- Michael Thompson
As a dad who works from home with 2 young kids, these tips have helped me stay productive and mostly sane.
I’m writing this as my 5-year-old and 2-year-old are taking a nap on the sofa a few feet away from me. The two of them haven’t been feeling well the last 4 days. Combine this with the fact that 24 hours ago we went into lock-down here in Spain due to the Coronavirus, and it looks like this will be my life for some time to come.
When my wife and I started a family, since she had a stable paycheck, we decided I’d be the point of contact for the kids during the day. Between summer vacation, holidays, and illnesses, I’d guestimate that out of the 250 working days each year, I’m home with them for half of that time.
I’m not going to pretend that this is always easy. Some days it’s hard to get my work done. Other days, it’s downright impossible. I cancel a lot of meetings and not everyone has been understanding about this and I’ve lost some clients because of it. But over the last few years, I’ve managed to juggle my kids with work while keeping most of my hair, and some of my sanity.
Since more and more schools are closing, and companies are sending their employees home to work, I figured I’d share a few tips that have worked for me. For some, the answer may be easy: you hire help, buy some noise-blocking headphones, and put a do not disturb sign on your door during work hours. If you can swing this, by all means, go for it. But if you can’t, nor want to, I hope the recommendations below help.
1. Schedule 2 sets of deep work throughout the day
According to a study of 185 million workers, the average person is productive for 2 hours and 48 minutes each day. If you schedule your day well, you can actually increase your output while you’re home with the kids by carving out 2 sets of time for deep work.
If you have a partner and they are working from home now also, taking shifts is a no-brainer. Becoming an early riser is also an option if your kids sleep well (if yours do, I can’t begin to tell you how jealous I am). But if that’s not in the cards, try moving your kid’s bedtime up an hour so each evening from 8 to 10 you can focus on your work while still having a bit of energy.
2. Play as much as you can before their lunchtime
My brain works best in the mornings and after I exercise. Since finding moments of peace in the mornings with my kids is rare, I’ve leaned into taking them for long walks before their lunch as a way to wear them out while charging me up (Since a lock-down has been put in place, exercising in public is no longer an option so we’re going to have to get creative regarding how to break a sweat in private). After they eat, I put them on the sofa for a nap and give my 5-year-old control of the remote for when they wake up. Then I get to work.
Between this lunch-time work session, and finding another spot throughout the day, I can usually get what I “need” to get done completed. Some of my “wants”, however, depending on the day, may have to wait. Which leads nicely into the next recommendation.
3. Focus on weekly goals, not daily ones
The only consistency with working with kids in the house is inconsistency. Days can get away from you. And fast. But just because you lost a battle, don’t allow that to stop you from winning the war. One way to defend against this is by focusing on weekly goals, instead of getting stressed out about achieving all of your daily ones.
Sit down and look at what needs to get done each week. Break them down into quick tasks that don’t involve a lot of brainpower and longer ones that demand deep work. Maybe you can’t write an article on Monday, but maybe you can knock out some paperwork or shoot off some emails you’ve been putting off. Small actions still move you forward and throughout the week pockets of time will present themselves that allow you to knock out your larger tasks.
4. Create a social snack to dip in and out of
When working from home with kids it’s easy to feel like our identity is attached to them. One way to help you feel like you still have a life is by building a social snack into your day. Make it a point to schedule one call with an old friend each day. Open a slack channel up with your co-workers or friends where you vent to each other and share funny videos. Have you ever had a video lunch with your buddies?
We’re social creatures by nature. Just because your circumstances make this a bit harder at the moment, make the effort. Your energy and mood will thank you for it.
5. Go easy on yourself and try to have some fun
When we told our 5-year-old he’d be home with mom and dad the next few weeks his eyes lit up. He’s ecstatic he gets to play all day. My wife and I just looked at each other and took a deep breath. What’s happening right now in the world is terrible. But thanks to technology some of us have the opportunity to work from home with our children. I don’t know about you, but as a kid, I would’ve loved to have spent more time with my parents.
Sure it demands some organization. And, yes, some days will be frustrating. But go easy on yourself. Some of your work may not get the attention you think it deserves. That’s okay. The important thing is being there for your loved ones and doing what we can to make the most out of it.
Throw yourself into a painting in the morning before your client calls. Have an afternoon dance party before sitting down to write. Build the fort to end all forts before doing the paperwork you are dreading.
The best way to complain is by making something. During these uncertain times, you may find that by leaning on your kids for energy, you’re able to bring more energy to your work.
Be safe and thank you for reading. If you any good ideas for working with your kids at your feet, I’d love to learn what works for you down below.
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