If you’ve ever thought working from home with small children beats driving to the office each day, you may be sadly mistaken. My children are definitely the apple of my eye, but they can be a handful anytime I sit down to complete an important task. It’s almost as if they have an internal switch that flips on any time the cover of my laptop opens!
It was quite a struggle to balance running a business with an infant in tow. After years of following all sorts of tips to minimize distractions, I finally figured out how to successfully accomplish tasks without pulling all my hair out.
Here’s a comprehensive list of tactics I’d suggest if you’re having a difficult time working from home with children:
1. Be realistic
If your children constantly demand attention during non-business hours, do you really expect them to sit in a corner with a pile of crayons, coloring books, or an iPad for hours at a time while you work?
Even as an adult, I am sometimes easily sidetracked during work hours by phone calls, text messages, email alerts, social media (the ultimate time-suck), or a light bulb that suddenly goes off in my head — just to name a few distractions.
And remember, you are the main attraction for your little ones.
2. Have the talk
Assuming they’re old enough to keep themselves occupied, explain the situation and that you’ll need to remain focused throughout the day with minimal interruptions. Communicate to them that they are a part of the team and their role is to help mommy or daddy remain productive.
3. ‘Emergency’ drills
There’s nothing more embarrassing to a work-at-home mom, dad, or entrepreneur than a sudden outburst from their children during a conference call. (It happened to me this morning). Luckily, the client was understanding.
To minimize this risk, run through a series of simulations to prepare your troops. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s worth a shot.
Since my children tend to be experts at interrupting me at the most inopportune times, we frequently practice the most common scenarios. A few examples:
- If the phone rings and mommy quietly steps into the office, do you run after her screaming or quietly have a seat and wait for her to finish the call?
If (for some strange reason) I leave the door unlocked and you decide to enter and notice mommy on the phone, how do you react?
- If mommy is staring at the computer screen with “that look on her face” when you enter, do you scream your demands or politely request mommy’s attention?
Over time, I’m confident the children will get the hang of things and give me quiet time when I desperately need it. But until then, we’ll keep practicing.
4. Offer incentives
Set goals for your children to keep them occupied. If they successfully meet the target, offer them a reward. I began using this strategy with my boys about two years ago, and we’ve been going strong ever since. Whether it’s 30 minutes at the park, popcorn, and a movie, or pizza night at the local parlor we absolutely adore, they hold me to it. Plus I get to spend quality time with them during the workday.
5. Designate an area for your “home office”
You definitely don’t want to completely isolate yourself from the children if no one else is around to tend to them, but the kitchen table won’t serve as the optimal workspace, either. Search for a well-lit area in your home, preferably a spare room with a door, that will enable you to organize your files, stay on task, and minimize interruptions.
Pat yourself on the back
Balancing children and a full-fledged workload is beyond difficult, but it can be done. It’s OK to occasionally treat yourself to your favorite meal or a night out on the town for your efforts — within reason. When my husband is able to rip me away from the computer, I enjoy spa sessions or a mini-vacation with friends.
Regardless of how you wind down, make time to pamper yourself on occasion to avoid burning out and crashing into a mental brick wall from work overload.
Most importantly, hang in there. As your children age, it will get easier.