Let’s pretend we are looking at each other face to face. You ask me “it’s not impossible to work from home with a toddler, right?” I smile. My face seems calm …but maybe too calm. Why am I nodding silently at you …why am I not saying a word? Oh, it’s in my eyes. My crazy eyes are telling the truth right now and they are saying YES. Wait — is that yes meaning it IS impossible or it ISN’T?!?
I’ll level with you — it’s both. It feels impossible but also VERY possible. It’s just not the working environment you are used to. Think of it like working in a loud Starbucks with no headphones and the baristas are all new here. It is possible, it’s just may not be your favorite. So if you are new to working at home with a toddler or baby or small kids, welcome to the show. Buckle up because it is a bumpy ride that you WILL want to get off of and there will be no refunds.
My best advice is to take your expectations and cut them in half. Then divide them and multiply by 0. Remember when your down, the only way you have to go is up. 😉
Feeling encouraged? Ha! I know, I know and if you were looking for a light, fun read on how to work from home, this may not be it. (Albeit still fun!) These are actual rules and ways B and I can handle working at home with a toddler. This is a Getting Sh*t Done guide.
The *ACTUAL* Boss of our Home.
Keep the normal wake / sleep schedule
Treat your weekdays as you typically do — if you are used to waking at 6:30 and getting ready, naps at a certain time, etc then there is no need to change that. Keep to the schedule you, your body and your kids are used to. Don’t throw another wrench in the machine now. I say this with a few exceptions — if your kids are sleeping later and it works for you, let them of course. No need to wake up a sleeping baby. Just keep the same bedtime routine at a different time and let them have that extra sleep if it helps. For us, we are a sleep later / go to bed later crew over here so we are keeping that the same. Everything for Gemma has been kept normal and that helps her not feel like things are weird and it keeps us on a good sleep schedule as well. Why is sleep so important? Because getting sleeps gives you more patience and you will need it. It allows you to deal with more during the day, so keeping everyone’s routine as normal as possible is key.
Organize your work into levels of focus or importance
If you are used to working in the office, you probably have your normal morning routine. But this will change a little bit because the idea of you actually getting 8 hours of working will be cut short. So each week or perhaps by the day, prioritize your work into levels of a) focus – what task needs the MOST focus and b) what is most important to get done this week. I put focus first because this is the work you will need to do when your kids are the most distracted or better yet asleep. (I’ll get to that in a moment.) Make your attack plan from here and schedule out when your most focused on work will get done during the day. Do not try to work on the ‘needs the most focus’ work when your kids aren’t napping or tuned in to a movie. It will frustrate you, I promise. If you can answer emails or do other work while they are playing, do that first. Then save the hard work for nap.
Nap time = focus time
Be sure to have everything ready for nap time — and I mean for you. Once you lay that baby or toddler down for a nap, it’s go time, sister. You don’t want to waste time gathering your stuff and getting settled, because this is a limited time. So use the time before nap to get your space or desk ready and make sure you’ll have everything you need to sit down and get the bulk of your heavy work done. If your kids don’t nap any longer, have a movie time each afternoon. Be sure that they have everything they could possibly need — water, popcorn, blankets etc. And let them know that you are working in the office or wherever it is for you and that they are only to interrupt if absolutely needed. Set rules and be stern. If your kids aren’t old enough to be left alone, sit in there with noise cancelling headphones and try your best to focus on what is on your screen only.
If you Have a Partner, Switch off Blocked Times Work
If you have a partner and they too are working from home, you two can switch off between parent on duty (POD) and working from home. For Bryan and I, he takes the morning as POD because my brain works best first thing in the morning. I break at lunch, we both work through nap, then I take afternoon and he can get work done then. This is probably best case scenario if you do have a partner that’s home as well. Be sure to sequester yourself in a room with a door and use headphones too.
Use Screen Time Wisely
Try to use screen time for your kids in the best way possible — a movie time in the afternoon or a quick episode of a show while mom answers emails. In the mean time, try to set them up with an activity or their toys. I find that picking up our play room where Gemma has been actually spurs her to play with her toys. It’s like she thinks I’m going to give them away? I don’t know but I’m glad it makes her start playing with her toys again. Play-dough or kinetic sand works for us because she is in her chair and I sit at the table and can work on my compute or iPad while she plays. Again, it’s not my best work or deepest thoughts but it’s something.
Talk To Your Toddlers
I know it seems trite but start telling your toddlers or kids what you are doing i.e. working from home and continue to repeat it. Toddlers need repetition so give it to them so that they can understand what is expected of them. We say ‘mommy is working right now in the office, can you go play for a little bit and then we will make a smoothie!’ We tell her what is going on, give her directions and then something to look forward to. We also tell Gemma that if a door is closed, that means someone is working. She understands that means that she has to knock or get the other POD. It’s not fool proof and there’s definitely still interruptions but giving your toddler a heads up actually goes a long way. And it sure is cute when Gemma grabs her pretend iPad and says she’s going to work too.
Be Flexible with Yourself and Your Kids
Remember when I told you dash your own expectations? Well that’s because if you have high expectations and they don’t get met, you’ll be frustrated, mad or angry. And that can just lead to a stressed out mom which can lead to stressed out kids. So have some grace for yourself and your kids. Know that this time is not normal and no one is expecting it to be. Give yourself grace and flexibility, understanding that not every day in a work from home situation is going to be the same.
The New Normal
One thing to keep in mind — you spent a lot of your day commuting. And I don’t just mean driving to and from work. Perhaps it was getting your morning coffee or talking to your coworkers before getting started or you had a lot of meetings during your day that have cleared up now. Either way you didn’t actually spend 8 hours working with your head to your desk. (SOME OF YOU MAY WORK FROM SUN UP TILL SUN DOWN AND THAT IS GREAT! I’m just generally speaking here. Don’t yell at me. I don’t know your life.) I say all this to remind you that there will be interruptions at home just like there will be at work. But now your interruptions are toddlers or kids. Try to remember that not every second is going to be taken up by work in a WFH situation and that is just fine. It isn’t at work either. 😉
What to do after hours
Evenings are up to you. I’m usually pretty spent by 9 pm and my brain doesn’t want to work any longer so once my work is up it’s up. If you want to work just make sure you have a stoping point and that you get in bed at a reasonable hour because you gotta do it all again tomorrow. Rest is important in time like these and not just sleep rest but brain rest too. Pushing your brain to the very max won’t help anyone. I suggest closing your computer when your normal day ends and resuming the next day. And I promise you’ll get the hang of the new routine. And so will your kids.
One note: I do not set up a play area in the office for Gemma. Why? Because I’ve done this before and she does not want to play with her toys, she wants to play with mine. When they are babies, YES. Absolutely. But when they start moving and talking, they will want what you have. So while the office isn’t off-limits (unless the door is shut and then she knocks or well, yells at me through the window lol) we don’t set this room up for play. We have a lot of camera equipment and computers so it’s just not the wisest for us. You do you, but for us this has never worked.
This is 1 in a series of 3 for WFH tips. Next up will be general working from home tips, no babies involved. 😉