Schools and offices are closed, and working parents all over the state are scrambling — and wondering how they are supposed to get anything done?
I typically work from home and manage a rambunctious 4-year-old at the same time. As we all get to grips with the new normal, I wanted to share my experience plus some crowd-sourced tips to help you make it through the coming weeks.
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 like 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 work day 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.
Tips to 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 works great.
- Move your office to the kitchen so 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. It doesn’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 screentime 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. Routines have been ruined for everyone, and we’re all navigating new territory. You won’t get everything perfect — what’s important is that you get to the other side as happy, healthy, and safe as possible.