Many of us have found ourselves working from home recently, maybe on our own or alongside a spouse or roommate. A large number of us are also trying to do so with our kids at home with us. This a new and major challenge. After doing this for the last five or six weeks, I have a few tips that have worked for me that I will share here today.
- Get hours in early
If you are lucky enough to be able to be flexible with when you put the hours in, use that flexibility. I have been getting up extra early and putting in some very focused hours before the kids get up, when the house is quiet and there are no interruptions. I try to save work that requires my whole, focused attention for those hours, and save things that can be done in short bursts (like checking phone messages and responding to emails) for later in the day. That way, I can do some quality work and get it out before the start of regular hours, and then do whatever brief follow up is required throughout the day around my kids routine.
2. Be flexible, trade off
I cant stress this one enough. This applies to so many things- hours of work (put them all in, but figure out where they will fit), trading off periods of work and periods of parenting, periods of focused parenting with periods of independent play. Right now, my respect goes out to the single parents out there who have less access to this option. Be flexible with your kids routine where you can- we do not have a set in stone routine, but over the past few weeks, we have figured out what works for us and we go over the plan for the day each morning -which parent works when, what we might like to do that day and when. That way, everyone has clear expectations.
3. Set limits with your kids
Setting age appropriate boundaries with your children is essential. For many of us working parents, we (and our kids) are used to having limited time together due to work and school schedules. Thrown in any activities, and the time we normally spent together was, for many of us, pretty scheduled and our attention pretty focused on the kids. Now it is not realistic to expect we can maintain that kind of focused attention all day, every day. I started an experiment last week where I would set aside one hour to try top do some work and encourage my kids to get bored and figure out how they wanted to spend that time. This gave me an hour to finish off a few things. If I can get a good chunk of my hours done in the morning, then an hour later in the day along with short regular periods to check and respond to email, and one more block of a few hours later on after trading off childcare with my spouse means the hours are all done by dinner time.
4. Make some focused attention time for your kids
This is all about balance. Its good for our kids to have independent play and build their problem solving skills with less adult direction for periods, but they also need some of our focused attention and structure in their day. So when I’m with my kids, we plan what our day will look like so we all know. Most of the time I spend with them, I am focused on them. I plan when to check email and turn the sound off on my computer so I am not distracted by hearing email arrive. I have told colleagues that if it is urgent, please make it a phone call so I can avoid being pulled away constantly.
5. Cut yourself some slack
Its not as if we are doing this because its a privilege. We are doing the best we can in a situation in which none of us has any control. So just do your best. It might mean you kid wanders into your zoom meeting. It might mean your work needs to wait while you attend to parenting- after all, for most of us the reason we work is to support our families. It might mean you kids watch a little extra TV these weeks, or your productivity might be a little different them what it might be at the office. All of that is reasonable, and all of that is what everyone is dealing with right now. As we try to extend extra kindness and understanding to others, lets do the same for ourselves. Its not going to be perfect, but in these times especially, good enough is pretty darn good.