Running a business and working from home with kids? You’re not alone.
The pandemic forced many changes, not the least of which has been the switch to working from home. School closures, limited daycare space, and reduced access to recreational options challenged working parents in unimaginable ways, forcing some to leave their jobs entirely and others to consider entrepreneurial options that would (hypothetically) afford them more flexibility.
Fortunately, we’re not alone in this. Millions of parents around the world have been navigating the challenges of working from home with kids with some success, and we can learn from their playbooks.
At Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, it’s our mission to support freelancers and small business owners. Here are our expert tips for parents working from home with small children.
Top 10 tips for working from home with kids
If you’re like us, you’re always on the lookout for ways to stay productive and keep your sanity, and we’ve got you covered. Here are our top tips to help you stay sane and feel more satisfied at the end of the day.
1. Is having a schedule a good idea for your entire family?
Every family is different. But if you have two or more young children, you might benefit by having a schedule… or not.
During the 2020 school year, many schools switched to online learning, which means kids had classes to attend during set hours. Other parents decided to homeschool instead. But if you’re trying to run a business from home and homeschooling on top of it, you’d have to be mighty disciplined for it to work.
Setting schedules gives you structure, ensures everybody eats, and sets clear learning, work, and playtime goals. However, every family is different, and this approach might not be the best for you.
But perhaps it’s more about your work schedule than theirs. Your family dynamic should set the tone—in other words, if you’re typically not a highly structured bunch, a rigid schedule might not be the best idea.
Think about your kids’ ages, how independent they are, and what expectations you have around schoolwork and supervision. Do you have another caregiver in the house you can tag-team with? Sharing child care duties might be the answer, and having a schedule around that might give you some flexibility in your workday.
2. Set expectations and stay flexible at the same time
The best-laid plans often go awry. That said, you still need to have some goals and objectives, or you’ll always feel like you’re behind the eight-ball.
But maybe that means aiming for only one big win for the day. Allowing yourself some flexibility is vital to your sanity. If it doesn’t get done, don’t beat yourself up. If it does, celebrate!
The point is, you are the architect of your own success, which means you define what success looks like. Think about the basic family things that need to get covered—meals, schoolwork, recreation time—and put a fence around that. You can fill in the blanks on the rest as needs arise.
3. If possible, get some work done before your kids wake up
Waking up an hour or two before your kids get up could be a major boost to your productivity. Imagine having a few quiet, peaceful hours when nobody is begging your attention. They can be yours!
You can do this if you’re a night-owl too, but studies show that our brains are more productive and resourceful in the early hours after we wake. Try getting to bed earlier and adjusting your waking time. It won’t just be kid-free time; you won’t be inundated with phone calls, emails, or Zoom meetings either.
By the time your kids are up and at ‘em, you’ll feel sufficiently justified to focus on them. It’s a win-win: you’ll get caught up with your work (maybe even ahead of the game), and your kids get the benefit of your full attention.
Tackle your big projects right away. Later in the day, you might only have short bursts of time to work, and that’s when you can fit in conference calls, emails, or quick tasks that don’t demand too much brainpower.
4. Set your top three priorities at the beginning of the day
Setting priorities is productivity rule #1. But if you’re not typically an A-type personality, this little trick might not be in your wheelhouse. In any case, you should always prioritize any task that requires time and focus. If you’re up a few hours before your kids, you’ll have the quiet time you need to get it done before the interruptions begin.
Ideally, setting priorities for the day should be the last thing you do before you knock off. The less you have to think about it in the morning, the more quickly you’ll slide into it.
However, you can also do this first thing after you get up. Make a mental checklist of what needs to be accomplished for the day. Prioritize your top three items and jump on those right away.
If you can put those top three tasks to bed, chances are you won’t feel nearly as stressed because you’ll know that the top things on your agenda are ticked off. Your kids benefit from this, too, because you’ll be able to focus on them 100%.
5. Communicate clear boundaries
Setting boundaries is tough with kids in the house—especially so if they are younger kids. Teenagers can generally take care of themselves, but you’ll still find it useful to set clear boundaries around your workspace and your working hours.
If you have a home office, think about posting “office hours” on the door. If you have a door, you can close it when you’re not to be disturbed, such as when you’re in a meeting or on a call. Emergencies happen, of course, but you can also set guidelines around how your kids communicate their needs.
For example, if the door is closed and they really, really need you, tell them to text you before they come barging in. You might also let them know you’re jumping on a call or a meeting before you do, just to reinforce those boundaries.
6. If possible, connect with other family members (or others) to help
Do you have family, parents, in-laws, or neighbors nearby who can help? It’s a good idea to have a few options in your back pocket in case of emergencies. And if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time asking for help, get over it. Chances are you’re not imposing, especially if it’s only occasionally.
Early in the pandemic, many families formed learning “pods,” which combined groups of kids for homeschooling and play. This strategy also gives you a little flexibility, as different parents take turns minding or teaching the kids. If you know your children are occupied at least part of the day and that you have a specific date and time to take your turn, you (and the others in your group) can get a lot more done.
Ultimately, everybody needs support sometimes. Fortunately, the people that love you don’t usually mind pitching in. Grandparents, especially, are generally happy to take over occasionally. They might even have a few things they can teach your young ’uns, like baking, reading, or music.
7. Decide on rules for playing video games and screen time. Know that sometimes technology can save the day.
Screen time is a double-edged sword for sure. You want to make sure your kids spend their online time on things that add value, but where do you draw the line?
The other side of the coin is that technology can be very helpful in keeping kids occupied. Need some peace and quiet so you can focus on something important? Put them in front of their favorite movie, and you’ve suddenly got a couple of hours to do just that.
But screen time can’t be a default. Too much screen time leads to sleep problems, chronic neck pain, anxiety, and depression. It’s also been proven to lower test scores, so most experts recommend a maximum of one to two hours per day.
When you’re working from home, however, that might be a bit of a pipe dream. Sure, some kids find it easy to bury themselves in a book or other forms of play, but most kids, given a choice, will probably choose the iPad over a board game.
So, yes, technology can save the day, but you also need to have some checks and balances. Fortunately, you can control what apps your kid can access, and there are ways to limit their screen time too.
On any Apple device, you can set up these parameters in Screen Time. You can also set up “family” rules for their iPad or iPhone from your account, and they don’t have to be any the wiser to your scheme. Just go to settings, activate screen time, select “this is my child’s device,” and enter your preferences.
8. Prepare snacks and drinks for your kids ahead of time
Basic instincts rule your kids. I’m hungry; I’m thirsty; I’m sleepy; I want to play! Ah, the simplicity of it all… but if you want to avoid the inevitable interruptions, you need to have what they need ready before they even know they need it.
You might even want to set up snack and drink stations so they can grab-and-go when their tummies start to grumble. Prep a few cups or snack bags and put them in an accessible place—ideally someplace that’s accessible enough they can self-serve. You might also want to put your kid-safe cups and drinks on a lower shelf and teach them how to get their own water.
Pre-made snacks and drinks are also handy if you need to monitor their snack intake. Preparation is key, as you won’t have to think about it too much at all. Set aside a few hours on a Sunday, for example, to prep your snacks for the week. Fresh fruit is always a good idea because it doesn’t usually require anything more than a wash.
9. Set up fun activities for your kids to discover
It never fails – you get ready to do projects with your kids, and they have no interest. But set it all up and leave it for them to discover, and you’ll have their attention every time. If it’s their idea, it’s always gold.
Some ideas might include rock painting, paper crafting, Play-Doh, scrapbooking, Lego, or macaroni art. Cardboard boxes, tin foil, markers, and duct tape are great tools for robot making.
Lay out activities that are ready to dive into. If there’s a potential mess to be made, put down a large plastic trash bag—that way, you can just gather it up and toss it when they’re done.
Older kids might enjoy making movies with an old iPhone. Encourage them to tap into their imagination, write their own stories, and act them out. Or, do a stop-motion video with action figures, dolls, or clay figures they make themselves.
10. Be kind to yourself and your kids—they are going through this too
There are no hard and fast rules about navigating working from home with kids, but there is no need to put extra pressure on yourself. We’re all finding our way through this mire, and if there’s one point we can probably all agree on, it’s that there is more than one right answer.
In other words, what works for one family might not necessarily work for yours. So cut yourself a break. Give yourself permission to create your own version of work-from-home family bliss. And yes, bliss is possible. It’s all in the approach.
The next time you find yourself at your wit’s end juggling kids and a growing home business, give these 10 tips a glance-over. Sometimes, it’s the small things that inspire the biggest changes.
Hopefully, some of these tips inspire you to step outside of your bubble and discover new ways to coexist and thrive at the same time. Remember, when life, kids, and work feel like they are closing in, you are not alone.
What helps you achieve better work-life balance working from home with younger or older children. Join the conversation in our Go Getter community and let us know.