We’re a few weeks into this new reality of isolation, quarantining and social distancing. These are words I never thought I would be using to describe my life. However, here we are and there is a way to actually get work done from home, even with kids around! Today, I am going to share my favorite tips as I have worked from home with kids for almost 12 years.
1. Separate Work Space
If you do nothing else on this list, please do this one. To actually get work done, you can’t be spending 20 minutes each time setting up your workspace, locating files or laptop chargers, or searching for the pad of paper with your notes on it. It wastes time, kills your momentum, and adds frustration to an already frustrating reality. You might have to get creative (I once set up a small camping table in a hallway next to our washer and dryer for my office!), but these times call for thinking outside the box and ignoring all sense of interior design. Put up that old card table in your bedroom, take a TV tray and set it up in a corner of your family room, or use one of those breakfast-in-bed trays on your couch and move it to a safe place when work is over.
Once you have set up your separate workspace, communicate to all those in your household, especially little people, that they are not to touch anything on your workspace. If they need to borrow the computer or a piece of paper from your workspace, they need to ask first. If your people are little enough that it’s hard to even follow these directions, make sure your space can be gated off or moved out of reach.
2. Track Your Time
Working at home, especially if you’re not used to it, comes with a HUGE amount of distractions. To help focus your time on work, I think tracking your time is vitally important. My favorite online tool to do this is Toggl. It’s free and can be installed right in your browser if you wish. I track everything – checking email, bookkeeping, specific client work, etc. This helps me stay on track with a single task, helps me maintain a single focus, and makes sure I don’t spend too much time on something that might not be that important to what I need to get done that day. If I suddenly remember I need to go switch laundry, or a news headline pops up I’m tempted to read, the timer running in the background helps remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing right now and helps me stay on track.
3. Newsfeed Eradicator
You no longer have a boss that’s looking over your shoulder so it’s extremely easy to get lost in the Facebook bottomless pit. If blocking Facebook completely isn’t possible (we do actually need it for work sometimes!) this browser extension is perfect. Newsfeed Eradicator lets you check Facebook, but hides the newsfeed. This eliminates the scrolling through the mindless newsfeed wasteland, but will still let you reply to comments, post business updates, see important notifications or interact in your groups. During this pandemic, social media has been flooded with information that can be distracting as every headline seems important. This extension blocks it while you’re working, and you can save the mindless scrolling for your phone when work is done (or bonus mental health tip, just stay off of it completely!). Facebook recently changed its desktop version, so you might need to tweak this to work, but it’s worth it.
4. Burn the Midnight Oil
This is just a season and we’re all called to make sacrifices. Unfortunately, this may mean getting work in from 6 am – 8 am and 8 pm – 11 pm. This is not ideal – but nothing about this situation we’re in is ideal. This tip is primarily for those of us with kids at home. They need us – and although it may be tempting, we cannot let screens babysit them all day every day. This is a great way to get focused work time when you are also responsible for the care and schooling of children. If you need to be accountable to coworkers throughout the daytime hours, keep your phone by you and explain to your children that you need to check-in periodically with your work and that is why you’re on your phone. If you implement this tip, you also MUST do the next tip…
5. Boomerang Your Email
This is a free extension to Gmail that lets you send emails at certain times. Don’t really want to have your email hit your boss’s inbox at 12:03 am? Boomerang gives you an option when you’re about to send an email to send it at a future time. You can schedule your emails to go out at 8 am the next day, or whatever time you feel is best. This is especially nice when you’re trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for clients (even though nothing about what’s happening is normal right now). I have used this so many times throughout my 12-year work-at-home career. Nothing beats the feeling of waking up in the morning knowing all the work you did the night before is hitting inboxes right as people are starting their day. You look like a genius. 🙂
6. Everything is Going to Take Longer
The sooner you get this through your head, the sooner you can stop beating yourself up for not getting everything you wanted done that day. Working from home, especially with little people, triples the time it takes to do something. When agreeing to projects, setting deadlines, or promising reports, triple your estimate. You can still try to keep your normal timeline and hopefully, you are able to get tasks done early, but it’s so important now to build in buffer time.
For those who are used to working 8 hours straight in the office, I’m sure you quickly found that getting 8 hours straight will be near impossible when you work from home. Work will now come in small chunks of time (the 20 minutes the kids are on a Zoom call, the 2-hour afternoon nap, the 1 hour and 43 minutes running time of Frozen 2). It’s hard for our brains to switch back and forth between different tasks, and I have found that music goes a long way to help me focus on what I need to do, no matter how short of a window I am getting. Sitting down at my computer, I first turn on upbeat music and it instantly motivates me to stay focused, plow through emails or buckle down and design a website mock-up. Some people find classical music motivates them the most, or there’s a great site called brain.fm that has specific music sessions for focus. This helps my brain switch to work mode, even if I had just gotten done teaching my third grader about adverbs.
Finally, I want to end by saying that this is a hard, unprecedented time we are all going through. Even for someone like me who has lots of experience working from home, I have found this extremely challenging and daunting. It’s vitally important you give yourself grace and lower expectations. Communicate upfront with clients, coworkers, and your boss about all that is on your plate. Honesty is better than trying to pretend you are superhuman and can’t miss a beat. Let me know if you have any questions. We got this!
PS: If your email inbox is out of control now with so many more communications happening that way, check out my post on how I maintain Inbox Zero.