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How to Get Stuff Done with Small Kids Around

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How do you get stuff done with small kids around? I have decided that the rule of having 3 kids is that there must always be someone crying at any given time. At least, it feels that way sometimes.

Before we had kids, I knew I wanted to be able to stay home to watch them grow up, and I wanted to be intentional in parenting them. I had NO IDEA how busy life could be with 3 kids under the age of 5. And at the time I had NO IDEA how I would have a strong desire and need to help provide for our family financially to meet our GOALS.

It’s hard to get work done with these precious littles running around. There is so much I want to do, and I want to do it well. I’m sure we’ve all had those guilty moments of using the TV as a babysitter to get a few things done. (I hope it’s not just me! 🙂 And I really hate that…I want to be PRESENT when I’m with my kids and FOCUSED when I work.

You can see this post about scheduling: 168 Hours in a Week: What Do I Have Time For?

What do my kids need from me?

My kids need my attention on the regular. Some of the most common phrases from my kids are “look at me,” “watch  me,” “mommy watch this,” “did you see that?” My guys want me to PAY ATTENTION to them, they want my approval, they want to talk to me! So research tells me that this is VALUABLE time, and I can feel it in my heart. It’s important that we pay attention because we are building a relationship that will allow us into their lives as they get older.

Here’s the Plan

I break household chores, work tasks, and play time into bite sized increments that everybody can handle. When I am working on tasks, when we are cleaning (I’m training men who clean ;), when we are playing I’m able to be INTENTIONAL. Set a household timer, your phone, or computer for 20 – 25 minutes. I chose this amount of time based on my experience as a teacher. Kids can only stay engaged in an activity for about 20 minutes depending on their age (it may be less time depending on the kid).

Research actually suggests that 25 minutes is the optimum amount of time to get the most work done when completed in multiple segments. The Pomodoro Technique is a way to improve mental agility. It’s kind of the same idea I have described above.

What you need:

  • Timer (I bought this Piggy Timer so my kids can set the timer and be involved.)
  • Activity for the kids to do while your working
  • Be prepared for your work task

Ideas for kids activities:

For some reason, my kids act like they have nothing to play with even though there are tons of toys all over the house! So I have pulled a few things to share that really seem to keep them engaged when I need to work.

  • 3 oz plastic cups and tongue depressors (My kids have build towers and helicopters (They have a great imagination) for HOURS using these! Best non-toys ever!
  • Playdoh
  • Dominoes
  • Markers and Drawing paper (I stocked up on these during Back to School sales)

Work Prep

You want to make sure that you are organized and prepared with any tools/papers/phone you need during your work time. I am a list maker…so the night before I look at my giant to do list and choose either a few small things or one big thing that can be broken into chunks of time. I try to have 3 work sessions during the day, usually after breakfast, around snack time (before or after), and then mid-afternoon.

Keys to Success

  • BE PREPARED:  make sure you have everything you need so you can spend the full 20 – 25   minutes working
  • BE FIRM: Make sure you stick to the time. If the timer hasn’t gone off, then stay engaged with your activity. Choose a phrase that you can say to your kids when they try to interrupt you. Let them know that during work time when you come talk to mommy this is what I will say “I can’t talk right now, but I will talk to you when the buzzer goes off.” If they keep complaining or whining then I tell them they can wait for me on the couch or at the kitchen table and I’ll help them when the buzzer goes off.
  • BE ENGAGED: When it is WORK time, make the most of your time by working on your task. Don’t start a task, switch to facebook, then check email, then check your instagram account, and then back to the task. You waste a lot of time when you try to multi-task in a short amount of time. When is is PLAY time, live in the moment! Put your phone down, no email, no computer, just pure kids playing and receiving all your ATTENTION! Being fully with them during play time makes work time SO much easier for them.

My Sample Daily Schedule

7:30 Breakfast/clean up

8:00 (25 minutes) work time

8:30 (25 minutes) play time

9:00 (25 minutes) Household chores

10:00 Snack

11:00 (25 minutes) work time

11:30 (25 minutes) play time

12:00 Lunch

12:30 (25 minutes) Household chores

1:00 Quiet Time (my kids don’t take naps any more) – work time

2:00 (25 minutes) play time

2:30 (25 minutes) Household chores

3:00 Snack

3:30 (25 minutes) work time

4:00 (25 minutes) play time

5:00 start dinner/this is when I let them watch TV

You will be surprised how much can be done in such a short amount of time! I will be the first to say this is more like a dream schedule and FLEXIBILITY is the name of the game. Sometimes my kids want to play by themselves and me work. Some days my littles need way more attention and work goes on the back burner for awhile. Making my kids a priority and putting my phone/computer down has helped me to really engage with my kids. I try to remember my 2 goals for the day, be INTENTIONAL with my kids and work and be ENGAGED with them both, just not at the same time.

How do you get work done with littles around? What works for you?


  • What a great post Ashleigh.

    For me, I know the Promodoro technique works, but I just have a hard time stick to a schedule. Like today, we went to the park and I thought we were gone for a half hour ( I didn’t bring my phone and I didn’t have a watch). When we came home, I looked at the clock and we were gone for an hour. I was already behind. Lunch had to be made, dishes unloaded, laundry put away! Yikes!

    That’s what I end up doing. Scrambling, but I have good days. For me, instead of sticking to time, I focus on zones in my house. I have my cleaning zones but I also have my work and play zones too and my twins are learning that when mom’s in her work zone, to not disturb her (but really, I do most of my work when they are sleeping).

    Thanks for the tips! Not sure if cups and tongue depressors will entertain my almost four year olds, but it’s worth a try!

    • I totally understand! When I get off schedule, I just try to jump back on when I can. And my days almost never go as planned with a 5 month old 🙂 But seriously my boys (5yo and 2yo) spend so much time building towers (and knocking them down) with plastic cups and tongue depressors. They get really creative! I also have a friend who teaches 1st grade and she said that plastic cups and tongue depressors are her kids favorite “indoor recess” activity. I need to add a picture to this post of them building, but their favorite way to play is in their undies. Ha!
      I think we just have to be flexible when it comes to our kids and find what works for us! Thanks for stopping by!