A lot of us are working from home right now while also trying to care for our children. By now, you probably have realized the secret to working and parenting young children at the same time: It’s impossible. Before becoming a mom, I imagined I’d sit nearby typing away on my laptop while my toddler quietly played on the floor by my side.
The reality is, even though my son is quite good at independent play for an 18 month old, the siren song of the laptop is too strong to resist. He just loves to open and shut the lid and mash the keys. He knows some combination of key smashes will play Baby Shark and he is prepared to go through every combination. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get any work done on days I am caring for him. Here are some ways I found to be productive.
If you are lucky enough to have another person home with you, this will be your best bet for getting things done. Daniel and I create a shift schedule where one of us watches James while the other gets work done. I do the first three hours of the day and he does the second. Then we alternate every hour after lunch. We go upstairs and away from James when we are working so he isn’t tempted to distract us. A strict schedule clearly outlines responsibilities and gives us a sense of when we should be working. I know not everyone has the luxury of sharing responsibilities, if you are alone you can still get things done but obviously you will have less time to work.
Make a Realistic To Do List
You should have a decent sense of how much actual work time you will have. It very likely won’t be eight hours, so don’t try to schedule eight hours of work into your day. I know some bosses might not understand that, so you just have to try to do the best you can. Outline your must do tasks the night before and address those first. Make your to do list in order of importance so you can get the imperative stuff done first.
Schedule Your Work Time
Usually there will be times during the day where your child is occupied alone for 15+ minutes. These are your best windows to get some work in. For most people with young kids it will be nap time. For others it might be screen time or a particular activity that keeps your child engaged. As tempting as it is to use that time to relax and look at your phone or make a cup of coffee, plan to get to work immediately to make the most of your time. If you have the ability to defer your work to the evening and night after bedtime, you can take advantage of that time.
Quiet Time Routine
James takes a one hour afternoon nap most days. But sometimes he tosses and turns and won’t go to sleep. Instead of telling him it’s nap time, I tell him it’s “quiet time.” I put some books and a stuffed animal in his crib so even if he won’t nap, he generally can keep himself quietly occupied. I know I have a window in the early afternoon where he will be in his crib for about an hour. Even if your kids are past napping age, try to institute a one hour “quiet time” period where they can play in their rooms and look at books or quietly play.
Leave the Chores until Bedtime
By the time we get to lunch, the house looks like it has been ransacked by a family of raccoons. There are toys and tupperware everywhere. The sink is full of dishes and there are crumbs under the high chair. It is so difficult for me not to use any spare time I have to clean up a bit. But with a toddler, I could easily spend every spare moment tidying up and the house would still be messy at the end of the day. Leave the chores until after the kids go to bed. If you have a partner, divy up the tasks and tackle the cleaning together. It’s also much easier to do without kids under foot.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Getting anything meaningful done while trying to parent is a victory. I hope most employers and bosses understand that people won’t be as productive while at home with kids. Remember that this situation is temporary and a short term dip in production won’t derail your career or life goals. A messy living room and a frozen pizza for dinner won’t hurt your family. Try to prioritize the most important stuff and do that. Anything else is a bonus.