Summer vacation is just about here. While that means having fun, playing with friends and sleeping in for kids, it means a whole lot of juggling for parents, especially for those of us who work from home.
In our post-pandemic work environment, more people than ever are working from home. According to a Gallup survey, “8 in 10 people are working hybrid or remote, while only 2 in 10 are entirely on-site. And an AT&T study found the hybrid work model is expected to grow from 42% in 2021 to 81% in 2024.”
Working from home certainly has its perks (commute? what commute?), but when the kids are home from school all day long, parents are wondering how they are supposed to get anything done.
I typically work from home and manage a rambunctious preschooler at the same time. I wanted to share my experience, plus some crowd-sourced tips, to help you make it through the coming months.
Create home office hours.
It’s a good idea to create specific time blocks while working from home. This may consist of alternating child care with a spouse or switching between work and focusing on your child at consistent intervals. While you’re working, give your child visual cues that you are busy with work by wearing a uniform jacket or a work badge to show that you are “on the clock.” Set times for must-do work tasks, such as deadlines and virtual meetings, and schedule the rest around those.
Build in contingencies.
It’s a good idea to plan extra time for regular tasks as it’s inevitable that you will be interrupted. Plan on two hours for a project or task that would typically take you an hour. Your workday may feel disjointed and spread out with numerous breaks and diversions. Keeping to traditional 8-to-5 hours may be very difficult. Communicate with your employer about your scheduling needs upfront.
Flex between child and work schedules.
Optimize productivity by doing some of your work when the kids are sleeping early in the morning or later in the evening. Remember that you take frequent breaks at the office for coffee, food and socialization, so you can feel fine doing the same at home. If you can squeeze in some work on the fringes of the day, it will help leave time for important family connections, such as sharing meals together or taking a family walk.
Keep kids busy during important work times.
These are some of the strategies that work for me when I need quiet time to focus on work.
- Provide snacks that take a while to eat; bento-style snacks work great.
- Move your office to the kitchen so that you can monitor play or work.
- If you have older kids, give them a job such as filing, stamping or sorting papers.
- For young kids, keep a bag of “surprise” toys stashed away. They don’t have to be expensive but it does have to be new. Bargain-store trinkets like a new bouncy ball, some bubbles, stickers or a tiny car can work well with young kids.
- Small candies or treats portioned out one at a time have gotten me through the last 15 minutes of tight deadlines.
- Movies work better than television shows for conference calls to give you a longer period of time with fewer interruptions.
- Save favorite shows or games for a screen-time option when absolutely nothing else works.
Save your last resorts.
Prioritize your “time interventions” to match your workload. For example, don’t offer screen time or sugar to finish a routine email. Save your last-resort options for times when you really need them. If you’re lucky, you won’t need these very often, but when you do, remember that you are prioritizing a home and vital supplies that your paycheck provides — and that’s still good parenting.
And finally, take a deep breath. You won’t get everything perfect — what’s important is that you get to the other side as happy and healthy as possible.