Out for Play Time:
- Play Doh
- Marble Run
- Board Games
- Card Games
- Grocery Store/Kitchen
- Duplo Lego Bin
- Magic Tracks
- Wooden Blocks
- Art Center (coloring books, crayons, paint, etc)
- Small Characters (Busy Books, Little People, Lego)
- Ball Pit
- Sticker Books
- Anything with Water
Buy Yourself Time.
What do you do when you’re desperate in the middle of the day? When you have a conference call? You do what you can. For my older kids, this is where screens come into play. Allowing them some screen time is not a crime, and you’ll get work done. Life is about balance.
They can play on educational apps, watch a movie, or a couple episodes of a show. My boys are totally into Super Smash Bros, and they wait all day to get the chance to play it. This is not something to feel bad about.
Trust me, they’ll be happy, and it’ll give you some relief.
Break the Day Into Parts.
We all need breaks, right? That’s what the coffee pot or the water cooler is for, right? When I need a break, I take a break. When my kids need me, I take a break. If you break the day into parts, it seems to go by faster. What are some activities you can do?
- Picture books are a great way to spend 20 minutes enjoying a snack and a story.
- For older kids, start a chapter book. They may complain, but if it’s a good book, they’ll be engaged.
- Audio books
- Use YouTube to draw a character together. Our favorite channel is ArtKidsHub.
- Play Scribble. Take a blank piece of paper, scribble something in 1-2 seconds, pass the paper to your child. They have to make it into a picture. Let them scribble one for you.
- Controlled art supplies: painting, markers, dot markers, stamps.
- Create art with pieces of nature you find in the yard.
- Do an online workout together. I personally love Fitness Blender.
- GoNoodle & Cosmic Kids are great resources right now.
- Create an obstacle course in your yard with household objects.
- Scavenger hunts
- Dance parties: I have a playlist on my phone, dedicated to songs they love. I hit “shuffle,” and no one is allowed to argue or fight over “picking a song.” (Add costumes or theme music for novelty.)
- Set aside 10-15 minutes in what we call “Special Time.” This is different from just “hanging out” with your kids.
- Set a timer. (It gives this boundaries–helping you and them.)
- Pay attention to what they want to play, play what they want, listen without interruption, leave your phone in another part of the house.
***This can be a very powerful technique, especially for kids who are having a hard time. This can also be difficult right now if you have young children, or more than one. One way to manage is to have all kids focus on what one kid wants to do for 10 minutes. Another time, we let a different child lead.
We’ll Get Through It.
There will be days when you get work done. There will be days when you don’t. This is hard for all of us, and sometimes it seems like all your kids can do is whine, fight and cry. You’re not alone.
Have you tried any of these ideas? Have others to share? Reach out–I’d love to hear from you.