I’ve worked from home for the past 18 years; since I was on a maternity leave with my fourth child. I gave up a corporate job, and wrote my first book that year. In 20 minute time increments, because I had a newborn, a three-year-old, an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old and all the demands that they brought with them. I could hardly wait until the youngest started kindergarten, and I could devote hours and hours to writing. Guess what? He went to school with the others and I still stuck to my 20 minute increments. It’s what I could do. That worked for me; we all need to find our new groove, and we all probably need more than 20 minutes at a time.
In the face of lockdown and having to work from home in so many different professions, it can be extremely hard to fall into a solid and productive routine, whether you are on your own schedule, or one dictated to you by your employer. Throw in some toddlers, pre-schoolers, tweens or teens with demands and schedules of their own, and it can seem overwhelming.
Here are some tips that helped me through the years with kids underfoot:
1) Establish routines around mealtimes and bedtimes. The more your work day has a regular flow, the easier it will be to slot in work times, play times, nap times, and family time. You don’t have to stick to your old schedule of dinner at 6:00 and bedtime at 8:00, but try to keep to the same time differential between events. If you have to move to 7:00 and 9:00, do it.
2) Breakfast isn’t for everyone (hello sleepy teens) but try to establish what each person’s breakfast routine is. With smaller children, sit with them, spend time with them and review what’s going to happen next. Kids love routine. If they know they get screen time right after breakfast, they’re likely to get that breakfast down and move to the next activity.
3) Use a clock or a timer that the kids can check (i.e. not your phone) to see when that activity will end and when it is time to go and “knock on the door” (literally or figuratively) of their parents’ workspace in the designated home office area.
4) Establish a home office area, if you can. Working from the kitchen table might be most convenient, but it’s also most accessible for kids to find you. Set up a corner out of the way, if you can.
5) If you’ve marked out a specific time or length of time to play with the kids, put your phone down. Mark yourself in a meeting in an online office calendar, if you can. Kids know when you’re engaged and when you’re not. You might think you just spent an hour colouring with them, but if you were looking at your phone or laptop the whole time, they won’t see it that way and they’ll likely demand more time from you.
6) If your kids are e-learning for school, review the work with them first if you can, and then leave them to it, just like you do when you send them to school. If they’re stuck, review it at the next e-learning session. Any progress is progress; be easy on them and yourselves.
7) If you have a video call that requires Wi-Fi access, notify your older kids to be off their interactive video games at that time. It’s a win/win; you get better Wi-Fi and they are off the game for at least a little bit.
8) Naptime is great for babies and toddlers, but harder with older kids. Instead, establish a “quiet hour” for everyone to go to their rooms. Your choice if you let them take their phones or video gaming systems.
9) Share stories about your work with your kids, if they are old enough to understand. The more they realize why you aren’t making them snacks, but stuck on a phone call, the better. Most kids have little understanding of what their parents actually do for a living so it makes it doubly frustrating that the work seems more important than they are.
10) Get up an hour before the kids do, if you can. If it isn’t possible, and late night is working for you, make sure to refer back to my first tip and make sure you are getting to bed (if not to sleep) at a regular time as well.
It’s a brand-new world. I recognize that these tips are easier read than done, but try out a few and find out what works for you.