Working from home with kids in the house is a challenge. Over the last decade I’ve found a number of strategies to keep me productive while also looking after my son. Some of them more obvious than others, you will definitely find some ways here to stay productive with kids at home.
Before we jump into the strategies below it’s good to take a step back and think about what were are really trying to achieve. And how productive it is possible to be with kids at home.
For most of us staying productive with kids at home means keeping a job or paying the bills. Although our kids are our first priorities, sometimes that means having to work instead of spending time with them.
Realizing this however does set the tone for working at home. We want to be as productive as possible while working at home so we can spend as much time as possible being a parent. Below you’ll find the strategies for being as productive as possible while working from home with kids.
It’s not only that we want to better manage our kids so we can work but also to better manage our work so we can do more in less time.
1. Do Less
Let’s face it, we can’t work a full 8 hour day everyday if we have kids at home with us, especially young kids! We have to accept that were going to be doing less, but that doesn’t have to mean being less productive.
Much of the work we do everyday is of little value
- Managing Email
- Long Meetings that go nowhere
- Writing up reports that no one reads
- Responding to issues that have already been solved
According to the Pareto distribution, 20% of our work produces 80% of our work’s value. It’s up to us to distinguish which of our work is creating value and which of our work is not.
Of course there are times when we have to do something that isn’t creating great value but by reducing this kind of work to the bare minimum we can save ourselves hours of wasted time.
How to do less and stay productive
- Request an email/message rather than a meeting – Your colleagues will thank you for it, they hate those meetings too.
- Check Email once a day – Let your colleagues know by telling them you’ll always respond within 24 hours.
- Talk to your boss about spending more time on the tasks that are creating value and less time on those that aren’t – He wants that too!
- Wait to be asked twice – I’ve done this for years. Rather than stop what your doing and spend 30 minutes dealing with their issue. Wait until you get a second email. Most people will solve the problem themselves.
You might be rolling your eyes thinking, “Right! I don’t have anyone to delegate to!” But there are many options when it comes to delegation. And of course not everything can be delegated, but everyone has something that they could get someone else to do.
To start with, tasks can be delegated up, down and accross the chain of command. If you have colleagues who are better suited or have more relevant skills/experience to do certain tasks, ask
them if you can offload some work onto them. You may be able to exchange it for something you are more suited to and save both of you some time.
Other than the traditional idea of delegating within the company, you can also employ outside help. Sites like Fiverr and Upwork offer all sorts of professionally skilled individuals that you can delegate work to.
3. Routines and Schedules
If this is an occasional occurrence, you need a schedule for the day, if this is your everyday, you need a routine.
You know you’re going to have the kids tomorrow and you have work that needs to be done. Take some time the night before to schedule out the day.
- How long do you have the kids for?
- If you need to make meals can you prepare that in advance? or make in bulk so you just need to warm it up?
- Are there scheduled meetings that you have a at a certain time?
Adding these to your schedule first will set out that unavaoidable ‘landscape’ for the day. These are the things you have to work around.
- What tasks do you need to get done? Schedule these as early as possible.
- If your kids are old enough to spend time alone, what activities do you have to keep them busy?
- Are they allowed to spend some time watching TV or playing video games? If so this will be the best time to get focused work done.
If you need to work with kids at home everyday, you need a routine!
If you have very small kids first decide when in the day you would be able to work.
- Before they wake up
- Nap Time
- When Someone else is at home
Block out these times in your calendar everyday and designate them for work. After a few weeks you will get used to waking up at the crack of dawn and getting in a couple of hours work and it wont be a problem.
If your kids don’t physically need you in the room at all times (because they are older,) you can decide when you want to schedule your work. Tell the kids when you are not to be disturbed.
Don’t expect your kids to not disturb you! They’re kids! But after a few weeks they will get used to the routine as much as you do and they will know when to leave you to work.
Keeping the routine the same everyday makes it much easier for you to stick to and the children will adapt to it quicker when they know what to expect.
Having activities that the children can do without you will make the process of staying productive at home much easier but it’s not as simple as just sitting them down with a 1000 piece puzzle. That’s just asking to be interrupted in 10 minutes with, “I can’t find the corners Mom!”
You need backups!
Set out the puzzle and tell the child that if they finish it or can’t do it that there is also Lego setup in the living room or some other activity for them.
Predict the Requests
- I want a glass of milk
- I’m hungry
- I want to play outside but the door’s locked
- I can’t find a pencil sharpener
Try to predict as many potential problems they could have and solve them ahead of time. Put food and drink on the table and anything they might need to do the activities. I like to save screens as a last resort because it will usually get me another hour of productive time at home after they are done with the activities but usually it doesn’t work the other way around.
- Video Games
- Board Games
- Play in the Garden
If you can work while listening to music, putting headphones in will make a huge difference to your productivity even if the kids are in the same room. If you can’t, you should consider buying noise-cancelling headphones.
Wearing headphones also has the added benefit that the children can see that you have them on and understand that you can’t hear them. Just putting on a pair of headphones will reduce the amount they interrupt you even if you don’t turn them on.
This is the reason that I choose to wear a large pair of over head headphones when I’m working with my son in the room. Rather than my much more comfortable in-ear wireless headphones. The large headphones are a signal to him that I’m not going too respond whereas he will often forget and talk to me when I’m wearing the small ones.
There are a few different ways you can use music to be more productive with kids at home.
- As mentioned above you can play music with a pair of headphones to drown out the inevitable noise that children make. You can do the same thing by playing music in the room you’re working in if the children are in another room. Here is what I listen to Best Music for Productivity on YouTube.
- If you don’t like working with music on, you cna play music in the room where the children are playing. This not only helps to drown out their noise but by playing slow or soft music you can keep the children calm which should also help you get some work done.
- Music can also be used as a signal. If you’re working with kids in the room, telling them “I’m working while the music on so don’t disturb me.” This gives a very clear signal to the child that when the music is on Mommy/Daddy is working and when the music is turned off you’re available again.
7. Hire Help (or beg family & friends)
I know it might seem frivolous to hire a childminder or babysitter while you’re still at home but really it’s the best of both worlds. Your children aren’t left alone, but you are! You can fully focus and be productive for a few hours all the while safe in the knowledge that the children are being well looked after.
Go ask the neighbor’s daughter or just google reputable babysitters in your area.
As you’ll still be in the house you don’t need to worry (as much) that a stranger is looking after your kids.
Still, if you don’t want to hire someone, there’s always good old Mom and Dad! Get in touch with those cousins you haven’t seen since you were a kid or have a BBQ to get to know your neighbors. Someone’s surely willing to watch those kids!
8. Naps & Quiet Time (even if you have teenagers!)
Nap time is the holy grail of producitve working at home. But what do you do when your kids are too old to have a nap anymore?
Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, authors of The Well Trained Mind offer a brilliant piece of advice here. When the child is old enough, swap out nap time for quiet time. “You don’t have to have a nap, but you do have to stay in your room quietly for 2 hours.” Jessie said she employed this with her children through their teenage years!
When they’re younger they may just be half napping lying on their beds but they could be playing, reading, working or even playing video games or watching TV (if they are allowed to.) As long as they are quiet and stay in their room, they are free to do what they like. And you can stay productive for an extra 2 hours at home.
9. Let Them Join In
There are certain tasks that you need to do alone, you need to focus and not be distracted. But there are tasks that we all do that don’t require so much concentration, these tasks you can do with your child.
Doing some of your work tasks with your child is a great way of staying productive but also being able to spend time with them. It can also be a nice teaching moment because you can show them what it is you do. It also serves an introduction for them to the world of work.
- Tidying Up
- Formatting a Document
- Selecting pictures to accompany a text
- Practicing a presentation/pitch
10. Invite their Friends over
I know what you’re thinking “Are you crazy?!” But hear me out!
It seems counter-producitve to invite more kids into your house becuase it means more mess, more interuptions, more noise etc. But I’ve always found that when my son has a friend over he comes to me less. He wants to play with his friend and doesn’t want uncool Dad ruining the vibe.
He’ll happily play in the other room for hours without asking me for a thing. I can even put a tent upstairs and some snacks for them and I wont hear from him till the next day!
Sure they may a mess but you can deal with that once you’ve done your work. The important thing is that you get the time you need to work and your child can have fun while you’re doing it.
11. Do an Activity with Them First
Most kids just want to spend time with their parents all day long, they don’t understand that you don’t always feel the same. This is why telling a child that you have to work can cause frustration in the child. They just want to spend time with you and don’t understand why you can’t.
It’s much easier to explain to a child that you need some time to work if you’ve already spent some time with them. So play a game with them or draw animals together, kick a ball around in the yard, then go and start your work.
Tell them that you need to do some work and tell them what you’re going to do together once you’re finished.