School’s out for Summer! But apart from having Alice Cooper’s song spinning round in my head, there are some more pressing matters to hand: How to work from home when the kids are off school?
While for some, the summer holidays signal trips away, festivals, long, drawn-out evenings and barbecues, for some of us it means suddenly having to organise extra childcare. It means juggling our workload with a few extra hands and voices demanding our attention.
School’s out but mum (or dad) still needs to work!
Here are my top eight survival tips for working from home when the kids are off school.
Realistically, you probably won’t get as much done and you probably won’t have as much time to dedicate to your laptop or business.
Knowing and accepting this can immediately lessen the stress and frustration.
A little preparation beforehand can help to ease the anxiety. Any big projects or deadlines looming? Try to get the bulk of the work out of the way so that you’re left with the smaller tasks to complete when the children are off school.
It’s not just managing your own expectations, but also those of your customers and clients.
Putting out of office emails into play or letting them know of reduced office hours can prevent misunderstandings. Consider adding a note like this into your email signature to make people aware of your circumstances.
It might be a case of letting people know you won’t be available for big orders. Maybe your time frames and deadlines will need to be extended to allow for shorter working days.
Prioritisation & Productivity
Knowing which tasks are most critical and focusing on those is important at any time, but when you’ve got to factor in days out at the zoo, playdates, extra snack preparation, and being soaked by a Nerf gun, the priority list has to be short and sharp.
Self-discipline around focusing on only the important jobs and not allowing yourself to be sucked into social media and web browsing (those online sales and eBay finds) can help you keep your time and mind on what needs to get done and leave you more time for those water fights!
Sometimes younger children just want to play and they want to do what mummy or daddy is doing. If you need to get a few emails done or organise some calls and younger ones are needing your attention or pestering to play, then why not turn work into a game?
Setting up a play home office that allows them to ‘work’ from home with you has helped me here.
A spare old computer or tablet, an old phone or play phone, a few coins, some paper, pens, ink stamps, old bank and loyalty cards make up a play office. This is a great way to keep the kids busy and feel involved as if you’re playing with them too.
If you’re doing something creative, try setting up a smaller creative project which they can do alongside and which you can help with as you do your own project.
You might even get half an hour of work in (more if you’re lucky)!
Out of Hours
Let’s resign ourselves to the fact we may have to adjust our work schedule and skew our work day to start earlier or finish later. I often get a second wind around 8 pm and sometimes can find myself an extra two to three hours in which to work in the evening.
Equally, you can turn this round to your children. You can tell older children, who need less supervision and understand the boundaries, that you have important work to do. You can let them know you won’t be available for a certain period of time — barring emergencies of course! During this time, your ‘out of hours’ is on as a parent.
I came across this great flow chart from Virtual Assistant, Allison Christie, which might prove useful if you want children to only disturb in genuine emergencies! And this article has some helpful tips with dealing with all kinds of interruptions.
Pockets of Time
Maximising the most of those spare 10 or 15-minute windows that we all have in our day can really boost productivity.
These periods can easily be eaten up with nothing: the daily faffing, aimless social media scrolling, web browsing, clearing up, hunting for the lost lego brick…
You can write or plan a social media post, a few emails, a to-do list in a matter of minutes.
Think: while the kids are eating breakfast, that half hour of TV time, when they’re at the playground, those moments they are occupying themselves, during snack time etc. Suddenly you acquire an extra hour or more in your day.
It’s doing those short but useful tasks in those pockets of time when we’re supervising, but not necessarily having to be fully engaged with the children, (see below on guilt) which can help us make the most of the time we have.
Ask for help
It’s not always easy to do but there’s no shame in asking for a little extra help.
Explaining to a partner that you need them to pick up some slack around the house, roping in some family or friends to help with the occasional playdate or babysitting duties, even asking for help from the children themselves if they’re old enough, can all give you a little relief when work requires a few hours of dedicated time.
It can be easy to try to be a martyr but we’re only human (as super as you are) and we all need a hand from time to time.
For some expert advice on effective communication and how to prepare and hold a healthy conversation, check out issue3 of The Homeworker magazine.
The Ideas Box
If you have pre-school or primary-age children, creating an Ideas Box can be a great way to get work done when the kids are off school.
This can be something you plan together, or a box you make up and bring out as a surprise when you’ve got work planned.
Fill your box (a shoe box or similar is ideal) with different activities, eg a new book, pens, stickers, colouring a jigsaw puzzle. Depending on their age, you could also include small task or activity cards that they can pick from.
If they’re old enough, try arranging a scavenger hunt to occupy time. Put the first clue in the box and let them search for the others around the house and garden with a prize at the end (which might even be special time with you).
Be intentional and remove the guilt
None of us is perfect and any working parent has to deal with the ‘juggle’. We’re all scrambling to find time to work in nap times or when they’re asleep but inevitably we find ourselves not always being as present for our children as we wish.
During the holidays, when we have to be extra resourceful when working from home and looking after our children, we need to give ourselves a break. Accept that we won’t always be the perfect parent and we won’t always be doing what we want towards our business.
Being intentional about what we’re planning to do is hugely liberating. Giving ourselves permission to set time aside and make the choice to do the work, followed by time with our children, can alleviate a lot of stress and guilt. It also helps to focus without thinking: “I ought to be playing with them” or, “I ought to be finishing that project.”
Independent and imaginative play is beneficial, lets them get creative and might give you a few precious minutes. But let’s not feel too guilty about switching on the TV from time to time. Planning a set period for a movie on a rainy afternoon or a ‘Film Friday’ one week etc can help you plan your tasks around this time.
Want more tips to stay productive when working from home?
The Homeworker magazine is a quarterly, digital magazine full of expert advice, tips and strategies to help you manage your work from home lifestyle. It covers mindset, confidence, business, wellbeing and your workspace. Check it out here.