Working from home in itself can pose many challenges. Even more so when kids come into play.
For the first 4 years (from 2013 – 2017) I was running Gruen Eco Design from home. And 3.5 years of this time I was a working from home mum. So, I know a good deal about the do’s and don’ts and how to stay sane.
I don’t want to sugar-coat; it won’t be all easy breezy. But there are things you can implement to stay on top of it. And more importantly, to not go crazy and lose your sanity. This can happen very, very easily, having gone down that road myself. You can easily get very agitated and stressed. Which will just lead to even more stressed out and tense kids. They are like a mirror. They will reflect and copy our stress levels and agitation.
So, take a deep breath!
There is nothing we can change about the current situation. There is no point in complaining about it. We have to be proactive and make the most of this unfolding situation.
Here are my 7 essential tips that helped me back then and, when implemented, will help you:
- Keep a clear head
- Get more work done
- Not lose your marbles
1 Go easy on yourself and have realistic expectations
When you have your kids at home you will NOT get as much work done as you usually would.
Don’t beat yourself up and try to do everything perfectly. You can NOT look after the kids 100% and concentrate on your work 100%. Something must give.
The younger your kids are the more attention and time they will need, obviously.
Accept that things will be different. The way you conduct your work will be different. You will need to be way more organised, focused, creative and structured. You will need to get a lot of work done in shorter time frames.
How on earth is that possible, you might wonder? There are ways.
(More about this in point 5)
2 Set Up A Support System
In normal circumstances the school, childcare or maybe the grandparents would be looking after your kids. However, for the next few weeks / potentially months this won’t be an option. Meaning you have to come up with alternative arrangements to look after the kids and get some work done uninterruptedly, that is sustainable in the long run. But also, to get some kid free time. And maybe even some quality time with your partner?
You know the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child”.
If you can: now is the time to create your own village. Grow your family!
By that I mean, is there another family, ideally that lives close by, that have kids the same age (especially when it comes to school aged kids) that you can team up with?
One family that you can form a close bond with, that you can make part of your family. Ask around in your group of friends. Or mums from school or kinder / childcare. Is there someone else that has to work from home? Someone you can share the load with.
Obviously, we still have to comply with the current regulations and stay on top of the constantly changing rules of social distancing. So, I’m not saying you should arrange big play dates or get togethers. I’m asking if there is one family, or maybe even a single mum you can reach out to and connect with? Help each other to get through this.
Someone you can welcome into your family and help each other out over the coming weeks and months? Especially if the rules will get stricter, it will be paramount to have such a set up with one other family. CREATE YOUR OWN EXTENDED FAMILY. Especially if you have a single child.
Be proactive! Reach out to friends or parents in your community.
Split the days to look after the kids between you. So, everyone gets a few days to work, uninterrupted, to get some actual work done. This also assures that there is actually someone looking after the kids. To keep them entertained, to stop them from almost killing each other (I know, slightly exaggerated, but our kids can get feral when left alone for too long)
If this is not an option for you. Then you will have to take turns with your partner. If you both sit at home trying to work while the kids are left to their own devices, I can guarantee you, not much will get done.
You will be better off taking turns. Either allocate days to each other, or half days. Or even take turns every few hours. But that way, you will have 2 hours just to yourself. Without constant interruptions.
Without someone constantly running into your room to ask questions. Or to give you a hug. Or to ask where the scissors are. Or if they can have another snack. Or that they are bored, or you have to stop to break up fights. You get the idea, right?
Especially if it comes to a point when we have to teach our children from home. You will not be able to teach them and work at the same time. Give each other a hand and a break!
You are much better off to work for 2- or 3-hour straight, rather than sitting there for 6 hours. Totally wound up, constantly screaming at the kids and being stressed out by the end of the day. With kids from hell.
Which brings me to point 3.
3 Stay Calm and Breathe
If you try to do it all, look after the kids and work at the same time you will end up getting all wound up from the constant interruptions. The kids will demand attention, one way or the other. Either by constantly interrupting you or initiating fights between each other. Any possible way to get noticed.
We cannot forget that while we all experience stress, overwhelm and fear, we have to keep it together for our kids. The kid’s behaviour is often a mirror of how we feel and behave. No matter how old or young they are. They are scared and confused as well, they will be missing their friends and family and they will be bored.
They will need more attention and reassurance at this time than usual. The more stressed, worried, wound up or angry we are, the more our kids will copy us and adopt our behaviour.
If you want your kids to be happy you have to look after yourself! Selfcare is paramount!
Do whatever it takes for you to keep calm. Try meditating, reading, listening to music, going for walks, exercising, dancing, painting, yoga just try and see what helps you.
There is already a lot of great information out there on how to cope with being in isolation and how to keep sane. See what works for you and make it a part of your daily and or weekly routine. Maybe there are even some things you can integrate the kids in.
Which brings me to my next important tip.
4 Structure Your Day & Have A Set Routine
When working from home you can easily fall into the routine of staying in bed for too long, because you watched Netflix for too long. Or you’re just too lazy to get up. You then start checking emails and things from your bed. You probably end up wasting lots of time on social media, just scrolling.
Often, when a day starts like this it will just keep going that way. You do one thing here. One thing there. Making things up on the go, trying to get some work done here and there, while trying to keep the kids entertained. And you will probably still be checking emails and messages after dinner. And it all starts to feel like a chaotic tangled, foggy mess.
Instead, try to keep your routine up, or rather, create a new routine for you and your family.
Here a sample routine my family is implementing:
Get up early (no sleep ins, except on the weekend, when you are not working)
Do some meditation, exercise, yoga or a walk, or just get some fresh air.
Have breakfast with the family.
Go to “work”. Ideally, set up a dedicated working spot. If you can, in a separate room or at least a dedicated spot at home – where you can be left alone. Try NOT to work just from the sofa, this won’t lead to anything good. Best case scenario, just neck and back problems after a while.
Come ‘back’ for lunch. Or even have a quick visit home for a morning tea ?
Take a proper break, do NOT just work through lunch.
Go ‘back’ to work. And if you can, just stop at your normal time. Maybe put in a little afternoon break to say hello and check in with the family.
If you both have to work, then swap regularly with your partner. The older the kids are the more independently they can be and properly entertain themselves. But even then, they will feel really isolated and alone, meaning they will need some TLC.
Even though both of you should be able to get some work done at the same time, be mindful to spend some time with them throughout the day.
When your kids are younger and need attention or someone to talk or play with, take turns with your partner to be either ‘at work’ or at home. Even if you just swap every one or two hours.
With little babies or toddler, see if you can arrange your day around their routine. When my kids where little I would do phone calls while I was feeding (my first daughter would sometimes feed for 30-40 minutes ?) And I would schedule the most important work, that needed all my attention to the time where she would sleep.
Do not waste the babies / kids sleep time to have a shower or clean the house. You can have the babies or toddlers in the bathroom with you while you get ready. And they can watch you while you tidy or clean the house. Sure, it might not be as easy or relaxed to do this as when the kids are asleep, but otherwise you are wasting valuable uninterrupted time to get work done.
Once your work is done put everything away and go back ‘home’. And try to get home at a ‘normal’ hour. So that the kids can have some quality time with you.
Depending on what industry you work in, your workload and the pressure might be up significantly right now. It will be especially crucial to look after yourself and your mental health. And to take some time off to be with your family. Even if it means you get back to work when the kids are in bed.
Your partner will also need a bit of kid free time. Give them the chance to breathe and to have some alone time, even if it is just for half an hour or an hour – especially if they had the kids all day.
Then get together as a family and do fun things, dinner, games, books, a walk and so on.
5 Short sprints of uninterrupted deep work / “Pomodoro” are the only way to #hit done
Especially when you have the kids at home, and even more so with little kids you have to be realistic, you won’t have as much time as usual to get your work done. So, you have to work smarter, faster and more efficient.
There actually is a way and I have been practicing this for a very long time now. Without this I would never get through the mountains of work I have every day.
The secret is Deep Work / Pomodoro Work
Short sprints of uninterrupted deep work, also called pomodoro are the only way to #hit done.
If you haven’t heard about it, please google pomodoro.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method, developed by Francesco Cirillo[and uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for ‘tomato‘, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
How does it work?
Decide on a task to be done
Planning & Visualisation
Set a time
20 – 30 min max
Work on the task
Turn off your phone, or any notification you might get.
Do not look up from your task. Do not get interrupted by anything. Especially no emails, social media or chit chat.
End when the time finishes
Checkmark you progress > tracking
Take a short break
Take a few minutes break. Get a drink, stand up. Maybe even check socials or a quick peak to emails or what else has been going on.
After 4 checkmarks get up and do a longer break.
Believe me, this has been a gamechanger for me. Give it a try. The secret behind it is that you really do not get distracted during the pomodoro time. This is nowadays the only way I can get important tasks done. Even if you are looking after the kids, hopefully you should find an activity that keeps them entertained for 20-25 minutes!
6 Stay Connected
During the 4 years I worked from home there were times when I felt really lonely and isolated. Back then, I would always try to schedule at least 2 meetings each week. So that I could get out of the house and socialise. And sometimes I would go out to have a coffee at my favourite café to be around people.
Especially when you are around kids all day you really crave a conversation with a grown up ?
Obviously, with the current situation going out for catch ups and socials is not possible. You can not just sneak out after work or on weekends to see your friends.
So, what can you do to stay connected so you don’t feel too isolated?
If you work in a team. Introduce regular chats / calls with everyone. Say hello in the morning. Check in with what everyone is having for lunch. Have work related chats as well as social chats. Maybe even have lunch together or a quick chat while having a morning tea.
Act like it usually is in the office, you would have some chit chat when you go to the kitchen, when you get water. Or during lunch. Keep at it.
We just had Friday arvo drinks with the team last week ? Give it a go.
There are so many options to stay connected. Phone, messenger, slack, google hangout, zoom, skype, WhatsApp and so many more. There have been lots of posts going around about how to stay connected when working from home. Just have a look on socials.
However, if it is just you and no team. See who else is in a similar situation. What about your best friends? Are they currently also stuck at home with the kids? Then they will definitely also crave some connection. Catch up for a virtual coffee or tea or have lunch together ?
7 Have Fun With It & Enjoy The Time With Your Kids
Last but not least. Let’s make the most of this time.
Let’s not forget to spend some quality time with the most important people in our lives. Your kids and your partner. It is important to do fun things together as a family. Have meals together, go for walks or bike rides. Play games, read books and so on. Again, there is so many groups on Facebook and other social media platforms that share ideas and tips on how to entertain the kids. Just be creative, and try out things and see if you like them.
Have fun. It’s not just about work. Afterall, we are in this for our family. For our kids.