Working from Home with Kids. How to Cope.
The dream for many parents is to work from home, spend less time rubbing knees with grumpy commuters and more time with the kids.
The reality as one wise and not so old freelance website designer once told me, is that you don’t ‘work from home so much as live at work’ if you’re not careful!
Here are some of my top strategies for working from home when you have a family.
Set boundaries in space and time.
This sounds a bit sci-fi but really what it means it to limit where (space) and when (the times) you are working and don’t have them blur into a constant inefficient blur with your family time.
If you can’t set aside a specific ‘office’ area for your work time at home, you may want to think about the affordability of renting some desk space or even working from a café or library. Good wi fi, adequate coffee and enough buzz to make you feel you’re not missing out.
As someone who’s worked at home on the kitchen table, I know it can be hard to ‘switch off’ work brain if remnants of my paperwork are visible at mealtimes. If you must do it, then I’d recommend getting yourself a big storage box with a lid. At the end of your allocated work day put EVERYTHING in the box, shut the lid and put the box out of sight. It signals that my working day is over and I can deal with anything that comes up in the morning.
Time. This one I find the hardest but I think has the most potential to do harm. I feel sad watching parents at playgroups and parks checking their phones – whether for work or leisure I think this is a poor habit that I know drives my 6 year old absolutely insane. If myself or his dad are on our phones – even if it’s to answer an important email or check some stats – he feels so frustrated that we are not in the moment, not actually paying any attention to what’s around us. I agree with him, so now the phones are switched off or even placed in another room when it’s family time.
On certain days, I’ll switch the phone off or leave it at home. Urgent callers will leave voicemails or email. When I didn’t do this I’d have customers calling me at 10pm to ask about a possible party or on Sundays wondering if we did group classes – the calls were never urgent, often the customers themselves were surprised I had answered and the action of answering meant that I had to be in ‘work mode’ and couldn’t wind down afterwards very quickly. It may annoy the odd friend that calls my mobile and I don’t immediately reply, but nobody can be on-call 24/7 and function as an attentive parent.
Time for work and time for play. For me, Tuesday morning and Sundays are my times to ‘play’ and the phone stays at home. No emails will get answers. I will not arrange meetings. As well as having set times to do work, it’s great to have set times where the kids can expect you to be around and not be preoccupied with work. Voicemail and emails mean you don’t have to be a slave to your phone ringer so don’t be.
• Keep work stuff separate from home stuff. If you haven’t got an office, get a big box and put the laptop, notepads, samples etc into it at the end of each day.
• Figure out and fiercely protect your ‘off times’. Maybe it’s after 8pm on weekdays, maybe you want the whole weekend without interruptions. Whatever it is, tell people (customers or colleagues) and then make sure you switch off, unplug or bury the phone!
• Book some special time each day or week that you can spend with the kids without distractions. Stressful periods can make it tough to wind down and fully embrace chaos of the Lego box – so maybe opt for a Friday night rather than pre-deadline Sunday.
Make a Schedule
I’m a sucker for a good list. Charts and lists make me really happy. A weekly schedule shared with the family of what’s going on is my way of keeping control of my workload, ensuring that the kids are out of my hair when I need to put in extra hours and having clear boundaries between work and fun time (oh and cleaning, washing, life in general).
My husband is a free-spirit and not a lover of lists, charts and strict regimented routine. For this reason we only have a 6 day timetable and I have conceded that Sunday must be a little looser for his sake.
Soup may seem like an odd tip to include in this list, but as I’m in the kind of business that values good food it seems a relevant one to include.
Working from home can easily turn into a cycle of pottering to the kettle, mooching in the fridge and lounging by the toaster. Food is a massive unhelpful distraction that ruins productivity. Taking breaks is important of course, but procrastinating by making lunch or snacks can be avoided by having a nice batch of soup at the ready.
Often I’ll make a GIGANTIC pan of vegetable soup on a Sunday. It’s filling and healthy and doesn’t take long to warm up so you don’t waste time. The other advantage is that it cannot sanely be eaten crumbled up over your laptop (far too risky with spills and mess) so it forces you to take a proper break from the screen – win win.
Kill Jeremy Kyle
Not literally, but seriously can you really work at full capacity having a full-blown family row blaring out of the telly? Of course not. Same goes for Embarrassing Bodies, Cowboy Builders, This Morning and catch-ups on any popular TV soaps. This is not a rule I follow that respects TV snobbery either – Question Time, Daily Politics and documentaries about little known species of endangered shrimp are also off limits. Turn the TV off. You’ll get more done. Promise.
Wear proper clothes
For me this means everything I’d need to wear to feel decent minus shoes and makeup. I just don’t feel like a powerful, capable business women sat working in my care bear onesie and I swear that customers can hear the lack of professionalism when I’ve tried it.
I think this advice fits back into the ‘Time and Space’ heading. Make a distinction in your attire between bedtime and worktime. Swimming and worktime. Gardening and worktime. Zumba and worktime. You’ll probably feel more professional and get more done.
Plus, it feels totally awesome immediately after finishing work to be able to strip off and stick that onesie on and flop with the kids.
Find a job that means you can work from home
It’s obvious that some jobs require you to clock-in each day. You can’t very well be a work-at-home fireman or nurse. But many office jobs now allow much more flexibility in their workforces’ hours and legally as a parent you have a right to ask for them. Some companies will allow you to work from home, or there are opportunities for some to make good money as freelancers.
Cookery Doodle Doo is a children’s cooking franchise that enables ambitious parents to run their own cooking school – often from home and part-time from local schools and nurseries. I started the business when I had a 3 year old boy and was desperate to maximise our weekends together as I worked full time in the week. We started weekend baking classes and now the company is a national franchise with 5 teachers!
You can certainly make working from home a good set up for your family and ensure you don’t just ‘live at work’. Want to know how? Find out how our franchisees find working with Cookery Doodle Doo on our franchise information pages. www.cookerydoodledoo.com/franchise