How to Effectively Work from Home

6 Hacks for Staying Sane and Productive Even with Kids Around.

There’s no doubt that world has turned upside down for many of us – especially when it comes to keeping work going for those who are now having to do that from home. If you’re used to talking about “working from home” with air quotes as you really use the time to deal with a repairman or some other project that needs to get done around the house, the current situation may be providing quite a shock to your system. That’s even more true if you have kids at home while you’re being asked to be just as productive as you would be in the office. As someone who has worked from home for the past 15 years starting when I had a newborn and a 5-year-old, I wanted to share some hacks I’ve learned along the way for how to effectively work from home while staying sane and productive even with kids around.

Take a Shower and Get Dressed

What I’ve found is that getting dressed and ready for the day first thing in the morning makes me feel like I’m ready to go. I’m as mentally prepared and ready to be productive as I would be if I were heading out to an office. Even staying in my workout clothes if I’ve worked out in the morning doesn’t feel right. I need to be in regular clothes that may not be as dressy or fashionable as they would be if I were going to an office, but they still make me feel like I’m prepared to meet the day head on.

Be Disciplined and Focused

I fully recognize that being disciplined and focused on the work that you’re doing can be challenging if there are numerous other distractions vying for your attention. Being home 24 hours a day can magnify everything that needs to get done, whether it’s the pile of laundry sitting in the corner or the dirty dishes in the sink. The trick is getting to the place where it mentally doesn’t matter – at least not for the time that you’re supposed to be working.

If it’s your time to work, you have to tune everything else out, unless you have younger kids. In that case, you’ll quickly learn the difference between a “The dog just knocked down my cardboard box castle” yell and an “I’m bleeding profusely” yell. Trust me, they can sound similar, but there is a distinct difference. If it’s not the later, be aware of it, but keep it in the background. If it is something that needs your attention, briefly address it and then get back to work.

I know for a fact that if your livelihood depends on it, “work from home” in air quotes simply turns into getting the work done no matter what.

Set Specific Times to Work

Your ability to focus fully on your work at least for certain amounts of time during the day is going to be critical to your ability to effectively work from home during this time. If you don’t have young kids at home, it’s fairly easy to set hours that you’ll be working. You should be aware though that even with teenagers or another adult in the house, there will be times when everyone will be in the kitchen or everyone will need something or simply want to talk. That’s why it’s so important for anyone who is working in the house to set regular times and let everyone else know when those times are. A whiteboard in the kitchen or a note on the refrigerator listing everyone’s working times are good ways of doing this.

If you do have kids in the house who need your supervision or help with schoolwork, things get trickier, but it is possible for you to get work done too. Here are a few suggestions. You’ll notice that most include the phrase “If at all possible.”

  • If your spouse or partner is working from home too, divide the responsibilities between the two of you so that each of you has some dedicated work time during the hours when others may need to get in touch with you. Let your colleagues, customers or clients know when those times are so that if at all possible, meetings, emails and other types of communication can happen at that point. This may require close coordination with those same people when determining your hours to begin with so that it coincides with when they’re available as well.
  • If you have young children who still nap, by all means, plan to work during that time.
  • If you have school age children, there should be certain points in the day when they’re working independently. If at all possible, use this time to get your work done as well (this is not the time to fold clothes or do the dishes). Clearly, if you have multiple children who need your assistance with their work, you may also be using independent work time for one to help another, so this definitely falls under the “If at all possible” category.
  • If you have young children, have books, blocks and coloring supplies set up near your work area. Even better, have activities that they only get to do in that space. Let your child know that this is work time and while you’re working, he can be working on his special projects and that he can surprise you with what he’s done when the time is up. This approach was a lifesaver for me, and my youngest son would often ask if we could “play work time” because he enjoyed it so much.
  • Get up early enough to allow yourself 2-3 hours of quiet work time before the rest of the house gets going or stay up late. For me, getting up early has always been the answer because that’s the time that I’m at my freshest and that I feel like I have the most control over.

Have a Set Place to Work

While setting up a dedicated office space may not be possible, you can carve out a spot to work somewhere. It may be a corner of the table, a side table turned into a desk in the living room, or anywhere else that lets you keep what you need to work in one place. That’s the key, keeping it all in one place and having a space that lets you know when you’re there, you’re working.

Turn Off News and Social Media Alerts on Your Phone

Yes, there is a lot going on right now that we need to be aware of, but it doesn’t need to be every minute. Turning off news and social media alerts while you’re working will cut down on the distractions and let you be in charge of when you allow information and other people in. Have set times or intervals when you check one to two news websites and give yourself a set amount of time to do it in. This will make sure that you get the most important need-to-know information without falling down an information rabbit hole.

Keep Quick and Easy Healthy Snacks on Hand

If you’re new to working from home, the temptation to snack or “graze” throughout the day may be strong. The situation we’re in is different to say the least and in many ways, very stressful. Snacking while you’re working could easily become a “go to” way of dealing with that. I think it’s best to acknowledge it upfront and make sure that you have quick and easy healthy snacks on hand. That way, you’re prepared when the snacking urge hits, and you don’t have to reach for whatever chips or sweets might be laying around. Nuts and seeds are my favorites for this.

Of course, even if you do all of these things, there may simply be times when you end up with a kid on your lap and a phone in your ear while sitting in front of the computer. Whether you’re a pro at working from home or a newbie, sometimes you just have to do what you gotta do to get it all done. And if I’m being honest, as long as you can keep your wits about you, these are the times that will put it all in perspective and remind you of what you’re working for in the first place.

Lean on Your Community

If you’re using any of these suggestions, let us know how it’s going and what your experience has been. Or, if you have other hacks that you’ve come up with, please share in the comments below. And certainly, if you’re facing a particular work-from-home challenge, post it here, and let’s see if we can come up with a solution together.

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