With spring break in full bloom for some, just around the corner for others and a host of one-day holidays, school scheduling changes, and sick days that inevitably pop-up this time of year, having the kids home from school can seriously dampen the productivity rate of a work-from-home parent.
If you have school-age kids between the ages of ‘toys are no longer a choking hazard’ and ‘mom, can I borrow the car,’ you know firsthand the challenges having them home from school can present. Between providing some sort of entertainment for them while limiting screen time, breaking up fights between siblings, and generally tending to their daily needs – which can seem never ending – it’s difficult to keep up with family tasks let alone stay on top of professional ones.
It is in this vein that we have created a list of sanity-saving tips for work-from-home parents who can’t afford to let their professional productivity suffer just because their kiddos happen to be home from school.
1. Plan ahead
If you know ahead of time that your kiddo will be home from school (scheduled breaks vs. getting sick), you can try and even out your workload in anticipation of their being home. Get the heavy lifting done before break so your load is lighter during break.
“Knowing that they [the kids] will be home, I plan ahead. I try to get as much work done as I can beforehand. Scheduling activities in advance for them is also crucial for me.” – Anne (National Marketing Director), mom to a 10 and 9 year old.
2. Schedule break time
Just as you might schedule a lunch hour for yourself on a regular work day, schedule a “play, entertain, lunch, talk, etc.” time with your child when they are home. Set the expectation that you need to work during certain hours but your scheduled break time is all for them.
3. Work in small increments
School holidays mean adjusting your schedule and being flexible no matter what. With that in mind, try scheduling your work day in chunks. For instance, work with clients in different time zones during the hour or two that works best for them but follow that up with a kid break. Set aside another hour or two for a different task before your next kid break. Compartmentalizing the day in this way will help keep you on track but also allows you the flexibility to deal with other family-related things that pop up throughout the day.
4. Set up a productivity chart for the whole family
Remember those “chore charts” you had for your kids when they were little? Perhaps you still have one. In any case, setting up a “productivity chart” or “to accomplish list” for each member of the family is a good way to keep the kids busy while you focus on work. For example, list out the five things each person in the family wants or needs to get done on a given day or in a given timeframe. Schedule time where each person has the opportunity to work independently on their list (making phone calls for you, tidying rooms for the kids) and agree not to bother one another during this time.
5. Flip your work schedule
If you have the option, you might consider flipping your work day so that your days are free to be with your kids and evenings are designated work hours. This might mean an earlier bedtime or a little more TV in the evening for the kids but it means a few uninterrupted hours of productivity for you.
“I work from home so during school holidays I have to make sure my days are for the kids and the evenings are for work when my husband gets home. I do take 1 hour a day for a workout which helps to maintain my sanity and allows me to do something for myself.” — Kelly (Project Manager), mom to an 8 and 5 year old.
6. Hire a babysitter or mother’s helper
There is nothing wrong with hiring a sitter to act in your stead while you are in the house working. They keep the kids busy, fed, and entertained while you get work done. This can be an affordable solution especially given most sitters charge less if you are in the home while they are there.
7. Set up independent play plans
Dominoes. Legos. Reading. Each of these activities is perfectly suited for independent play. Negotiate a certain amount of time you want your child to spend on a given activity before needing your attention. For instance, ask your child to spend 20-30 minutes setting up a domino track alone before you come in to record the end result and final knock down. Or, have your child read 20 minutes independently before you come read to them. By doing so, you are allowing yourself enough time to send a quick email or make a phone call but still interacting and showing interest in your child’s activity.
8. Move around the house – go wireless
If you feel you need to have a supervising eye on your little ones, you can always move around the house with them provided you have a wireless/mobile set-up. Take your laptop into the kitchen while your kids are eating; make a phone call from the back deck so you can look in on the kids through the window or sliding door; work on a project in a room adjacent to where the kids are playing. It’s not ideal but it allows you to be physically close to your children as needed.
9. Set up playdates
Playdates are a great, guilt-free way to keep kids entertained so you can focus on work. If the playdate is at your house, it may be a bit louder for a few hours, but chances are you can close off a work space and tune the little monsters (I mean children) out for a while. If you need peace and quiet to do your thing, trading off playdate locations with a friend is a sound solution.
“I set up playdates where I have 4 kids for an afternoon, and the other mom has 4 kids for the next afternoon. That way we both get a free afternoon and the kids are happy.” – Molly (Interior Decorator), mom to an 11 and 8 year old.
10. Check into day camps
Many organizations including the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs offer reasonably priced day camps during scheduled school breaks. You can check with your child’s sports clubs (Martial Arts, Swim Team, Little League, etc.) to see what they might offer in terms of camps and small group lessons as well.
11. Set up easy-to-reach snacks
How many times do you hear, “Mom, I’m hungry” when your child is home from school? Growing-kid-hunger is a constant and can be a constant interruption when you are trying to work from home. Buy yourself some time and sanity by putting out easy to reach, make, or assemble snacks for your kids to get on their own; a cheese and cracker tray on a low shelf in the refrigerator, a bowl of washed fruit on the countertop, etc. Encourage their snack-time independence and relish the fact that you’re not getting up every thirty minutes to satiate another hungry kid.
12. Let go of the guilt
Remember you can only do so much and some days that just might be putting on a movie for the kids, pouring a bowl of Cheerios for their snack, and putting in earplugs to tune out the background noise. It might not seem like it but you will be teaching your kiddos self-reliance and patience and demonstrating a positive work ethic. Enough said.