This is an article I wrote a few years ago when all of my children were younger, but I feel the tips still very much apply today.
One question I am asked more than nearly anything is how I work from home with kids. Well, one side of that is kids’ behavior and discipline. If they don’t have it, you won’t get anything done. Setting boundaries with your family about work time (and enforcing those boundaries) is essential
But the other key to making it work is scheduling and keeping to it. I have blocks of time for kids and blocks of time for work and we stick to this very strictly, unless there is a serious emergency. When I am in a block of work time, I know I must be very productive or I will run out of time and not complete my tasks.
We use specific techniques such as “guided play” where you get the kids started on an activity and then you are free to walk away and do what you need to do, and I have also learned how to be as productive as possible in the blocks of time that I do have scheduled for work. Another rule that I have is NO MULTITASKING.
I get more work done in one hour than many of my WAH friends do all day because they are trying to multitask too many things. I have friends and colleagues who swear by multitasking (and I used to myself), claiming that “You get more done!” and that it’s “the sign of a busy, efficient mind” but some studies show otherwise.
Psychology Today explores the topic of multitasking and looks into whether or not it’s actually useful.
Multitasking involves two distinct stages: one is goal shifting and the other is rule activation. Goal shifting consists of deciding to focus on another task than the one you are currently focused on. Rule activation consists of turning off the “rules” for one task and turning on the “rules” for another.
They explain through examples that this shifting is actually what can cause multitasking to be a waste of time, rather than increases productivity. How much of a waste of time?
Navigating between the two stages, your brain can actually use up to 40% more productive time. Trying to multitask my work, or my work and family life was actually causing me more stress and was taking a serious strain on my mental energy.
Since I stopped the multitasking, I get more done in less time and have less stress.
So if I’m not multitasking, how am I getting it done?
Well, time tracking and accountability are the keys. It all begins with creating a schedule.
Why You Need a Schedule
A schedule will allow you to see your priorities and goals and the blocks of time in which you have to accomplish them. It will help you to understand what you can realistically achieve in a period of time (such as the time you have slotted each day for working at home) and it will allow you to plan to make the best of the time that you do have available.
Scheduling will help you to block off enough time for those things that you simply must do and ensure you get them completed, rather than become distracted by less important tasks.
You will minimize stress by not over-committing and you can even block in some extra time for when the unexpected happens (which is often when you have kids).
There are many scheduling tools available today for free or low cost to help you schedule properly. It’s hard to suggest the one that you should use because each person is different. There are diaries, calendars, paper organizers and electronic devices like Smartphones and PDAs. Then there are also software-based programs for organizing and scheduling like GoalPro 6 and Doodle.
Personally, I prefer tools that allow scheduling and time tracking/accountability in one like Worksnaps (which is also compatible with Basecamp, which a lot of my clients use). The reason I prefer a method of accountability is that it’s so easy to create a schedule and then not stick to it.
I did this for years. I spent a great deal of time planning and scheduling and then I was never able to carry it through. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I did not have the proper tools in place to help me do so. I was fighting a losing battle with myself to stay on task and every day that I didn’t, I grew more disappointed and frustrated.
It turns out, I was doing it wrong. So here’s how I fixed it.
Determine What Time is Work Time and Family Time
When you work from home, it’s far too easy to have your work blend in with your family time or vice versa. The danger in this is that often one will overtake the other so you find yourself working all the time and never having time for your kids or spending all of your time tending to the family and home and never getting your work completed. So short of renting an out-of-house office, what are your options?
First, take an average day and block out the hours in family or work time. It’s important to stay flexible because things will happen but you need to have a basic structure.
Since I homeschool my five children, we have a schedule that begins with waking everyone up for breakfast and to get ready for the day. After that, we go into the school day and I give them their assignments and allow them a chance to ask any questions.
Then they move on into unsupervised schooling for one hour. I then begin my day’s work. During that hour, they are to hold any questions or concerns by writing them down. We have “backup” assignments in case they get stuck and need help but the hour is not up yet. Sometimes this just involves reading a book.
At the end of that hour, I go back to check on all of the students, see if they have questions, see if they have completed assignments and more. I give them a break as well to walk around, get a drink or do whatever they need to do.
My whole day is broken down into hour-long segments like this and in my work blocks, no one interrupts me unless it’s a true emergency (Fire! Fire!) because they know those things need to be reserved for the break time. I get more work done because I know I have that one hour block to complete the thing(s) on my to-do list and that I need to be productive in that time slot.
When you work from home with kids, you need to differentiate between your work and family time. Once you have blocks of time that are set for your children, you need to determine what they will be doing at that time.
Keeping the Kids Occupied
Not all children are old enough to have unsupervised time. Even if your children are, it’s important to give them their own schedules and things to do so you don’t have children running wild or getting into trouble out of boredom.
For my older children, I have a system set up for school, chores, household responsibilities and free time. Their schedule corresponds with mine to allow us to have time together and also for them to have their own free time and still get chores and responsibilities completed.
My younger children also have a schedule, chore chart and responsibilities. I have to devote more time to helping them hands-on with school work and also do a technique called ‘guided play’ where I get them started on an activity (such as Play-Doh or a game) and then when they are intent on their project, I walk away to do other things, checking on them and telling them they are doing a good job. They know I am still there but I am free to handle other things such as preparing meals or doing laundry.
While it’s difficult as a parent to admit your failures, one mistake I see so many WAH parents do is one I used to be guilty of myself. They constantly push their children away and tell them “later”.
They want their children to leave them alone so they can get their work done and they often grow frustrated telling their children “How do you expect me to play with you when I can never get my work done?”
They have it all backward- instead, you make the time with your child first. Stop and play a game, read a book or draw a picture together. Your children are seeking your time and attention. Once you give that to them and they feel secure, they will off to do their own thing and you can do your work with no hassles. Constantly telling your child “not now” or “go away” is very harmful to their self-worth and can also lead to behavior problems so not getting work completed will be the least of your worries.
Getting Your Work Tasks Accomplished
Now that you know what you are doing in your child blocks of time, you need to plan what you will do in your work blocks.
- Block in the actions that you need to complete that day. List in priority of the most important things you need to do.
- If you manage other people, allow time in your schedule for coaching and supervision as well as any problems that may come up.
- Don’t forget to schedule basic maintenance into your day. When you work for yourself, there are other business tasks that need to be done in addition to your normal daily tasks.
- Leave some space in your schedule for “unexpected interruptions” which are sure to happen with children in the home. This allows you to shift your schedule around accordingly.
- Keep your goals realistic. When you try to pack too much into one workday, there’s no way you will accomplish all of your goals and that will leave you feeling defeated at the end of the day.
Cutting Back On Your Tasks
When you find yourself struggling to get everything done each day, there’s a good chance you have too many tasks to juggle in the first place. While it may seem impossible to cut things out of your already busy day, the truth is we can only do so much. If you’re pushed to squeeze too much into one day then it’s time to re-evaluate your schedule.
Where can you cut back? Can you take on less work? Can you work one less hour each day or maybe one less day each week? Are you being completely productive with each workday or just spending a lot of time doing nothing?
Once you cut back on your tasks, create a manageable schedule with realistic goals and have a plan and a schedule for your children, it is possible to work from home successfully. When you use time tracking and accountability tools, this makes it even easier to be more productive in less time so you can accomplish your work tasks and have time left to do what you want to do.
What tips do you have for working from home with kids?