How work-from-home parents can stay productive when kids are home from school
It's time to pull together your family's summer productivity plan
Memorial Day in the rearview mirror means one thing to people who work from a home-based office and have a school-aged kid: Summer break is coming! A scary thought for anyone who’s already tried to work with bored kiddos around the house. (Cue the theme from Jaws.)
If sending the children off to summer school, camp or with a relative for a week at a time until Labor Day just isn’t an option, never fear! I’ve got some suggestions here.
After maneuvering my work according to the needs of my kiddo over his summer breaks for the past eight years, I’ve figured out tactics that will go a long way.
Six ways parents with kids at home for summer break can stay productive:
1. Close your door.
What that really means: make sure you have a door to your work area so you can close it. If you normally work at the kitchen table, during summer break (any school break) your setup will only result in total disaster. It is imperative to do whatever it takes to create a work area where you are secluded, even if your choices are limited. Most adults, let alone children, would have a tough time controlling the impulse to engage a person sitting in their midst.
2. Sneak in work.
If you can flex your work schedule to find a few hours of relatively uninterrupted time each day, you’ll be much farther ahead than if you stick to a regular 8-to-5 routine.
Early mornings when little ones are sleeping—or maybe your spouse is managing the morning routine—are great for getting stuff done. You may even want to consider going to bed a little earlier so you can get up before the crack of dawn. Late afternoons and evenings also present great windows for children to be distracted with activities such as a playdate at a friend’s home and/or tended to by your spouse.
I’m a writer and I also happen to live in a metro area, where you can find places to work while the kid is catered to. When my son was still little, I’d look for places with play opportunities where I also could work, such as the city recreation center, a McDonald's or a local indoor playground. A giant play structure crawling with playmates for your kid and a pair of earplugs for yourself will get you roughly 90 minutes of uninterrupted work time.
3. Child swap.
Does your child have a friend who lives nearby? If so, you might explore the possibility of setting up a regular playdate with the caveat that your darling spends the same amount of time one other day of the week at the friend’s home. One mom who wrote about her experience said that even when it was her turn to have the children, it was easier than only having her daughter because the two toddlers entertained each other.
The cost of childcare is out of reach for many working people, however, with a network of friends, relatives, other acquaintances, parents who are enterprising and creative can find budget-friendly solutions. A mom who is a writer shared her story about cobbling together care for her toddler so she could get a few hours a day of uninterrupted work time.
The Penny Hoarder has tips on how to find out about options for childcare that potentially are less expensive than the usual daycares and preschools you might think of. The Balance offers leads on low-cost programs for people who qualify.
However, if you don’t mind paying $15 to $20 an hour for a sitter, you may be able to find one using any number of apps.
Ideally, either you or the sitter and your kids will leave the house for a portion of the time. It helps if you plan an outing for the sitter that’s doable considering transportation available and the ages and number of kids. Is there a grocery store they can walk to and pick out ice cream treats and bottles of bubble juice on the way to a park or greenway?
Some parents find the ideal arrangement for an in-home sitter to be 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. so that the sitter gets lunch for the kids, cleans up and after s/he departs, naptime starts and you’re afforded one or more hours of additional time.
5. Be ready with activities.
You’re going to hear the dreaded “I’m bored” more than once. As long as you have some activities to suggest, along with materials needed for those activities, you’ll stay in the flow. Care.com’s list of 30 things to do when kids say ‘I’m bored’ is full of fun ideas. Once you’re finished Googling the possibilities, gear up by making a trip to a craft store.
To maximize your time during the week, spend an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon in preparation for activities that will ready to go each day.
6. Strike a bargain with the kids.
Tell your kids you need their help so you can get your work done and that if they help you, they’ll earn a reward—and maybe even a little money. For instance, tell them they’ll earn a bonus on their allowance for holding questions until you take a break from work. This will also help them develop the skill—and greatest virtue—of patience.
And remember to take a break, not only for them but for yourself as well. Most people lose their ability to focus after about 90 minutes or so, the perfect time to take a 10-minute break.
Armed with a plan to stay on task, you’re ready for summer!
These ideas should provide a great starting point and you may be motivated to brainstorm further possibilities. Ultimately, the key to your success in working from home with kids around is to make a plan.
Once you’ve figured out which tactics to use, you’ll get a vision for managing the combination of bored kids and work. Share the key points of this plan—along with your expectations—with your kids.
If you have a spouse, include them in both the plan and the discussion about it. It’s imperative to do this before that first morning of summer break rolls around, you head to your desk, start humming along with work, only to be interrupted. Over. And over. And over, again. You’ll be frustrated by lunchtime, at your wit’s end by late afternoon and your kiddo(s) will feel resentful and be acting out. Trust me.
With tactics and a plan for how to put them to work, you are setting the stage for your entire family to support you as a breadwinner.