By Brittany Carlson
With many schools around the country closing for an undetermined amount of time to manage the spread of COVID-19, many parents will face the challenge of working from home while their children are home. If you’re one of these parents, here are some tested techniques from a few friends of mine experienced in working from home when everyone’s home.
1. Plan a new routine together
Draw up a schedule as a family so everyone knows which hours are work hours and which are for family time. Outline what older children are expected to do when you are working (such as school work or chores). With smaller children, parents might need to get the majority of work done during nap/quiet time or take turns (see step #4).
Jennifer and her daughter set goals to work toward with fun activities as rewards. “I give her some chores to do or some schoolwork and then we get to do something fun together,” she said. “Then she does a few more chores or schoolwork and then she gets to do something fun on her own. That works really well for us.”
2. Make a designated workspace
Several friends made this recommendation, including Matthew, a father of three. A designated workspace is helpful for parents who want to transition from their tasks at home to doing work, he said. “It doesn’t have to be a locked room, but a space that when you are sitting there, it’s work time,” he said.
Another work-from-home parent, Karen, suggested getting in and out of work mode by taking short walks around the block before and after a work session, sort of like a commute.
3. Maximize productivity
At home, it’s hard (or even impossible) to have eight hours a day to devote to work. Several parents who work from home mentioned the need to maximize productivity in short periods of time, especially during kids’ natural breaks.
Cheurice said she makes a “punch list” of daily goals, and works in chunks before the kids wake up, while they are doing busy work and during naps, finishing up after they are asleep at night.
When it is time to work, it is easy to get distracted or preoccupied with busywork.
Matthew said he tries to complete larger projects first, then moving on to smaller tasks. “I’ve found that when I sit down to work, if I start to plod through my email, the day is way less productive,” he said
Cassie added that having two parents who can swap off is a big help, even if you can only swap off during the evenings.
4. Get creative
Keeping kids busy helps extend work hours during the day. Several parents said putting on a movie for kids can give them extra time to work, but there are other options as well.
Rachel said she gives her toddler supplies so he can play-work like her.
“My work involves lots of reading on the computer, so I give my toddler his ‘play computer’ and he pretends to work with me,” she said. “Or, when I’m writing a note, I give him paper and crayons and he ‘does the paperwork.’”
She also takes advantage of mealtime, when her infant is strapped in a highchair, to get some work done, she said.
5. Balance work with life activities and self-care
Karen advised taking regular breaks from the computer for mental and physical health, to include exercise, stress management and rest.
Matthew added that breaks are important, as well as not feeling guilty about taking them. “If I let myself, I’ll grind away until the end of the day and feel just as stressed as if I was in a traditional office,” he said. “If I need to play with the kids, it’s ok.”
In the weeks ahead, parents and families all over the country will be learning a new normal, so my last piece of advice is this: give yourself grace and patience as you navigate the new routine. It will take time to adjust, but finding a way to meet each other’s needs is a goal worth working for.
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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