Work from Home Hacks for Busy Parents
By Julia Wohlers, Brand of People Magazine
Before coronavirus hit, working from home (WFH) was regarded by some as a suspect mode of employment, often garnering air quotes around it and prompting jokes about whether or not anyone “working from home” was actually working. Those of us who have found WFH a necessary way to balance earning an income with managing our care-giving responsibilities and logistics, however, know that fulfilling professional duties from outside the traditional workplace requires a great deal of discipline and diligent organization, especially when children are around. Little did we know just how coveted our work from home capabilities would soon become!
The global pandemic has led to an abrupt spike in the number of people working from home online, leading a greater chunk of the workforce to grapple with the unique challenge of meeting goals and producing quality work while simultaneously juggling the challenges of the home. Inadequate or unequipped workspaces, daily distractions like laundry, dishes, clutter, and, of course, children, all present major hurdles to completing a productive day’s work.
As a longtime freelancer myself, I understand how hard it can be to carve out uninterrupted time for tackling tasks that require intense focus, creativity, or attention to detail. The reality is that working from home requires a whole new set of “work muscles” that strengthen over time.
In other words, with a little flexibility, advance planning and some handy hacks, it does get easier! Whether you’re here because of social distancing measures, to carve out more time for your family, or purely because your latest gig is freelance, read on for practical tips and hacks aimed at parents who are working from home.
Manage Your Expectations
We all know anecdotally that children tend to demand attention at the most inconvenient times, so your work-from-home output might not be quite up to your pre-pandemic standards. Set realistic goals from the outset of your day, keeping in mind that especially when kids are part of the equation, the unexpected can happen and your plans might need to shift dramatically. Make the choice to not become flustered by these last-minute changes; remind yourself that you’re human, your kids are human, everyone is doing the best they can… and that’s OK.
Establish a Fully-Equipped Workspace
Designate an area in your home where you plan to get your work done, and make sure you have all the necessary tools and work-from-home accessories on-hand to accomplish your tasks. Desk organizers, a display monitor, a comfortable chair and headphones with a built-in mic for calls and meetings will optimize your workspace and help you approximate the tools you might have been accustomed to in the office. Don’t forget to check that you are set up ergonomically, to avoid excessive stress and strain on your body or your eyes.
Divide and Conquer Wherever Possible
If both you and your partner are working from home, you’ll both get much more done when you take turns that allow at least one person to focus and be productive at a time. For some couples, this might mean alternating the four-hour “morning shift” and the “afternoon shift,” and catching up on the remainder of the workload during naptime or after your children are in bed for the evening.
A sitter swap is also a great option. Swap kids with another parent you trust a couple of days or afternoons a week. You can watch a friend’s children for half a day and vice versa another day, getting some free childcare when you really need to attack a work project or manage an uninterrupted conference call, and also giving your kids the chance to socialize. (With the coronavirus era putting parents on-edge about get-togethers, you might want to make a pact with your sitter-friend to limit social interactions beyond the swap and to check on everybody’s health status regularly to minimize potential exposure to the virus. In other words, to ensure your ‘bubble’ is kept safe.)
Make the Most of Naptime, Early Mornings and Post-Bedtime
For most parents, this goes without saying: maximize your children’s down-time to knock out any items on your To-Do list that require concentration or hyper efficiency. Where you might have once used this quiet time to get chores done, save it instead for when your kids can pitch in, or when you’re juggling fewer high-priority tasks.
Organize Similar Tasks into Batches
Many studies have shown that multi-tasking and task-switching without completing the first task have detrimental effects on productivity and effectiveness. When we ping-pong from task to task, we force our brains to constantly switch gears and deplete our mental reserves.
If you’ve ever spent a day sprinting to meet a work-from-home deadline while your toddler relentlessly interrupts, you know how frustrating and fatiguing that “I can’t get anything done” feeling can be! Realistically, this is a semi-permanent way of operating during the years when small children are in our care, but there are strategic ways to combat it.
To optimize your time and reduce unnecessary running around, batch your tasks: run errands in a single chunk of time; then respond to emails in another chunk; and set aside a block of time for more demanding tasks like writing or creating a presentation. This takes some discipline, but gets easier with practice.
Minimize Controllable Distractions and Explore Helpful Apps for Working from Home
It can be tempting to keep the TV on while you work, but our brains don’t handle distractions as well as we tend to think they do. Reduce your mental fatigue by turning off the TV, silencing your phone or muting notifications, pausing any music that shifts your focus (or, conversely, playing music that helps you feel calm and capable), and banning yourself from social media grazing during your work-from-home hours.
If you need to, pause notifications or delete social media apps from your phone altogether. You can also change your device settings to limit screen time if you feel you’re abusing it at the expense of your work. You can download apps like Flipd (iOS and Android), AppBlock (for Android) or SelfControl (for MacOS) that stop you from accessing or over-using designated applications and websites.
Set Up Walking Meetings
This is a great way to maximize your time and also squeeze in some healthy movement during your workday. If your baby sleeps in a stroller or a carrier, or if slightly older children enjoy being out and about in a stroller, take advantage of the opportunity to get some fresh air and change of scenery while fielding calls, listening to meetings, writing to-do lists, or accomplishing some brain storming.
Enjoy Your Lunch Hour and Take Sensible Breaks
Whether you’re in an office or working from home at your kitchen table, everyone needs a break from responsibilities, and if you’re balancing kids with a workload, you should explore ways to take a sensible break from both. This gives you a moment to decompress and reorganize.
Permit Reasonable Screen Time
If toys and indoor activities or crafts aren’t keeping your little ones occupied, consider deploying occasional screen time. Children and digital devices can be a controversial topic, but for parents whose livelihood depends on work-from-home accomplishments, it can also be a necessity. Look for an educational TV shows or beloved movies appropriate for your kiddos and use that time to take a much-needed break or to get critical tasks done.
If this all sounds like a lot to juggle, fear not. Before long, you’ll find your rhythm and make peace with the trade-offs that characterize working from home while raising children. Don’t be afraid to leverage your community and ask for help! And feel free to set the record straight if you ever see someone put air quotes around “work from home” again.
Julia Wohlers is a writer and visual designer obsessed with culture, travel and fashion editorial. She created Brand of People Magazine as a space to inspire creatives, entrepreneurs and culture-makers using their gifts to pursue beauty. Originally from Washington, D.C., Julia grew up all over the world, but she particul