The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many parents to work from home with no time to adapt or prepare. We recently wrote about how to minimize distractions in your workplace but add children and closed schools to that equation and the odds are stacked up against you.
Being a parent, the value of your time goes through the roof. If you are additionally working from home, managing your family time, work time and personal time can become a difficult and stressful task.
Through a systematic approach to managing a number of factors that impact your productivity, you will be able to get more work done as a work from home parent, spend more (and better) time with your family, and even take better care of yourself. In this article we will be talking about what you can do to ease the stress of working from home with children and still stay productive.
Find Your Work-Life Balance
Whether working from home or in the office, establishing a clear work-life balance is the first step towards being productive. However "What happens to most people when they are working from home is they often work more hours," said Ben Fanning, author of The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love Without Quitting." But remember, According to a study by Boston University’s Questrom School of Business , researchers were unable to find any evidence that employees who worked 80 hours a week accomplished more than those who pretended to be working 80 hours a week.
Instead of being productive, those who worked such long hours, complained of missed soccer games, poor health, substance addictions or a general sense of feeling “overworked and underfamilied”.
Though you might not work 80 hours a week in the office, according to a Harvard Business School survey, 94% of workers admit to working more than 50 hours a week, and nearly half worked 65-hour weeks. Combine this with now suddenly working from home and lacking boundaries between work, family and free time, you could end up getting near 80 hours a week without realising it.
Employees who work 80 hours a week accomplish no more than those who pretend to work 80 hours a week.
Digital marketer and content developer Leandro Martinez, of iamleandro.com, explains that it’s necessary to establish a clear line between work time, family time and free time just as you would if you were getting up and leaving for work each day.
“When you are at work, you try to get most (if not all) of your work done. And, when you're at home, you dedicate time to yourself, your home/children,” he says.
Of course if you’re working from home this differentiation of “being at work” and “being at home” is a lot harder to separate and becomes something you have to actively plan and enforce but it is possible.
This strategy provides structure to your home office work day and allows you to divide your work and home life, even without the usual distinction of location. In the same way, you’re able to be more focused during family time, giving everyone the attention they need.
One great tip is to create a morning and an evening routine, just as leaving the house for the morning commute to work would. It can include the kids (even if it didn’t before), get you out the house for a walk or jog around the block or simply be that first coffee of the day.
Having two machines (whether mobile phones or computers) can also help; one for work and one for personal use. This is great for security as well as personal boundaries. If you only have one laptop, creating a separate user account or a “no working from your lap” rule may be useful separation techniques.
Managing Distractions at Home
For parents who work at home, it can be even more difficult to stay productive because of the numerous distractions; from a basket of laundry that needs to be loaded into the washer, to a child that has decided your office is currently their playpen. You may not even have a dedicated space to be able to separate work from family life yet, meaning your workspace is suddenly their old playpen.
Depending on how old your children are, there are obvious differences to the distractions you’ll have to deal with. One thing home-office allows for is more flexible working hours. Depending on your child, some tried and tested ideas are to get up before them, plan nap times with important meetings or garden play times to use this time to do some silent work. It may be just a half hour, but the house is quiet and that is a distraction free, productive half hour.
A number of digital marketing experts agree that the key to staying productive, despite such distractions, is mitigating disruptions with clever task planning:
“It comes down to planning and getting help on heavy workload days. You can't do any real, deep work when you're busy watching kids,” explains content developer Ariel Rule.
Decide on your schedule each day and stick to it.
As Felix Schäfer, a Planio employee, points out, that doesn’t mean you can’t do any work. It’s important to schedule “small and easily interruptible tasks” when you’re going to have your hands full with kids in the house. These tasks can be everything from social media scheduling and quick email replies, to reviewing progress reports.
One of the most important ways to reduce distractions at home is to draw clear work zone lines both physically and in terms of availability for your family. If you have been forced into home-office suddenly, you may be faced with actually having to establish a space to do concentrated work in. Creating a space which is just for work is important for your peace of mind. If you have a separate room you can work in, close the door and make sure family members are aware that when the door is closed, you are on the clock and are not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency. Define what an emergency is first of course. Missing Lego parts may not be the kind of emergency you mean.
Try hanging a sign on the door, stating the time you are free again and make sure they know you answering the door to a stranger or popping to the bathroom is not a prompt for them to ask a million questions and expect family time.
If you don’t have a door to physically separate you, you need to achieve clarity in another way. Give your kids enough information on how to deal with certain situations without asking you. Using headphones or some other external and visible trait can indicate to them it is your time to work and not their time to distract you.
Get the Kids to Help Out
Another tip from the experts on how to be more productive is to have your children help out around the house. Not only does giving them chores and responsibilities help to instill within them a strong work ethic, but it also means there are fewer chores for you to personally deal with. This is a chance to use your managerial skills and delegate.
Discuss with them what jobs and tasks they would (or wouldn’t) like to take over so that they feel involved, important and listened to. The key to delegating is to assign specific tasks (e.g. take the dog on a walk), give basic guidance (e.g. take the dog out on the leash for at least 20 minutes and for no more than an hour), and motivate your team (e.g. thank your son or daughter for taking the dog on a walk).
“Teach your kids to help out, so that they can do easy tasks with minimal supervision (get dressed, take their plates back to the kitchen, pick up their toys),” says Martinez.
This may result in a long line of tasks to remember, so write this down or create something visual they can revert to if they forget while you are working, meaning they won’t have to ask and distract you.
Create Actionable To-do Lists
Make actionable to-do lists for both your professional life and your family life. Then, see if there are enough hours in the day and days in the week to succeed in getting things done. If not, weed out lower priority tasks—but do so in a balanced way.
Another way of creating an actionable to-do list is by following the advice of productivity guru and bestselling author of The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey. Bailey says that the best to-do lists consist of only three items. Then, when you accomplish these three tasks, your day can officially be considered productive.
No matter which system you use, it’s important to block off time for each specific task. This will allow you to establish a timetable and come up with a game plan for the entire day. However, if you think a certain task will only take an hour, schedule an hour and a half; things usually take longer than anticipated. As a working parent, you’ll have no problems figuring out what to do with the extra time if you finish ahead of schedule!
When it comes to your to-do lists, using cloud-accessible task management apps can be a serious boon to your productivity. As long as you have your phone, you can keep organized, whether you’re picking up the kids from soccer practice, grabbing groceries, or in your home office.
There are dozens of such apps on the market, though RememberTheMilk and Things are among the best. A full-featured project management application, such as Planio, which allows for list task creation, completion, and collaboration with your team, is a more robust solution for boosting your productivity.
To Tell or not to Tell
A big question for many mothers and fathers who work from home is whether or not to tell clients that they have children. It’s easy to see such information as extraneous and unrelated to your business. That said, it’s hard to think of anything that impacts your work more than your child.
Though telling a client that you’re a working parent might not directly impact your productivity, it can impact how your clients interpret any fluctuations in your workflow. This can ultimately help to lower stress levels, which really does impact your productivity.
“Should you disclose that you're a working parent to your clients? Or keep that part of your personal life hidden? I know both types of entrepreneurs,” says Kimberly Crossland founder of The Focus-Driven Biz. Crossland errs on the side of being transparent, pointing out that doing so upfront often makes it easier to explain why the ball gets dropped when there is a child-related emergency that trumps all other priorities—not that such a thing happens often.
It doesn’t just have to be for explaining emergencies. You can simply pre warn about potential ambient noise or why you prefer to schedule later in the day. People will understand.
Combining child care, home office and high productivity IS possible.
Another important aspect of communication is with your partner, family members or even family friends. If you work at home and have these added bonuses, they could be some of your greatest assets to staying productive. By clearly communicating with them, it’s possible to improve the quality of your family time, your work time, and your personal time—getting more out of all of them.
“Nobody lives on an island, parents less so, working parents even less,” says Schäfer. “Keeping everything together without overexercising oneself or connections with others requires constant and clear communication, which in turn leads to more understanding and support from a partner, the extended family, friends, and colleagues”.
Good communication with others can come in the form of shared calendars, shared to-do lists, and just talking to each other. If there is more than one work-from-home parent in your circle, being aware of what is on the other person's plate allows you to be more flexible when needed. Then, when you need to be more focused and productive, he or she can be flexible and pick up the slack.
Work From Home Parents: How to Stay Productive
It is not easy for anyone, let alone a working parent, to always be at optimal productivity. However, by establishing a strong foundation with a healthy work-life balance, you can begin to implement other techniques for increasing your productivity.
By working hand-in-hand and communicating well with your partner in balancing parental responsibilities, you’ll both be more productive when you are on the clock. Working together, you’ll also be able to improve the quality of your family time when you are not on the clock.