This article first appeared on The Carousel, by Michelle Broadbent.
As we long for the days of uninterrupted work time (remember those??), no one can deny that working from home with kids is a challenge. Sit down in front of your computer and you can be guaranteed your child is going to want your attention. They do not understand how important what you are doing is, they only care that you are not looking at them!
Here are some strategies for working best with your small co-workers:
Be realistic about the time you have available and what you can get done in that time to avoid setting yourself up for failure. Yes there are 24 hours in a day but if your children are awake for 12 of them then you need to accept that you may not be the productivity machine you hope to be – and that is perfectly OK.
Triage Your To Do List
Right now no one is ripping through their To-Do list like they were pre COVID 19. Review your list and sort tasks into:
- Must Do – the non-negotiable, urgent and important tasks. Time to do these should be scheduled into your calendar to give you a better chance of getting them done.
- Nice to Do – important but not urgent. These are not time sensitive and should be chipped away at each day so that they don’t build up.
- To Delegate – We can not do all of the things right now so look at what tasks could be done by someone else (or can it be ditched all together?)
- Scrappy tasks – can be done while masquerading as parenting (the ones that could be done while sitting on the lounge watching Bluey because your 3 year old really, really wants you to)
Structure & Boundaries
Once you are clear on what you need to get done for the day, you need to communicate your priorities with everyone in the house and set some boundaries.
You are blending multiple timetables here so it is important that there is time for everyone. I set expectations and run through all of our Must Dos with my kids the night before and work through what they have got on. Usually their teachers have provided their work for the entire week so we set the priorities and work out a timetable that works best for them AND me. I explain that when we all finish what we need to do then we can do something fun together.
Allocate some dedicated time to school work supervision (but not all your time). Unless you are a solo parent like me, there is no mandate that says that mothers have to do all the kid wrangling so you and your partner should be tag teaming here.
Set break times and offer for one of the kids to be in charge of the alarm. At our place, we work to my oldest daughter’s school timetable where the bell goes off every 45 minutes. It is our version of the Pomodoro Technique.
Accept that you may need to work outside of your usual work hours (getting up earlier or going to bed later you night owls) to get things done or asking your partner to supervise the kids outside while you take a Zoom call.
Remove yourself. For maximum focus and productivity you should work in another room unless you have kids who are more likely to leave you alone if they can actually see you.
I am all for giving my children age appropriate tasks to help out – whether they help with your work or keep the household ticking along. Some suggestions include preparing a meal (even if it’s sandwiches for lunch), walking the dog, occupying a younger member of the family, virtual babysitting, hanging/folding washing. The competitive ones may love a challenge “I bet you can’t…” (shoot 20 goals through the netball ring, run around the backyard 50 times – tell them about the 100 year old guy in the UK who did 100 laps of his backyard). They may not do things as quickly as you but it will make them feel important and buy you a bit of time to finish things off.
Quality Time v. Quantity
With many children, a little bit of your undivided attention goes a long way. I find that if I constantly multi-task, no one wins. Carving out time where I close my laptop, silence my phone and make a conscious effort to be present for this period of time works wonders, especially when things may have gone haywire earlier in the day.
The purpose of providing these tips is to help you feel less compromised while blending work and family-life while confined to the four walls of your home. Everything is so heightened now and there is so much pressure to Do It All. Cut yourself some slack and remember “This Too Shall Pass” (and that Dan Murphys delivers!).