How to work from home with kids, according to a productivity coach

How to Work from Home with Kids, According to a Productivity Coach

22 January 2021 • Words by Kristi Pahr 3 mins

Many parents are still doing their best to cope with one of the biggest changes — working at home with their kids. The struggle is real, and it looks like it’s not going away anytime soon. So how can parents make their workdays flow more smoothly now that Zoom meetings and diaper-changing work breaks are the new norm?

We spoke to time management and productivity coach, Alexis Haselberger, who shared some simple guidelines on how to survive working from home with kids:

Create a schedule and stick to it

While your workday may have always had a certain flow, transferring that in-office rhythm to your home office might be tricky. One key to a smooth day working from home is to schedule everything and stick to your guns. “Create a schedule that shows when each person in the family is in meetings/in class and post it in a prominent place where everyone can see it,” says Haselberger. Update this schedule daily so that way everyone knows when not to interrupt everyone else.

Another great scheduling hack if you live in a two-caregiver home, is to schedule who will be “on-call to wrangle the kids (if they are young) or help with schoolwork (if they are older),” says Haselberger. “Some parents will switch off mornings and afternoons, or sometimes it just makes sense to make a daily schedule of who will be ‘on-call’ based on when each parent’s meetings are.  Essentially, work in shifts.” 

Being on-call for kid duty doesn’t mean you can’t work, it just means you’ll want to save your lighter-duty work for those times. And when another adult is on kid duty “you get to pretend like you aren’t home and can get your deep work and important meetings done.”

Additionally, a daytime routine for kids is a great way to transition into a bedtime routine that actually works. Knowing what to expect throughout the day through an established routine gives kids the freedom to transition seamlessly from one part of the day to the next and cuts down on the disappointment that daytime is done and it’s time for bed.

Set Your Boundaries

The urge to work, work, work is ever-present when we are all basically living in our offices, and it’s easy to miss out on the bigger picture. “Pick a stopping time each day and literally close up shop at that time,” explains Haselberger. “Put the laptop away.  Turn off notifications on your phone and turn your attention toward your family.  In order to do this effectively, you may need to have a conversation with your team so they know what to expect and your family to keep you accountable.”

Conversely, setting boundaries with your family will help keep you stay on task during your workday. While it may be tough for little ones to understand that mommy or daddy literally cannot play hide and seek right now, explaining what’s going on and why will help ease hurt feelings. And since you’re ending your day at a prearranged time and not working off-hours – because of your newfound boundary-setting skills — you can always promise that hide and seek will happen promptly at 5:01.

Space for everyone and everyone in their space

Having a dedicated space for everyone who is working at home, kids included, will go a long way to keeping things cool. For school-aged children, Haselberg says that separate rooms aren’t necessary. Parking kids at opposite ends of a table or kitchen island provides each child space to spread out and focus on their work instead of what their sibling is doing. 

For parents, a dedicated office space might be a pipe dream, but claiming the corner of the bedroom or even claiming that kitchen island for yourself can be a lifesaver. Implement baby gates at will if you live in a home with a roaming toddler or curious pre-schooler. “Being respectful of each other’s spaces means we aren’t on top of each other all day long and there are fewer fights and less friction overall,” says Haselberg.

Talk, talk, talk

The single most important aspect to successfully and sanely working at home while your kids are home is communication. Talk. Every day. Talk to your children, talk to your partner or co-parent, talk until your throat is sore and you need a drink of water if you have to. Communicate with your family about your needs and listen when they tell you about theirs. Being open and honest can alleviate stress by pre-establishing expectations and discussing what went wrong or right about the day. 

A daily family debrief goes a long way toward getting everyone on the same page and will help everyone work more comfortably at home. And for those times when the cabin fever is setting in and everyone is a little on edge, adding a few minutes of Moshi’s mindfulness content to your end-of-day debrief is the perfect way to calm everyone down and allow the kids to focus on the moment.

For all its faults and hardship, working from home with our families around gives us a unique opportunity to do the thing we all want more than anything — spend more time with our families.  Following a few basic ground rules can ensure that time is spent in comfort instead of stress.

Kristi Pahr

Kristi is a mother of two, writer, and mostly normal human being. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Parents Magazine, Real Simple and many others. When she's not wrangling her children she can usually be found sitting on her front porch trying to find some much-needed quiet time.