As a freelance Virtual Assistant, I predominantly work from a home office. Pre-Covid, this was a fairly novel idea and I would frequently be asked about it by people looking for work from home tips. How could I concentrate, how could I focus, how could I ignore the washing, how productive was it?
I am very disciplined and so concentration, focus, and productivity are not an issue for me. And actually, I don’t ignore the washing! One of the perks of working from home is being able to take 10 minutes to put a wash out (sad I know!)
HOWEVER, working from home online with kids in the mix is a totally different ballgame and school closures and isolations have taken me to my absolute limit. I have had to up my spinning plates game!
Banish mum guilt
Of all the work from home tips, this is number one for me. I set up my freelance business to work around my family and save on childcare which would have wiped out my salary. I would work just in the evenings at first. Then as my youngest started nursery and then school, I increased my hours to fill the daytimes.
However I never really legislated for school holidays. As time went on, I found myself completely exhausted on their weeks off. I wanted to be fun mum taking them out places every day. Then I’d work each evening to catch up! Post covid, the guilt has been even worse as they have had such a boring eighteen months. I felt so guilty putting them in holiday club so I could work, as I ‘could’ choose to do my work in the evenings instead. However, I was slowly destroying myself in the process. By finding a holiday scheme my girls enjoy together, it’s been a win-win. They have fun there, I get my work boxed off and the days we do have together, I can be present and the mum they both deserve.
In my opinion I also think some screen time is completely fine. When used wisely, it can absolutely give you the respite you need. Even if it is just to blitz some emails for an hour! Mine will conk on the sofa quite happily with snacks and a movie after they have been for a big, long walk in the fresh air, giving me some peace.
If screen time is a concern however, this website has some brilliant suggestions for alternatives which will keep kids busy!
Having frank conversations with them (they are 6 and 11) about mummy’s business and what it means for all of us if I can do my work have also been super helpful! Chatting to them about how it means they can do their activities and we can have holidays, has been well-received. My ten-year-old, in particular, loves to find out about what I am up to. I know I am setting her a good example about going after your dreams and working hard to achieve goals.
I am a planner by nature and I get that not everyone finds it easy to be organised. If it’s not something you are great at now, you will get there after consistent practice.
Each week (I do it on a Sunday) plan out the week ahead. Add the kids whereabouts, activities, etc plus your own and your partner’s appointments. From that, you can plan in your meals to then do or order the shopping, before allocating your blocks of work. Estimate how long each task will take and plan it in. Get an idea of tasks you can do when the kids are around, and plan accordingly. I will respond to emails and do my social media quite happily when they are in the next room fighting. However, an on-boarding with a new client requires my husband to referee or take them out so I can concentrate!
Keep on top of incoming tasks and set priorities for them. For example, as and when emails come in from school, make a note on your planner to add to the next week or month.
A side note – mute busy Whatsapp and Facebook groups. That’s all I have to say on that and I am sure other parents will just get me!
Outsource wherever you can
I am suggesting this but I am actually an absolute nightmare for it. I spend all my time helping others without taking on any help myself!! But I am getting better and it is definitely wise to think about what help you can get in. Would it be more beneficial to chuck some money at certain situations in order to have a job done for you? I am talking school dinners instead of packed lunches. How about at home car valeting instead of doing it yourself or taking it somewhere? Would you consider hiring a cleaner, a gardening service, ironing services and doing online shopping? How about arranging car shares for some of your kids activities?
All this saved time adds up and takes the pressure off you.
Fill dead time whilst your children are in activities
Between after-school clubs, activities and parties, we don’t half spend a lot of time running our children around. Now I’m not saying be totally anti-social and if you’re at a kid’s party, go and set yourself up with your laptop on another table away from the parents and work through the screams of soft play. But with forward planning you can box work off whilst you wait somewhere.
I am fortunate that my daughters’ dance school has a café with wifi so I can work whilst I wait, but even with no wi-fi available to you, what tasks could you do? I will take school forms to fill in, write Christmas cards, make dental/hair appointments, help with my other child’s homework or reading. It does more for your sanity than half an hour scrolling through Insta I promise!!
Don’t sweat the small stuff
At the end of the day, if everyone is happy then you are doing an awesome job mumma! My kitchen constantly has clothes drying and an ironing pile on top of the fridge that nearly touches the ceiling most of the time, but who’s it bothering – not me!! We live in a time of social media, where you are bombarded with seemingly perfect homes and lives. They can make us feel completely inadequate at times.
But I know that however you are handling it, that will be perfect for your family – you know them best.
Conclusion on the work from home tips
I hope these work-from-home tips have helped you with some ideas for balancing working from home online and kids! Some of them you can start straight away, like taking some paperwork in the car with you whilst your child is in a training session or a music lesson! But like with a lot of things, big shifts often come from implementing lots of small incremental measures that are practised consistently over time and just finding what works for you.