Welcome back to our Working from home with… guest post series! Today writer/editor Kathleen Fordyce shares her tips for working from home when you have little kids at home with you. Enjoy!
Tips for Working at Home with Kids
Since giving birth to my son more than five years ago, I have had different opportunities to work from home. As a single, working mom, the flexibility helps me cut expenses on commuting and traditional daycare, seek out projects that interest me and enables me to spend precious time with my little guy.
While it has its perks, working from home is not always easy. There are days when I have back-to-back deadlines, my son is clamoring for more attention, paper airplanes are flying over my head, the babysitter is unavailable and the neighborhood kids are all knocking at my door asking if we can come out and play.
Over the years I have come up with some coping mechanisms in order to be able to work from home with a baby, then a toddler and a 5-year-old in half-day preschool. My son just started full-day kindergarten, but I still work with him at home in the afternoons, vacations and sick days. With a little planning, creative solutions and good time management, I believe any parent can work from home with kids.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1) Get up early or stay up late to squeeze in uninterrupted work time
No matter how many hours you work with a child in tow, it will never compare to some quiet time alone. I used to be a night owl but since my son gets up pretty early and no longer naps, I am exhausted by the end of the day.
Even now with him at school, I get up most days around 5 a.m. to get in about two hours of uninterrupted work time before he opens his eyes. While I know a 5 a.m. wake-up call is not appealing, I have discovered it has its perks. I start my day at my own pace and by the time the house is waking up, I already feel accomplished because I have crossed some pertinent tasks off of my to-do list.
2) Have crafts and toys set aside that kids can only play with when you work
When my son was a baby, he was content as long as he had an area to crawl and some toys to bang and chew on. As kids get older, the most challenging part of working with them at home is keeping them entertained. The best way to battle this is to have a few things set aside to keep their attention.
Allow them to go off on their own at first to find something to do. When they start hanging around complaining of boredom, have some things handy and pre-prepared to hand them. I keep a special bucket of toys that my son can play with only when I am working. He also loves to create and do arts and crafts on his little desk, which is right next to mine in the office. Check your local craft store for some quick, easy and inexpensive craft packets, which can are a big hit.
3) Set up snacks and leave them in a place where kids can reach them
My son is always hungry so before I sit down, I make sure he has a drink ready in the fridge and some snacks out in bowls where he can reach them. Always be sure to have a few options, so you don’t have to deal with the whining about wanting something different. I leave grapes and carrot sticks in a bowl in the fridge and pretzels or goldfish in a bowl on the counter.
4) Spend quality time with your kids before you work
Before I sit down to work, I spend time with my son. The key is to give all of your attention –that means no phone, email or distractions. I explain to him that at a certain time I need to stop and go back to work, but for now, I can do almost anything with him that he wants to. When the time comes for me to go back to work, he is usually ready to play on his own.
Once your work time starts, though, be sure you are clear about the rules for interruptions. When I am on a call, he can only interrupt me if it is an emergency and must play quietly in the next room. And if I cannot concentrate due to excessively loud playing or too many interruptions, he has to go play in his room until I’m done.
5) Use screen time to your advantage
I monitor my son’s time in front of the television, video games and iPad. But I also know that this is one of the most effective ways to keep him occupied for long periods of time. On days that I know I have a lot of work to do, I will save his screen time for when I need to work. This way when I am curling up with my laptop, he is happily curling up with a movie or video game.
6) Work in spurts around your child’s schedule
While longer periods of work time are crucial, you should also sneak smaller bits of time throughout the day depending on your child’s schedule. Naptime is the most obvious time, but even if your child doesn’t nap anymore (I miss those days!), you should be on the lookout for other opportunities.
When my son would fall asleep in the car while running errands, I would pull out my notebook or phone to get some things done. (Be sure to keep an ongoing to-do list so when you can grab a minute, you don’t waste it trying to remember what needs to be done.) I will also squeeze in work when he gets invited over to our neighbor’s house after school, has his friends over to play or for the half-hour during his weekly swim lesson. Every little bit helps.
7) Learn to let some things go
This is probably by far the hardest part, at least for me. In order to use small moments of time throughout the day for work, you need to give up using the time for other things like laundry, cooking and cleaning. You can’t do it all, and if taking your career, passion or hobby to the next level is important, you need to prioritize your day accordingly. I try to follow one basic rule: when my son is quiet and occupied, I work.
Whenever I get frustrated by the Legos littered on the floor, the sink full of dishes or laundry piled high on the couch that needs to be folded, I remind myself of the work I was able to accomplish and the fun my son had at home that day. Then, I get back to work.
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Want more work-from-home tips and ideas? Here’s Meagan’s series from this summer, with everything from time management ideas to some gentle get-it-in-gear inspiration for those of you who want to launch a work-at-home adventure of your own.