Working from home isn’t for everyone. And when you work from home with kids running around, it’s even more of a challenge.
Many parents find themselves juggling kids and telecommuting, though, either because they have a permanent work-at-home position – or they’re doing it for a day or two while their kids are home sick or have a snow day.
Despite the benefits of working at home – more facetime with your kids, flexible hours and saving on child care costs, just to name a few – it can be a struggle. I’ve been doing it for most of the past 10 years, so I can relate.
Here in Michigan, frigid temperatures mean the work-kid balance in many households could be thrown off due to multiple snow and “cold” days closing schools.
If that’s the case for you, consider these 12 tips to make days you work from home with kids a bit more manageable.
1. Start your day early
It’s not what most parents want to hear – and it definitely goes against my own inclinations to sleep in whenever possible – but getting up before your kids do gives you some quiet time to work before the kids start asking for everything.
2. Dress for success
Just because you aren’t showing up to an office doesn’t mean you should stay in your PJs all day with the kids. Shower and get dressed for the day –you’ll be more productive.
3. Have a designated workspace
Not the couch, your bed or the kitchen island where your kids are making slime. Set up a space – preferably at a desk, but the dining table will work – that you can clear off, make off-limits to everything else and set up with what you’ll need to be productive.
4. Use smart time management techniques
One of my editors once told me about the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method that involves deciding on a specific task and then setting a timer for 25 minutes to work on it. During that time, don’t open any other browser windows (like checking your school district’s Facebook page to see if it’s open tomorrow) and don’t get up to settle sibling squabbles or fulfill snack requests. Each interval is followed by a short rest.
5. Avoid embarrassments
Schedule your business phone calls during hours when your kids are most likely to be calm and cooperative. If that’s not a thing for your kids, most work-at-homers I know aren’t above locking themselves in a closet or bathroom to make a quick work call without chaos in the background.
No soundproof-enough rooms in your home? If your kids are old enough, make the call outside in your car and dust off the baby monitor so you can listen in for problems.
6. Make your ‘off’ time count
You might not be able to spend the whole day making crafts or going on outings like your stay-at-home mom friends seem to do (though I think they’d tell you they’re less adventurous than you think).
But you’ll probably have some downtime during your work day – even if it means you’ll make up for it after the kids are asleep – so try to make it count. Take the kids somewhere fun, go out to lunch or bust out a board game. When you look back on the day, you’ll be glad you set some time aside.
7. Use child care when you need it
It’s not always possible for last-minute school cancelations, but try to have someone on hand on those days when you really need it. Young teens in the neighborhood might even be available for “parent’s helper” work or get tips for finding a babysitter.
8. Don’t fall into these time-sucking traps
Resist the temptation to start a load of laundry, pay bills or get into long phone conversations. You might think, “I’m not being productive anyway since the kids are home, so I might as well …” – but that mindset is a guaranteed ticket to hours of make-up work at night.
9. Encourage independence
If we always do everything for our kids, they won’t learn to do it themselves, right? While you’re working at home, let your kids practice some life skills like making breakfast for themselves (i.e. pour cereal, add milk), load the dishwasher and pack lunch for tomorrow.
10. Have them read
Admit it: you’ve fudged the numbers on that school reading log on occasion. Make up for lost time by encouraging at least one hour of reading for each of your kids.
11. Invite a friend
This sounds counterproductive, but for my (older) kids it’s perfect. When they each have a friend over, everyone’s happy.
12. Embrace screen time
When all else fails, just give them their screens. Check our binge-watching guide – or if you get desperate, rent a new release on Amazon. What’s $5 compared to almost two hours of peace and quiet?
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.