New office setting due to the pandemic? Here's how parents can stay as productive as ever.

5 minute read

We’ve learned a lot as a society over the past few months, and one of the biggest lessons is the value of teachers. Working from home – whether it’s your lifestyle, your side gig, or a temporary emergency situation – is hard enough without your children underfoot.

Of course, we love our children and relish the extra time we spend with them, but they are also distracting and demanding and harmful to our work productivity. It can be challenging to juggle the balance between great parenting and being good at work when the kids are at home with us all day long, every day.

Whether you’re looking at a summer working from home, preparing yourself for the next emergency, or seriously considering homeschooling while still working a job, here are five of the best ways to keep yourself sane and your kids happy while juggling these important and urgent demands.

1. Set Clear Expectations

No matter what they tell you, kids need, thrive under, and even want routines and rules.[1] The clearer and more consistent the rules and expectations are, the better the payoff. That’s true whether or not you’re trying to work from home. When you are working from home, this truth has the added benefit of helping create work time when you can get your job done.

You’ve likely noticed this in your own parenting journey. If you need your child to stop playing video games at 11 a.m., there’s usually a chorus of “Please, five more minutes!” But if your child knows their video game time ends at 11 a.m. and you’re consistent with enforcing it, that round of drama and negotiation disappears.

Set these clear expectations in two directions. First, make it clear to your kids that during set times each day, you are unavailable because you’re working, and you expect them to do whatever they’re required to do during those hours. Second, set the expectation and keep the promise that during the hours you aren’t at work, you will commit to spending some of those hours in focused quality time with your kids.

2. Create Routines

One of the best ways to set up and reinforce clear expectations is to set up routines. When children know what to expect, they feel less anxiety and generally have a better time with tasks or challenges they face.[2]

Set up a daily schedule with specific tasks assigned to each hour, half-hour, or another period that works best for your family. This schedule should incorporate limits to unsupervised screen time, specific slots for quality time with you, accommodations for schoolwork and chores, at least an hour of unstructured time for creative play, and clearly defined hours when you are unavailable and at work. During those hours, your kids should know that nothing short of bleeding or fire should interrupt you.

Creating these routines carries two important benefits. First, it sets up a scheduled day of work time for you, so you can get your job done and set up calls and meetings without being interrupted. Better, it also creates and protects slots during each day for quality, focused time with your kids.

3. Be Flexible

When you’re setting up your daily routine, give yourself as much permission as possible to prioritize family time over your work. To be clear: Do your job, and do it well, but when you have an opportunity to be flexible, use that flexibility to better serve your family.

For example, if there’s a meeting scheduled every week for the hour your youngest reliably gets fussy and needy, ask to move the meeting. Most coworkers and managers are understanding, especially in the middle of this current crisis, and they probably have similar issues in their own schedules.

Similarly, when it comes to doing your work, see how much you can get done before your kids wake up and after they go to bed. Or, if you and your partner both work from home, consider a tag-team style arrangement where one is on duty with the kids and the other is on duty at work. This works well for younger kids who can’t be left alone for hours at a time.

There are limitless arrangements, opportunities, and possibilities here, and dozens could work for your family and situation. The key is to open up what your work schedule allows, even if it means renegotiating your work schedule, to incorporate the demands of your kids, and make it work as well as it can for everybody.

4. Find Quality Screen Time

The electronic babysitter is a deeply tempting option for many parents, whether or not they also work from home. When you do work from home, just handing your kids the iPad when it’s time to jump on Zoom with your boss is an easy way to keep the distractions and interruptions at a minimum.

But we feel bad about doing it too often. It feels lazy, and there’s a lot of research saying that too much screen time hurts kids’ brain development.[3] Using the expectations and routine ideas above can help maintain the maximum amount of daily screen time. But sometimes, days don’t match up with plans and you need that electronic babysitter for a few extra hours. What do you do?

You find quality screen time options so your kids are using their screens in ways that help them grow. A few great examples include:

True, this isn’t as good as quality time spent with your kids, but it’s better than nothing and can help on days that really need saving.

5. Divide & Conquer

Experienced parents of multiple children usually do this already, but it’s valuable enough to be restated. If you have more than one child, have them work together to solve problems before they involve you. Simple examples of this include scheduled board game time where your kids play a cooperative board game together while you work, or having an older sibling guide the younger ones through prepping a simple lunch or snack.[4]

For more advanced versions of this tactic, consider the following. Room cleaning is a tempting task to set while you finish a meeting or report, but too often, it ends with multiple iterations of a child coming to you claiming to be “done” when their rooms still look like a hurricane passed through. Instead, set the rule that a sibling has to sign off on the room’s done-ness before they come to you. Suddenly, it’s hospital corners or nothing before you’re involved.

Use your creativity and the devious side of your mind here, and you’ll likely find a multitude of daily options where you turn multiple kids from a delightful hassle to a useful tool for maintaining and establishing order while working from home.

Article author, Shawn Simon, began working from home in 2006 when few people did it and he had an infant daughter and, later, an infant son. He understands the juggling act and, after making lots of mistakes, he’s learned many good practices along the way.

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About the Author

Money Crashers

Money Crashers

Money Crashers' mission is to develop a community of people who try to make financially sound decisions. The website strives to educate individuals in making wise choices about credit and debt, investing, education, real estate, insurance, spending, and more.

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