Keeping to tight deadlines, arriving on time to meetings and staying on top of an endless stream of emails can be a real juggling act. Throw in the fact you have to do it all from home, with a child demanding constant attention, and it’s a whole other ball game.
Everyone’s situation is different, but if you’re working from home, there are some things you can do to try and lighten your load without skipping out of parenting duties.
Here are a few ideas that might work for you.
You probably aren’t going to be able to work at your normal capacity. So start by cutting yourself some slack.
If you haven’t already, then make it a priority to communicate with your employer and co-workers and set expectations with them too. They’re likely to understand your situation and offer some flexibility.
It’s helpful to share with them what your optimal working hours will be, when you’ll be most available, and how much you think you can get done. This may change as you go.
Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, there are definitely benefits to starting early, while the children are (hopefully) asleep.
If you can get going before everyone else wakes up, try to get started on your main priority for the day, or the one that requires the most concentration.
By crossing them off early, you can set the right mood for your day knowing you have already achieved something.
Office door traffic lights
If you’re able to set up a temporary office space, in the spare room, for example, try this tip from online education provider Continued.com: introducing a sort of traffic light system with your office door.
It’s simple. If you close the door, that’s a red light and means you’re on the phone or working on something that requires your full concentration. If the door is ajar, that’s amber, and you're available if needed, but your kids should only interrupt if it’s important. An open door is a green light for them to bring in their crafts or books and sit working together quietly.
If you have a partner who is working at home too, then it can help to adopt a shift system between work and childcare.
Try to plan important work calls around each other, so that there’s always one of you available at any one time.
If you do follow this system, and it’s your turn to work, then be understanding if you need to help out if things get tricky, especially if you have more than one child.
Structure everyone’s days
Just as it might help the adults to have structured days, kids can also benefit from at least a rudimentary schedule.
Many children are used to having a structured day when they’re at school, and doing something similar at home - perhaps even calling it ‘home school’ and following a similar schedule to their normal school day - will help them to realise they aren’t on holiday.
Get them involved in the planning and present them with some options. When kids feel like they have a say, they’re often much more willing to follow a plan.
Whatever you do, be sure to build in the breaks and time for getting some fresh air. Make sure to enjoy some quality time together and unwind at the end of each day.
Also, bear in mind that you don’t have to become a slave to these routines. You can keep them flexible. Ultimately, do what works for you and your family.
Get a virtual babysitter
If you have relatives who are also at home during the day, take the opportunity for your kids to stay connected with them.
Set them up in front of the computer or a tablet and call another family member using a video calling app like FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. They can keep a watchful eye and it’s also a bit of fun for your kids - perhaps they can show off some of the work they’ve done at home.
You could try and time these virtual babysitting sessions for occasions when you need to make your own important calls or focus on something that requires particular concentration.
Include heaps of physical activity
It’s important that both you and your children stay active.
For kids, burning off some energy early on in the day, can help them to sit and concentrate better when you need them to do a quieter activity.
Use screens to your advantage
Another way of carving out some more time for yourself to do some work is to put your kids in front of the inviting glow of a screen. While at home and juggling lots of responsibilities, you may just need to let them hunker down with the iPad for an hour.
But that’s not to say you shouldn’t set limits. Work out what works best for your family - the UK's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) recommends that parents should approach the question of time limits on screen time on a case by case basis, rather than trying to use a "one-size-fits-all" approach.
Yes, you’re very much looking forward to any downtime you can get. But using some of your spare time to plan ahead, including finding the right resources, and printing anything off that you need, will make it much easier to stick to a schedule.
Useful resources include:
- Twinkl, which is offering one month free access to all of its extensive learning resources
- Your children’s school’s websites: many have posted resources, and some are encouraging kids to send in photos of what they’ve done
- BBC Bitesize, which has plenty of resources for all ages, and has started adding new resources on a daily basis. Also try BBC Teach
- Education Otherwise, a website for home schooling, which has an index featuring a huge array of resources, listed by subject
- Khan Academy, which provides free, web-based education, and has created some helpful daily schedules
- The Maths Factor, Carol Vorderman’s site for teaching maths to kids aged from four to 12, which is also now free for kids.
Fitting work around looking after your children isn’t always going to be easy. But, as the Chartered Management Institute points out, it can really help to remember that a new working arrangement can be a big change for both parents and kids. A little empathy and understanding with family and with colleagues, can go a long way.