I have often worked at home with my children around, just for a couple of days here and there during for the holidays. Through trial and error I have found things that work for me and what doesn’t. While every family is different, every working situation is different and the children and the adults different, I hope that these thoughts will help you find a way that works for you…and in the future, if you need to work from home again, that you will find it easier, smoother and a more pleasurable experience for you and your kids.
1/ Plan your tasks alongside their activities
Have a list of quick tasks, that can quickly be picked up in moments of calm. Depending on the age of your children, knowing when you will be able to get work done can be hard. But it can be useful to have a clear plan of tasks that need to be done. Then as soon as the children are occupied by an activity then you know exactly what you need to do.
Time can easily be wasted, and that moment of calm can be gone if spend time working out and deciding what to do next. Take the decision out of it and have a clear plan of what needs to be done.
2/ Rethink your working hours
This can depend greatly on the age of your children, but I find that I need to get up early and work until the kids are up, I then need to spend time sorting breakfast etc, getting them settled doing something which will give me some more time to do work, I might get another block of work done in the afternoon, another one after dinner and then once they have gone to bed. Just be flexible, and try different arrangements that helps both sides.
3/ Categorise your tasks between what you can do when the children are around and what need quiet focus
There are some things that you will need to do that can be done when there are interruptions, but there are others tasks that can only really be done when you can focus or when you need quiet. If you need to record videos for a course, or lead a webinar might only be possible when the kids aren’t around but processing emails can be done when there are interruptions.
4/ Don’t worry about using the TV/tablets for a couple of hours of peace
Especially if your working from home is for a shorter period of time such as in the current crisis, maybe factor in screen time that is educational, there are loads of apps/games out that help children learn, and try to balance with some other activities, but if you need to be on a virtual meeting, or you need to focus on a piece of work, putting a film on and getting some snacks out is absolutely fine!
5/ Learn to not worry about the mess
My youngest used to get every single cuddly toy she had, and play schools/picnics/being mummy. The living room (my office is a small area next to the living room so could see what was going on) would be covered in toys, blankets etc. While working from home you need to accept that things are going to get messy, just roll with it. Especially if it means they are occupied, and you can get on with your work.
6/ Then set a timer for a ‘tidy-up’ challenge
At the end of the day, maybe before dinner, set a timer and give everyone the challenge to clear up their area within a set amount of time. Maybe give points for everyone who completes it, and have a prize for the person with the most points at the end of the week, they get to choose the film for the Friday evening or similar. As everyone is at home for an extended period of time, getting into good tidy-up habits is really important.
7/ Do tell clients/colleagues that a small one may join in the virtual calls…but do not ever worry that it is a problem..I have never had a client (potential or current) that minded a small child coming to say hello
This, I think, will be a concern for those who will need to have more online meetings. We all have seen that incident with the Professor Kelly’s live interview on the BBC. Although your meetings won’t be screened live to half the world, you still maybe concerned about children appearing on video calls, especially if they are small. All I have to say on this matter…don’t be worried. I have done video calls with children in the house. When they are small, no matter what you organise to keep them occupied, they will come and find out what you are doing. They are curious, it will happen.
So explain to whoever you are in a meeting with, and if the children come in, let them say hello, and then direct them back to what they are doing. With their curiosity satiated they usually wonder off in the knowledge that their parent isn’t doing anything more interesting than them. Usually. But if not just ask them to sit quietly. I have never found this to be an issue with anyone. I have taken on new clients when children have interrupted our discovery call. If you show that you can keep calm, then it will often go in your favour. So just prepare others that you have children in the house and carry on.
8/ No matter how old they are, take breaks for a cuddle/check in every so often. This will prevent the unplanned interruptions and actually focus on them, not your phone/laptop
If my children know that when I take a break I will spend some time with them, they will interrupt less. I find that the more I ask them to wait until I have finished what I am doing, the more they interrupt. Stopping what you are doing, focusing on them, is much more effective than keep on asking them to wait. Factor in breaks to spend time with the children, and then keep to them. Then they will know that you will help them soon and be less likely to come and ask.
9/ Set them age appropriate challenges
It could be a longer term challenge, my eldest has a challenge to finish 15 of her half-read books. Or a medium-term one (she is also currently doing the 30-day Lego challenge) or short-term (like tidying-up). Not everything needs to be framed as a challenge with a prize for success (otherwise you create an expectation that prizes will be received for doing anything). For tough challenges I give prizes, there is for the reading one. There is no prize for the Lego challenge, just the satisfaction of doing it. Mix it up, but a useful tip to keep them engaged.
10/ Involve them in planning the schedule,
Sit down. Have a conversation about what needs to happen and why. Agree times for working (for you and them) and for ‘free time’. If they are a little older maybe agree some ‘do not disturb’ times (unless there is an emergency!). It doesn’t need to be rigid, nor have something specified for every hour. Otherwise you will be putting more effort into keeping the children to the schedule than working. Your plans just needs to be general, so everyone gets done what they need to.
Have a fabulous tip that isn’t on the list, that really makes working from home with children a lot easier? Please feel free to share either via email or social media links at the top of the page. I will add it to the list!