Did getting to work from home seem like a dream come true but now that you’re a week in, with or without children at home with you, it feels more like a social experiment gone wrong?
Take heart because you’re not alone. Well, technically you should be alone, but we’re all with you in spirit. Freelancers like myself, consultants, and entrepreneurs have worked from home and learned the do’s and don’t’s that can not only help you make it through the Coronavirus quarantine in the days and weeks ahead, ensuring that you get your work done in a timely manner and your return to the office is as seamless as possible.
Get up and get dressed. As someone who has worked from home for years, trust me when I say you need to get out of your pajamas if you’re going to be successful long term. It may work for a day or two, but if you’re in pj’s, you are subconsciously telling your brain this is a day off and you’ll have a hard time flipping the switch into work mode. You don’t have to put on a power suit or a pair of heels but at the very least, get up, wash up and change into day wear.
Set boundaries. One of the biggest temptations will be to get sidetracked by something around the house. There’s laundry to fold, dishes in the sink, or a floor that needs to be vacuumed. Set work hours just as you would have in the office, and try to stick to them. Take a lunch break just as you do at work – pack your lunch in the morning if that helps – and then get back to work. Maintaining a routine helps you stay on task and makes you more efficient.
Create an organized workspace. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office, but wherever you choose to set up shop, treat it like your desk at work, even if you’re sitting on the sofa. Get whatever supplies you need – laptop, power cord, phone, pens, paper, your water bottle or coffee cup – and get busy. Every time you have to get up to get something you’ve forgotten, your productivity drops a little and you’re going to be tempted to stop and quickly fold that laundry or hang up those jackets, rinse those dishes, pull the chicken out of the freezer for dinner…
Be social. That may seem counter to what I said under setting boundaries, but if you’re accustomed to working in a communal space, the isolation of working from home may itself be a distraction. Use a time manager like Strict Workflow, an extension that enforces a 25min/5min workflow: 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by 5 minutes of break, and use social media as a substitute for a conversation in the breakroom with a coworker.
Take breaks. If you’re working from home with children in the house, particularly young children, you may not have a choice about when those breaks happen. But, being organized and putting their needs first by making sure they’re fed, changed, or working on an activity before you sit down to work means fewer interruptions and distractions. Something as simple as setting a timer can help your children remember to stay on task because a break is coming up soon. Remember, their school days are structured into blocks of time, so re-creating that model at home is helpful.
Rely on siblings. Use this season as a teachable moment. Talk to your older children about being part of your family’s leadership team and ask them to mentor their younger siblings. Of course, there are some things they’ll need a parent’s attention for, but little things like a refill of a water bottle, potty break, or sharpening a pencil can easily be managed by a sibling. Ask them to step up in small yet significant ways like making lunch for the family or starting dinner while you finish up your work.
Be flexible. Your greatest challenge but also your greatest asset in this situation is the ability to be flexible. You have to be flexible at your job, and it’s a given that you have to be flexible and able to roll with interruptions and surprises as a parent. The whole day doesn’t have to be filled with academics. Children can often knock out their school work more quickly in a one on one situation than in a classroom. Work when they sleep. Play in the backyard together over your lunch break, or send them outside for “recess” if you need to make or take an important phone call.
Finally, set reasonable expectations for yourself and your children, be quick to forgive, and make sure you set aside time to enjoy each other. These are uncertain days that have left everyone anxious. Model the behavior and attitude you want to see in your children, and remember, you will get through this.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.