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How to Work from Home with Little Kids (Even if It Seems Impossible)

A woman works next a child at a table

At first glance, little kids and focused work time don’t appear to mix well together.

And yet, many Americans are being asked to do just that – keep their young kids healthy and thriving at home, while juggling deadlines and emails.

The great news is that by shifting how you work, you’ll be able to juggle productivity with parenthood in a way that makes you (mostly) come out on top for both.

How do I know that for sure? Well, I just so happen to be writing this very article while home with my 4-year-old. Not only that, but I’ve been working from home with him for the last 4.5 years.

Here are my strategies to keep your sanity, your deadlines, and your position as the greatest Mommy in the world to your children.

Strategy #1: Manage everyone’s expectations

You really have to manage your own expectations, your child’s expectations, and your boss’s expectations to make this work.

Because being a work-at-home parent takes compromise from all sides.

For starters, I want to help you manage your own expectations. Know that you’ll need to break your work tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks. That’s because you won’t necessarily get a long stretch of time to work on them like you used to.

Instead, you’ll get smaller chunks of time, thanks to the strategies we’ll talk about below.

Some chunks may be 10-minutes long, some may be 25. It all depends on the age of your child, how used to the situation they are, and a bunch of other things.

You’ll also need to manage your child’s expectations throughout the day. They need to know that they are going to get time engaged with you, too. If you can set a timer and show them that at the end of it, Mommy or Daddy will do an activity with them, then they’re more apt to focus on play by themselves for a small chunk of time.

And finally, you’ll need to manage your coworker’s and boss’s expectations. Be honest with them about your situation, and let them know when you can be available for zoom meetings or phone calls, versus when online chats or email is best.

Strategy #2: Match up focus and play intensity levels

You want to stop thinking about your workdays and your parenting days as two separate things.

Because if you’re working from home? Then they no longer are.

What you’ll need to do is match up your most pressing work tasks – the kind that require you to have a lot of focus – with your most engaging, hands-off kid activities.

For example, there are tasks that I can do while carrying on conversations with my son – like picking out images for a blog post. And then there are tasks where I need quiet focus to work on – like writing an article.

At the same time, my child has play activities that make him highly engaged and focused, and then play activities where he wants me to be involved.

I match up my article writing time with these highly engaging activities for my son.

Sample activities that my little one can hardly pull himself away from include:

  • The two shows he’s allowed to watch each day.
  • Watercolor painting (on top of trash bags and in my sight so that I can make sure there’s not a big mess).
  • Kinetic sand play (I fill up a huge container with 3 lbs. of kinetic sand, and let him bring his trucks and dinosaurs into it).

Match your high-focus activities with your high-engagement activities to help you get your tasks done.

Strategy #3: Set up stations

One of the best ways to buy yourself time later, when you need to be working, is by setting up simple “stations” throughout your home that your child can play through.

Stations can include:

  • A water table out in your backyard
  • A long, rectangular, plastic bin where you can set up inside messy play (such as kinetic sand play, ice play, and many others)
  • A reading nook with a comfy bean bag chair, and lots of books you rotate in and out
  • A discovery bin that you pull out once a week (you can fill this with all kinds of materials, like sandpaper, foil they get to crunch, and many other common household items)

Each day, have your child cycle through these stations while you get some work done.

Strategy #4: Leave yourself clues

Switch-tasking is one of the biggest productivity killers out there. But it’s just a reality when you parent young kids while working from home.

Think about it – you might be reading an email and about to respond to it, then your little one spills their milk and you go to clean that up. On the way back to your laptop, you notice that it’s right around lunchtime, so you start prepping that. By the time you get back to your computer, you need to re-read that email to even remember what it was about, let alone properly respond to it.

You’ll want to leave yourself “clues” in between batches of work, and at night for the next day so that you can minimize the amount of time it will take you to pick up where you left off.

This could mean:

  • Leaving notes of where you left off for the day, as well as the very next step that needs to be done on any project, activity, email, etc.
  • Breaking normal-sized tasks down into smaller ones so that as you work through them in 5-minute or 10-minute increments, you can cross them off (while still knowing how to move forward)
  • Pulling out your Evernote app on your phone, and transcribing a note to yourself as you think of what needs to happen the next time you sit down

Strategy #5: Get Flexible on How You Work

In my 20s, I would’ve told you I could only read in silence, or I needed to get to a coffee shop to get any writing done.

Now? I can juggle my laptop on my actual lap and write on the couch, kitchen counter, or outside, like the best of them.

You’ve got to get creative and flexible with how you work to make all this come together.

You may have a home office that doesn’t get used much because it’s not a convenient location for your toddler to come into, and so you end up doing most of your work between the kitchen table and the couch. And that’s okay.

You may need to figure out how to load your Kindle Phone App with all those business PDFs so that you can read them while at the park, or while waiting in line to pick up dinner.

And that’s okay, too.

Stay flexible with how to find that work time that you need, and you’ll be surprised with how much you can get done.

Be kind to yourself

As you read through and attempt these strategies, remember that you’re attempting to mesh two worlds together – your working life and your parenting life. It’s not going to be a clean transition that happens overnight, but rather one that builds as you try new things, tweak, and respond to both your own and your child’s needs.

–By Amanda L. Grossman



SmartCents Mom