Anyone who has ever worked from home knows that it can be a challenge to stay on task.
Anyone who has ever worked from home with children knows it can be almost impossible.
This is not to say that it can’t be done, and, whether you work from home one day per week or exclusively, no one should assume that you will be less productive because you work from home.
Of course, working from home with kids will pose challenges that working from home alone would not. And it will certainly be a different animal than working from the office.
I’ve worked from home to varying degrees since my son was born two-and-a-half years ago.
So, with some trial and error, and research, I’ve found strategies that work best when it comes to at-home productivity. Below are five of them.
1. Schedule and Prioritize Tasks
When you work from home, you will not only have your work obligations staring you in the face, you’ll also have everything at home there to distract you as well.
Even if you have a defined office space, and a contributing partner, you may still find yourself playing a daily game of “clear my inbox vs. clear the laundry.”
It can be very easy to let the amount of tasks that have to be done for home and work overwhelm you. Toss a small child or two into the mix, and you may wonder how you’re supposed to get anything done, ever.
In my experience, the answer to this problem is not to multi-task more, but to set distinct times for each task.
For example, if you know the thought of a full dishwasher is going to nag you all day, unload it first thing in the morning.
Give yourself an hour (7-8 AM, for example) on certain days to tackle any nagging household tasks, and then move on to your workday afterward. Building in additional time in the afternoon can also help manage the household workload and break up the monotony of the day.
I’ve found it helpful to have these tasks follow meal times.
Unless you have help during the workday, you’re going to have to halt work to feed your kids anyway, so it creates a natural break in the day.
2. Go Out and Play
When I first started working from home, my son was only four months old. He napped a lot, as babies do, and he wasn’t all that mobile. So, even though he was an adorable distraction, I was still able to get a decent amount of work done during the day.
Fast-forward a few months, and things became tougher. Not only was he on his feet and into everything, but he napped less.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and working from home with him became a bit like working in the midst of a tornado.
With each change, I had to re-strategize and find a new “best” way to stay productive while working from home.
When he was around 18-months-old, I realized that instead of trying to “force” a steady stream of work into the typical work hours, I needed to intentionally schedule outside playtime into the mix.
By “outside,” I’m not just referring to the outdoors, but to any activity that will get you out of the house for a couple of hours.
Sign up for a toddler class at the zoo or museum. Attend story time at a local library. Go to “mommy and me” yoga.
Intentionally stepping away from work during traditional work hours is counterintuitive to some–it was to me at first.
But, provided you have some leeway with respect to your at home work hours, carving out play time and work time in the day will ultimately make you more productive.
It eases the stress of trying to force work during moments your child is just not having it. It puts an end to the endless stream of stop-and-start work tasks because the scheduled play adds structure to your day.
And because you’ve had a break, you’ll be more motivated to focus and complete work tasks.
Another bonus: the outside activities will likely also tire your little one out, which will hopefully result in a decent nap afterward and a little quiet time for you to concentrate.
Let go of the 9-5 mentality if that’s holding you back. Sometimes you may work a little more or a little less, a little earlier or a little later–and that’s OK.
3. Bring in the Reinforcements
Of course, even when you’re trying to stick to a schedule you’ve set for yourself, kids have plans all their own, and sometimes it will be impossible to get anything done and still maintain your sanity.
Moreover, sometimes you’ll have deadlines or conference calls, or other obligations that upend the usual routine.
In those instances, it helps to bring in the reinforcements–a friend, a family member, a paid caregiver–someone you trust who can lend a hand for a few hours.
It takes a village, so don’t be too proud to call on yours.
4. Be Flexible
When you work from home with kids, you’ll have no choice but to go with the flow. Lean into the flexibility afforded to you.
Don’t beat yourself up every time a day doesn’t go perfectly according to plan–it rarely will.
If you rely on your toddler’s nap time to get large chunks of work done and your toddler refuses to nap one day (or more), take a deep breath and regroup.
There will be days you’ll rely on M&Ms and Netflix to buy yourself a little quiet time, and that’s OK.
You’re still making things happen and carving out the life you’ve chosen for you and your family.
5. Redefine your Work Duties
If you’ve been consistently working from home, trying your best to be productive, and are still struggling to find your stride, take a moment and reassess.
If you find that the type of work you are doing from home is untenable, see if your employer will permit you to redefine your work duties.
You will still want to bring value to your employer, so make sure that when you propose the plan for your new role, you’ve taken your needs and their needs into consideration.
If you work from home and are self-employed, try to determine if there’s anything particular that you can eliminate from your daily workload. Outsource certain work if you have the desire and resources.
In any event, don’t give up. Roll with the changes, and you’ll eventually find your stride.