Six years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to work from home. As a new, single mother, being able to stay at home with my son was an unbelievable blessing, and it still is. Though working from home does come with its own challenges, and sometimes it’s a wonder that I’m as productive as I am when there is a little person in the house. Now, with the current stay-at-home orders, a lot of you might be newly working from home as well. Being thrown from the solace of a quiet office space and into the chaos of juggling work and home while taking care of children is not for the faint of heart. Here are some of my best survival strategies that I’ve found work for me while working from home.
Create a Space
Not all of us have or need a home office. Personally, if I were to go into another room, my son would just follow me in there. So, I plant myself in a seat on my couch or on my patio. I get my coffee, water, phone, laptop and headphones and designate that as my seat for the day. No one else is allowed to sit in that seat, it is my space. Whatever you need to do to create your space, whether it’s in the living room, bedroom, garage or the backyard. Designate an area that is yours so you have someplace to anchor yourself during the workday.
Set Realistic Expectations
Managing your time can always be a challenge. This is true whether you’re working in the office or at home. Adding kids into the mix takes it to another level. And just like when you start cleaning your house and end up on the bedroom floor sorting through old photos, you can easily get distracted when working from home as well. Staying focused on what you’re doing and setting (reasonable) expectations for what you’ll get done in a day can help keep you on track. Set realistic deadlines for when you’ll be able to complete projects. I find it helpful to make a list (physical, digital or mental) and check things off, so at the end of the day, I know everything I accomplished and what I need to prioritize the next day.
Some might find it surprising, but I believe that you can be much more productive when working from home. Without co-workers walking up to your desk and distractions from the people around you, it’s amazing how much you can get done. Granted, we’re all currently working with young co-workers who can be exceptionally disruptive (our children). But whether you’re working from home with or without the distraction of children, it is always important to take breaks, to stretch, take a walk, empty the dishwasher, and just look away from your screen for a few minutes. When your kids are home, breaks can be a good time to make a plate of snacks, play for a few minutes, read a book to them, check their school work, or eat cookies in the closet – whatever you need.
When the lines separating home and work get blurred, it’s very easy to find yourself working at all hours. I remember when working 60 hours a week was par for the course for me. Once I had my son, my priorities changed and I realized that I needed to set clear boundaries as to when I am, and am not, working. This can be made even more difficult when your office is also your home. For example, my work has offices in different time zones across the globe, but I make it a point not to answer emails after 6 pm my time – unless it’s something urgent coming from the top level. I also no longer wake up and start answering emails. I wait until 8 am my time and stick to it. If you respect your time, hopefully, your co-workers and superiors will as well.
Create a Distraction
We all know the recommended time limits on screens for children. With that, I want to tell you that now is NOT the time to be a hero. I proudly attribute educational television programming for teaching my son the alphabet, shapes, and numbers when he was younger. If it is screens that provide enough distraction to allow me time to focus, then that’s what we’re using. I also keep tons of arts & crafts supplies, puzzles, legos, building sets, playdough, activity books, and other things readily available to keep little minds and hands busy. Laying out projects can also be helpful as long as it’s something the child(ren) can do mostly on their own. If it’s something that requires parental assistance, I usually save those for breaks or weekends.
Quiet Time is Your Friend
My son hasn’t taken a nap since he was 2 years old, but I still have him take a “rest” every day when he’s home during the workweek. This hour (or two) of uninterrupted time allows me to focus on what I need to get done – and provides the mental solace of some quiet time. My son is also a talker, if he’s awake, there is noise coming from his mouth – and sometimes even when he’s asleep. Now that he’s older and I don’t have to watch every step he takes, I sometimes put on my headphones and listen to a podcast, some music or absolutely nothing, just to tune out the noise around me. Obviously, I always make sure I can still hear what he’s saying, what’s going on, if there’s an emergency, or if it’s dangerously quiet (that’s when it’s really scary). But just to be able to muffle the sounds of kids shows, toys and the other noise around me is helpful when I’m trying to concentrate.
When things are really busy at home and there are more distractions than downtime, I remember a simple equation: 1+1=4. If I get up early and get work done in the morning, or if I stay up and work after everyone else has gone to bed at night, two of those undisturbed hours can be equal to four hours (or more) of what I would get done during the day. Do I want to stay up late or start working first thing in the morning? No, absolutely not! But, if it makes my day run smoother and alleviates some of the stress of things piling up, then it’s totally worth it. That said, I still respect boundaries when working early or late, I wait to send emails during normal business hours, but I’m still able to get a lot of things done during off-hours.
Of course, each family, home and work situation is different with different dynamics, but hopefully, some of these tips will work for you. Once you get into the groove, you might even find that being able to work-from-home was one of the silver linings of this pandemic situation.