Working from home when children are around is always a challenge, and that’s why planning ahead is key to get your work done. Now, this is something you can easily arrange when you know that school holidays are coming. But what happens when you didn’t have any time to plan? Your children may get sick for a couple of days, so you are forced to change things a bit, like working at night or very early in the morning. But children being sick from time to time is among the expected, right?
The problem is when something REALLY unexpected happens – for a longer period of time. Take coronavirus (COVID-19), for instance. Overnight, the governments of affected countries close schools, send kids home AND expect us all to keep working from home. And that’s when the fun starts!
First things first: If this is your very first work-from-home experience, you may want to read some advice about how to organize yourself to be as productive as it goes so that you work smarter, not harder. Read this post about how to start working from home – and come back here when you’re done!
If you already work from home, you know it always requires a high dose of focus and organization, but what happens when there are children around? How can you manage to keep your business going – without getting a nervous breakdown?
How can I work from home when kids are around?
Apart from getting up earlier and going to bed later than them, what I suggest you do is establishing different parameters according to your personal situation:
1. Categorize the kind of work you have to perform:
- Creative work or any task which requires focus (writing, thinking, strategizing)
- You’ll need silence for this kind of tasks, so don’t even try to start working when you know your kids can appear at the door any minute.
- Administrative tasks that you could do with your eyes closed.
- That’s something you could do when your older children are studying, for instance.
- It’s important that you don’t get lost if they interrupt you, so choose wisely which kind of tasks belong to this category.
- Repetitive tasks you don’t need any brain cells for.
- In my case, it would be choosing images or resizing them for social media.
- This is also something you can perfectly do while “watching” a film with your kids. They’ll enjoy your being there!
2. Set priorities. Not all tasks are equally important:
If you don’t want to go crazy AND you wanna sleep, setting a priority rank is key here. So remember this: Work solely on the really important things. Think about it: Is there anything that you usually do more often than you should? What can wait? Try to categorize your activities under one of these groups – and set a plan for each of them:
- Tasks that you need to get done – come rain or shine. This would be priority #1.
- Get them done first thing in the morning – before anyone else wakes up 😉
- Emails. Answering everyone’s email isn’t really necessary, is it?
- Set an out-of-office message with a line saying something like “I’ll get back at you as soon as possible.”
- Take ca. 30-40 minutes to check and answer all emails that are really important. Any other emails will get your out-of-office answer automatically anyway, so there’s no urgent need to answer them yet.
- You could even add a line to your out-of-office message informing about the time frame you’ll be checking your mails.
- If there’s any email that has to be followed up by anyone else in your team or company, you could take two measures:
- Add “For any urgent matters, please contact xxx” in your out-of-office reply. In that way, you won’t be holding any important information.
- Resend the email to the person in charge with a simple “Please follow up.” or “FYI” if he/she doesn’t need to take any more action. But remember: Only in the designated 30-40 minutes.
- And that’s the way to go with any other task which isn’t important but “urgent”. More often than not, we react to other people’s urgencies as if they were ours. But make yourself this question: What would happen if I didn’t do it immediately? Right. Nothing. So just skip it for now.
3. Tricks to take action depending on your children’s age and behavior:
- If you have a baby or very small children at home, work countercyclically, that is, they’re resting? You work. They’re hyperactively playing around? You’d better take a rest from your PC and spend some time with them. Otherwise, it can get very frustrating, believe me!
- Do your kids have homework?
- If they’re older, use that time to work at the same time as them – and spend more time together afterward.
- If they’re smaller children, I don’t know about you, but I can’t work near my 6-year-old boy when he’s “working” (that’s what he says). He’s either asking questions every 30 seconds or is happily “focused” doing homework AND singing at the same time (how can they do that??).
- So before I start yelling around ’cause everyone’s interrupting me while I’m trying to work, I think it’s better for my sanity to take that time to help him if he needs me or to get some housework done (that never stops either, right?) – until he needs me again…
- Then, when he’s ready with his homework, I let him do something that he loves (and that he doesn’t need me for) for an hour. And that’s MY time!! I tell ya, that hour I’m the most productive person in the whole world 😀
- Your children don’t have any homework to do? Then let them play, be children… and wait for them to get bored. ‘Cause they will get bored, right?
- Then, offer them to do something they haven’t done the whole day. TV for an hour works like a charm, but only if they haven’t been watching it the whole morning!
- So make sure they don’t play with that very thing you have reserved for that time frame when you want to work. You can also “pre-sell” it as a special event, or even as a treat they’ll get if they let you work.
- Before you start, make sure they aren’t hungry, thirsty or whatever they may get. Ask them if they need anything. It’s better to start 10 minutes later than get constantly interrupted. Yep. You’ll need more than a bit of patience, sister…
They’re your kids, so you know what time works best. When do they usually need a rest? Is it after lunch? Then reserve that special activity for then. My kids love watching a movie after lunch. So I help them choose THE movie and make some popcorn, give them a bottle of water and make sure they feel soooo comfy that they don’t want to get up of that couch 😀
Last but not least… A couple of advice yet for you to work from home with your kids around
- Plan the very first thing that has to get done whenever you get to work. You don’t want to waste any time thinking about it when your kids are quiet! Ideally, you start right away on that first task you have to tackle!
- It’s very important that you schedule your working times. Never mind if you work at 5 am, 10 pm or 11 pm: Do what you think is more doable for your personal situation, but do schedule your approximate working hours and free time! Avoid rushing to your laptop any time the kids are busy. Instead of not having enough time to work, you may end up working way too much!
- Take breaks, drink lots of water and train if you can. It’ll help you keep a clear mind.
- Don’t make one plan: With kids at home, you’ll need Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… and all the way up to Z 😀 If you get to balance flexibility and focus, you’ll be the home-office queen!!
I know that it’s easier said than done, but being clear of your real priorities, taking some time for your children and making sure that they’re fine before you start working could be the key for you to work from home without going totally nuts – even if schools are closed!
If you have any more advice or any experience with working from home with kids, please share it below! I’d love to know!
PS. Are you born to freelance?
This post may interest you: