Being a working parent is a difficult job - especially when you have a 4th grade son with ADHD and a 4-year old daughter with more stamina than the Energizer Bunny. Now with COVID-19 forcing many parents to work from home, the fragile balance between our career responsibilities and duties as parents has been destabilized, transforming one difficult job into two seemingly impossible ones.
In addition to being thrust into these roles, we’ve also had to take on new responsibilities in our children's education to ensure that they get their work done and learn something each day. Although challenging, it is possible to work from home productively while still managing your new parental obligations.
In my role at Beyond BookSmart, I have had the luxury of being able to work from home during parts of my week for the past year. Although it has its perks, it’s also forced me to master the delicate dance of managing work responsibilities and taking care of kids within the same space.
Here are my top 5 survival tips for working at home with kids in the house:
1) Set Ground Rules
Setting ground rules with your family is critical in establishing when you are working and when you are parenting. Although these can be flexible to your needs, I suggest that the rules be sacred once set.
For example, when I’m working from home, I tell my kids to pretend like I’m working out of the house - even if I may be in a shared room. If they need something, they need to ask their dad before he goes to work.
Once my husband is gone, I let my kids know when it’s acceptable to interrupt me while I’m working. If I’m in my office with the door closed, they know not to disturb me unless it’s an emergency, whereas an open door indicates that it’s okay for them to come in.
While everyone is learning these new rules, it’s important to make sure that you go over them daily. You can use the “I do, we do, you do” method with this over the span of a few days or weeks.
- First, tell them the ground rules. Do this each day because they will forget them while they’re new.
- Next, tell them the ground rules again and then ask them to repeat the rules back to you. This will help them “stick” a little better.
- Finally, ask the kids to tell you the ground rules by themselves.
2) Create a Flexible Daily Schedule
Schedules are important to give us structure, but we also need to be flexible while adjusting to this new normal. Having a written or visual schedule that you work on together can be a great way to get everyone’s input and further lay out daily expectations.
Since my son is at an age where he has daily assignments, I laid down the expectation on his first day of distance learning that he needed to be working between the hours of 8:30am and 2:30pm and not playing video games until he’s finished.
Working in chunked blocks of time is another great strategy for both parents and kids. The time blocks should be shorter than if you were working in the office - maybe 15, 20, or 30 minutes at a time. Use a timer to stay focused and to signal when it’s time to take a break or switch tasks.
During these time blocks, you can focus on work while your kids do assignments for school. If you have a kid who struggles to remain focused, try setting up a Zoom meeting with them to check in. They can even share their screen with you so that you can make sure they’re on track.
3) Take Frequent Breaks
In addition to working in time blocks, frequent breaks are crucial to maintaining focus and productivity while working from home. Make sure to get up at least once an hour and grab a snack or do a quick household chore before getting back to work - this applies to your children, too.
If problems emerge around the length of breaks, or with getting back on track after, try to take breaks with your kids to hold each other accountable. Some other great strategies include making predetermined lists of break-time activities, defining what a 5-minute break actually looks like (grabbing a snack vs. playing xbox) and pre-planning “next steps” to smooth the transition to starting back up. Phone apps or smart watches can also offer great reminder tools.
4) Make Time to Maintain Healthy Habits
Many of us had built a regular exercise routine prior to COVID-19. Whether this applies to you or not (I won’t tell, I promise), this new situation we’re in presents a unique opportunity.
For many of us, we actually have more time to workout now than ever before. That being said, you’ll likely have to get creative - not just in your workouts, but also to keep yourself motivated.
Some strategies that have worked for me include:
- Making a playlist of my favorite songs to workout to
- Joining free online workout classes (you don’t need weights to do push ups or yoga!)
- Taking advantage of workout apps (especially the ones with free trials)
- Working out with your family to stay accountable and have good company
Whether your habit is related to fitness, nutrition, or emotional/spiritual well-being, it’s important to remember that doing something is always better than doing nothing - especially if you’re trying to maintain healthy habits from life pre-quarantine.
5) Set Realistic Expectations
Everyone’s world has completely changed in a matter of weeks, forcing all of us to make major sacrifices and adjustments. Expectations of what constitutes “productivity” and “success” cannot be the same as they were before COVID-19, especially with our kids at home, so we need to reframe the way we think about these things.
During this time, try to do the most important things on your to-do list when you know that you can get them done with minimal interruptions. For me, it’s best that I hold my virtual meetings and important phone calls before my husband leaves for work. Once it’s just me and the kids, I plan to use my time for non-urgent emails and tasks, but try not to beat myself up if I don’t get through all of the things on my to-do list.
Although it’s likely that your kids aren’t going to follow every rule you set during this time (as they likely didn’t do this before the health crisis), hopefully some of these strategies will help to improve your productivity while working from home with kids.
To learn more about how you can better manage your responsibilities during COVID-19, consider joining one of our free webinars. Upcoming topics and registrations can be found on our events page.