So you’re working from home and you are also looking after the children.
That’s tough. I don’t envy you.
I’ve experienced all permutations of the work / home / childcare juggling act.
After my eldest was born, my wife took maternity leave and we were both at home together. I could structure my day with only minor interruptions.
After a year my wife returned to work. I was now solo at home looking after the child alongside running a business. I did this for 18 (very long) months.
It wasn’t easy.
Then came nursery. For 7 hours in the day I was a free man. Oh boy was that a good time.
My productivity soared.
But within a year my little boy was born.
My wife and I are now stay at home parents together, with my wife doing the lion’s share of the childcare alongside an online course in interior design.
Anyway, I explain all this to demonstrate that I have been there. I know what it is like to look after children, with or without help while trying to work from home.
The list of tips below come directly from those experiences. Want to know how you can possibly look after children and still get that report done on time?
Follow these steps and you’ll be on the right track.
1. Keep them entertained
First on the list, (and let me start by saying these are in no particular order of importance) is the fact you will need to keep your children entertained.
Generally speaking, an entertained child is a happy child. A happy child means an easier life for you and more opportunity to get work done.
How you go about this is clearly age dependent.
Various things worked with my daughter while she was a toddler. A play mat laid out with all her favorite toys, (she always loved anything that bleeped), could entertain her for 30 minute stints.
As long as she was fed, not overly tired and had a chance to crawl before, the high-chair in front of Baby TV also worked.
For older infants and school holidays it is a good idea to have arts and crafts on hand or a selection of movies they might enjoy.
I recommend these distractions for when work needs to be done. No child is going to get tired doing these activities, however they should buy you a little uninterrupted time in front of the laptop at least.
2. Safety first
In order to focus on work you need to be sure your child is safe. Otherwise you’ll be giving yourself whiplash trying to keep an eye on them all day long.
That’s why the high-chair TV time always worked for me. I knew no harm could come to my daughter while she was there.
When it is time for play mat fun, set everything up beside your desk, (or move your work to where your child normally plays).
Make a barrier of cushions and hope that they are distracted enough with the toys not to want to crawl all over the house.
If they are enjoying nap time. Great, that’s your cue for some intense work.
However, being able to keep an eye on your child as they sleep will help relax you into a deeper zone of productivity.
Turn your old smartphone in to a 24/7 baby monitor
Set the old phone up to your Wi-Fi network, install the app and place it somewhere near your child’s cot / bed.
Install the same app on your main cell phone, link up and when your precious one stirs you’ll see it all right from your desk.
Other general baby-proofing techniques come into the fray.
Keep harmful things out of reach, install a safety gate in the doorway of your office, do you everything you can to eliminate potential accidents.
You’re on your own and your eyes can’t be everywhere all at the same time. Some safety planning will definitely make your life easier as a solo, work from home parent.
3. Be aware of your child’s emotions & expectations
One of the most difficult realities of working from home is that the lines between work and home life, (which are very clearly marked in the traditional sense – i.e. you leave the house to go to work), become blurred.
It doesn’t matter the age of the child, if mummy or daddy is home they are going to expect attention.
However, working from home means you cannot always provide that attention.
Playtime or outings have to wait for a scheduled time and this is a big adjustment for a child.
For older children you will need to establish space and time boundaries.
After seeing to their needs first, (fed, happy and activities arranged) you can make it known that when you are at the computer you are working and should not be interrupted unless it is very important.
This clearly cannot work with younger children.
Here you are at the whim of their basic instincts, most of which you will need to tend to. There’s very little reasoning that can be done.
Thankfully, babies and toddlers sleep a lot during the day.
This is the vital window of opportunity we will turn too now.
4. Plan around naptime
Ah the wonderful mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps.
With luck you can get your little one (or ones) down for their naps with some semblance of a routine.
While I was the solo work at home carer, my daughter would often go down around 10am for an hour or more, and again at 2pm.
These were the golden hours.
It is now that you should prioritize any ‘deep work’ you have on your daily to-do list.
You know the stuff I mean, the hardcore jobs that take deeper levels of concentration and focus and cannot be tackled if you’re up on your feet every 3 minutes to reinsert a pacifier.
In fact, you should have everything prepared so you can jump into this work as soon as your child is purring contently in their bed.
Important phone calls, conference calls or meetings should also be arranged during these times if possible.
Another good tip for these nap times is to batch similar tasks. Power through your email inbox for instance, or internal team messages.
On the flip side of this, let’s not forget you are a work from home parent.
In the unlikely chance everything is under control on the work front, use this time to tackle necessary household chores.
The key is to flexible.
Prioritize correctly and maximize those short spells of uninterrupted bliss to get important things done.
And as much as you can, avoid the temptation to take a nap too.
5. See Yourself as a Professional (not just a Dad)
Treating yourself as a professional is an important part of staying on top as a work from home dad.
In fact, I have also mentioned it here as one of my 21 steps to increasing productivity when working from home.
It is very easy to get bogged down by the diapers, the mess and the tantrums.
Being a parent so often takes center stage it ebbs away at any confidence you had of being a professional, career minded individual.
This difference in thought process will eventually have an impact on your productivity and self-esteem.
A simple way to mitigate this is to dress smartly for your day.
I’m not saying don the power suit. Anything you wear is likely to end up with splotches of milky puke by 11am.
However, dressing in clothes that make you look and feel good is a habit worth pursuing.
If you work remotely but are close enough to the office, arrange for the kids to be looked after occasionally so that you can attend a specific meeting, or a simple catch up with colleagues.
If you’re a sole entrepreneur attend local networking events, meetings, or conferences to meet like minded people.
Failing all that, give your mates a buzz and head out for a beer.
Essentially, do what you can to mix with other professional adults from time to time.
Getting out and away from lullabies and squeaky toys, if only for an afternoon, will help keep you focused on that other world in which you exist.
6. Plan out meals in advance
This is a handy little simple time saver.
If you have a toddler, plan the day’s meals the night before.
When my daughter turned to solids my wife and I would chop the meat and vegetables, boil, blend and refrigerate the evening before so that meal times were nice and easy the following day.
This really helped me. Lunch time was a simple act of reheating the mix and spoon-feeding my child. 30-minutes max, (including the clean up).
However, do not neglect your own needs too.
Avoid the time-saving idea of grabbing something small and simple. To work well, you need to eat well.
This obviously means different things to different people, so I won’t advise on what your diet should be like here.
The important issue is to not sit at your desk with a granola bar and a rumbling tummy by 2pm.
7. Kids will be kids (So embrace it)
When given free reign there’s nothing a child likes more than to make lots of noise and mess.
And while much of your work from life will be spent minimizing this natural phenomena, sometimes it is actually best to embrace it.
If you can set up a safe environment for your children to just let it all go with paint, sand, water, or any other maximum impact activity, you can rest assured they won’t come bugging you for a while.
Not comfortable letting this all go on while you work?
Maybe take a break and join in.
They will love having daddy being part of the fun, and at the very least it will wear them out for nap time.
8. Communicate clearly with your Significant Other
For a working from home arrangement to work, you and your partner have to be on the same page as much as possible.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re the solo carer during the day or whether the job is shared; knowing what’s happening and when is vital.
And this takes good communication (and very often annoying reminders).
As I mention here, part of my morning routine is breakfast with my wife where we discuss the day’s arrangements.
Very often this is just a repeat conversation from the night before, but it’s important to have nonetheless.
MAKE TIME IN YOUR DAY TO TALK TO YOUR PARTNER.
It doesn’t matter when it is, as long as it is advance enough so that’s there’s no surprises.
Both parties need to be clear on when they can and can’t help, who needs to do what, who needs to be where and when.
It can get bloody confusing and wires do get crossed.
However, if you’re not communicating well, (especially when plans unexpectedly change), working from home and being a dad is significantly more complicated.
You’ll get shouted at a lot more too.
9. At some point you’re going to need help
It is inevitable. At some point you will need help.
Working from home with children isn’t for the faint hearted. It certainly isn’t for everyone and not all circumstances will allow for it.
Certain roles lend themselves to more flexible hours than others. Furthermore, as children go through different stages, your work at home style will have to adapt as well.
With all that said, there’s going to be days where deadlines are looming, or important meetings need to be had (either online or face-to-face).
Work has to be done and there’s not enough hours in the day to be dad. You have no choice but to offload the kids.
Thankfully, there are always options when the shit hits the fan, (although to preempt any flying is clearly the preferred approach).
Working at home while also being the primary caregiver during the day is hard. Seeking out help with the kids on occasion (or on a long term basis if necessary) is not admitting defeat. It is inevitable.
10. Communicate Honestly with Clients and Coworkers
A common stress for work from home parents is the important client/colleague phone or conference call.
Honesty is often the way to go here.
If you are up front with clients and coworkers about having children and working from home, you will find that most people will understand and empathize with your situation.
It should be an easy conversation with your colleagues at least.
Many will already know of your working arrangement, and for those don’t, a quick warning that they might hear your little one in the background at the beginning of the call is enough to prevent any surprises.
Communicating the fact with clients can be more difficult and will depend on the type of work you do and the relationship you have with them.
If you feel uncomfortable sharing the details of your working arrangement, you will need to pull out the stops to ensure your children are occupied or even elsewhere during calls and meetings.
In the next tip we’ll take a look at how you can do that.
11. How to distract your children during very important calls or meetings?
This will be difficult with babies and young toddlers. If the meeting schedule doesn’t fall during a nap time, or you haven’t arranged any care you are going to have to distract your child in any way that you can.
My top tip here would be to have a nice, warm full bottle of milk ready.
Feeding times earlier in the day should have been planned so that they are due to eat. As the meeting starts, place that bottle in their mouth.
For older toddlers you can rely on the good old iPad or smart phone.
If you use ‘screen time’ sparingly, you will find that the moments you really need them out of your hair, their favorite app game or YouTube selection will placate them until it’s time to take the screen away again, (at which point they will turn into a half-crazed junkie, but your meeting is over so you won’t care.)
If you are against screens for children, then you should prepare all the items of their favorite activity, (in the case of my daughter it would plenty of plain paper and all her coloring pens).
For times when older children are home, (because work doesn’t stop for the school holidays of course), you should find things a little easier.
Communicate the need for quiet, and let them get on with their own thing. Or better still, if they are old enough, ship them off to the park.
12. Rotate toys to keep them new and interesting
A simple one this but it is a good idea to rotate the toys to keep them fresh.
I also found that the loudest, most repetitive and annoying toys (to you) are the ones that will keep them the most occupied.
And as independent play-time is the name of the game, that annoyance is worth the trade off.
Whatever it takes, if you can find toys that hold their almost nano-second length of attention for longer, consider yourself winning.
13. Be fully present when spending time with the kids
To be fully, 100% into what you are doing is going to be difficult when you are a work at home dad with kids, however it is one that I personally hold dear.
Especially, when it comes to the time you spend with your little ones. (Let’s face it, being fully present in your work is going to difficult unless they are asleep).
I have found that if you commit yourself to your children 100% when you are spending time with them, they will naturally (I guess subconsciously) be more accommodating when you at your desk and your attention is elsewhere.
I’ll explain further.
It is all too easy for a work from home parent to ‘take a break’ to be with the kids, only to be glancing at the phone or firing off quick message.
Even thinking about work while with your child is failing to be 100% in the moment.
Let it go.
Your phone will still work in an hour’s time. The email, document or spreadsheet is going to be there when you next open the laptop.
Your little cherub is in front of you now.
Give them your undivided attention and you will find that they are less clingy during the times you need them to play alone.
They will feel more secure in the attention, affection, and love that they receive from you.
Take game breaks throughout the day. Make mealtimes technology free. Read them a story at night. All of these together activities should be 100% in the moment.
You should also make a big deal out of the times your little ones allow you to work peacefully.
Reinforce that behavior.
No matter how small their vocabulary is, the littlest baby understands a happy daddy.
14. Have your desk where the kids play
This one is not ideal, and actually goes against one of my key productivity tips: setting yourself up a designated work space away from the family.
However, that’s in a perfect world where you have help looking after the little ones.
If you’re the sole-carer working from home, you have no choice but to compromise.
And if that means perching the laptop on your knees in the garden beside your child’s trampoline, then so be it. (You chose this work from home gambit after all!)
Hopefully it won’t be as severe as that however.
But some sort of relocation is inevitable.
Whether you move to where they play, or bring the play room to the office, you will have to get used to concentrating with the children making noise close by.
15. Tire them out
Another good reason to be 100% in the moment while you are playing with your kid is that it is much easier to tire them out that way.
Whether you’ve taken them outside for a run around, helped them crawl all over the house for a while, or joined in as you let ‘kids be kids’ – intense activity will not only make your child happy, but after everything is finished, it will also make them tired.
Nap time will then be much easier to initiate and you will find that they should sleep for a couple of solid hours.
Which equals some wonderful, uninterrupted work time for you.
16. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Remember, you are doing two full-time jobs at once (what are you nuts!!). Take time to give yourself a huge pat on the back for that.
If some days seem overwhelming, remind yourself of what an incredible feat you are undertaking and feel pride in any positive steps you took that day.
This also means that you should avoid putting too much pressure on yourself and be realistic on what you can hope to achieve under the circumstances.
If you do have clients or colleagues breathing down your neck over work, try to arrange some help over the short term, or communicate with your SO so that more work can be done when they are around.
There’s nearly always a solution when the going get’s tough. You just need to keep a clear head, communicate your needs with those that matter, and be rational with your overall expectations.
And one last thing. Sometimes, on days where things haven’t gone your way, it is best to down tools and just spend time with your kids.
This is why you seek the work life balance anyway.
Make a plan to catch up on work after bed or the following day, and enjoy the company of those that you love.