It’s never easy being a parent. Dealing with dirty diapers, tantrums, heartbreaks, school issues– as children grow up, the challenges don’t diminish; they just alter.
When the COVID-19 virus spread from China in significant numbers, it was March 2020. We entered lockdown with many of us, hoping that the worst would be over by summer, and we could hopefully get back to normal. Over a year later, millions of people are still working from home.
Although COVID-19 has had tragic consequences and it continues to have a devastating impact in India, many people prefer remote working. The legitimization of working from home and “distributed teams” has also opened the door for many would-be entrepreneurs to put their business ambitions into action and start their own company. With no need for an office, overheads and financial risk is significantly mitigated.
With some areas of the US and some private schools across the world still utilizing a home-schooling model, many people are still doing their best to work at home with children. With the world population still growing and becoming denser, a future pandemic is likely to occur the next time a virus takes the leap and jumps from animals to humans. In addition to this, the summer break from school is just around the corner, so lockdown or not, you may well have to work while your children are present.
The good thing is that everyone should be more prepared next time. We have a remote work model that works, we have new mRNA technology for vaccines, and many people enjoy working from home. There is also emerging technology to keep us working and in touch with each other, including video conferencing software like Zoom and Teams. Virtual assistants and receptionists from companies such as Moneypenny have made it easier for business owners to work remotely.
Staying focused can be the biggest challenge when you work from home. One surprising statistic is that a single interruption can take around 25 minutes to recover and refocus from research from the University of California, Irvine. One great way to cut down on unwanted sales calls is to use a telephone answering app or service. A virtual receptionist can filter any unwanted calls before putting them through to you. With a 24/7 service, you can also focus on the evenings and weekends without having to listen out for your phone constantly.
Entrepreneur Pat Flynn recommends using housework as part of active breaks in between work. You can remove yourself from the hard work and the computer for 10 minutes, while for example, you put the washing on or quickly tidy the bathroom. You don’t have to necessarily split your day into two sections – work and home. You can take a break from the computer and quickly do some housework, refresh your mind and get your body moving before getting back down to work again.
This way, when your workday is over, even if you have to carry on working for an extra half an hour or so, you can be fully present with your children.
Children are still highly likely to interrupt you while you are trying to work, however. You have to expect this, especially with younger children. As mentioned previously, it can take nearly 30 minutes to refocus, so it can pay off to have some methods that help you to quickly refocus in 5 minutes, rather than half an hour. Before you attend to the interruption, it can help make a physical or mental note regarding what you were about to do. That way, you can pick up from where you left off. Another way is to use a Pomodoro timer. The Pomodoro technique splits your day into 25 minutes “sprints” with 5-minute breaks. You can use a sprint as a way to refocus as soon as your return to your work.
To help with the frustration of being interrupted, it can help to see the pandemic and remote working as an opportunity to spend time with your children and develop those relationships, including boundaries when you’re trying to work!
Emails can also be a big distraction that impacts productivity. Using the Pomodoro timer, you can quickly check your emails every 25 minutes or every 50 minutes, rather than as they come in. Alternatively, check your emails twice a day and consider using a Gmail add-on such as Boomerang, which will allow you to send all of your replies at the end of the day. If you are self-employed, a virtual assistant can also save you lots of time by filtering and answering basic emails for you.
If you are home-schooling, it is especially important to have a schedule for you and your children.You can schedule things such as children’s breakfast time, lunch, activities, outdoor time, movies, and schoolwork!
Use an Excel or Google sheet, or use a calendar app on your phone to block out all of the different times. Then in a different color or on a different calendar, schedule what work you will be doing. The two don’t have to overlap; you can always get up at 5 am before the children are awake to get some uninterrupted work under your belt before breakfast time.
Inform your children that although you are at home, you might not be responsive all of the time, and you need to get work done. Again, you will have to accept that you will get interrupted at least a few times per day by your children and have a default way to get straight back to work. Schedule your highest priority work items during the times the children are least likely to interrupt you. So this could be first thing in the morning, during movie-time, or even for an hour when the children have been put to bed.
Depending on the age and temperament of your children, you could schedule lower priority tasks into times of the day while you are with the kids. For example, you could schedule a time to reply to emails while the children are playing in the back garden or watching one of their live school lessons. You will be available if required and replying to emails, and getting work done simultaneously.
It can help to have a designated room or space in the house that is your “workspace.” You can let your family know that you are working and don’t want to be interrupted when you are in that particular area.
This workspace can also help to create some kind of physical barrier between work life and home life. For example, if you have converted a room or even the shed outside into your office, you can go into “work-mode” when you enter that space and switch off into “family-mode” when you come out.
YouTuber Morgan Stradling recommends having a designated activity for the children that you can call upon if you have an emergency or an important call or task to attend to for work. The task or activity will depend on your children’s interests and age, but it could be a DVD or movie you can put on a board game or even a computer game that you can load up and leave them to play with regardless of the time of day. The task or activity needs to be something that they can do independently, without your supervision or assistance.
If possible, you can involve your children in specific ways when you are working. They could, for example, sit next to you while you are working and color in a picture or read one of their schoolbooks. You could even tell them and show them what you are doing and explain how a specific task or how a piece of software works and what the end product is used for.
Many people are still understandably feeling anxious about the future, and the prospect of the school break during the summer is going to prove a challenge for parents who work full time. If you have a schedule, a designated workspace, and a technique or routine that you can use to get back to work as soon as possible following a distraction, then you should be able to work as efficiently as can be expected.