Working from home with kids around can be hard. Very hard. It doesn’t matter if you are new to remote work or if you’ve been working from a home office for quite a while now. Whether you work from home just temporarily or are in it for the long run.
Trying to be productive with kids around is definitely next-level working. You want to give them your attention but at the same time, you have to get your work done. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to juggle both. Check out the following tips and learn how you can improve your work from home with kids routine.
Before we jump right into the list just one word concerning your individual situation: Please keep in mind that not all of the following tips might work for your needs. It all depends on things like:
- how many kids do you have,
- how old they are,
- how flexible you are with your working schedule,
- if you have a partner or family around to help you,
- if your kids are on a school holiday or have to be homeschooled (by you).
Go through the list and see what tips could be applied to your situation.
Extra tip: If you are looking for more information on homeschooling, have a look at blogs such as The Homeschool Resource Room or Rock Your Home School.
Tips to Work from Home With Kids
Alright, without further ado, check out the list of tips:
Tip #1: Realize the Differences & Positive Aspects
The first thing you have to come to terms with is the fact that your home office day will look different from your normal office day. Especially with kids. Don’t even try to imitate the daily office routines that you’ve used so far.
Working from home with kids is different. It is harder. You kids might not be happy about the new situation in the beginning either.
Try to see the positive sides of it because there are many positive aspects of remote work. For instance:
- Spending more time at home,
- Skipping the commute,
- Saving money (on public transport, business attire, etc.)
- Being able to have breakfast or lunch together,
- Being more flexible with your working schedule (because you don’t have to stick to office hours).
Tip #2: Get a Dedicated Work Space
If you have a spare room in your house that you could use as a proper home office, that would be perfect! You could close the door and leave all of your work utensils organized in one place.
If that’s not an option, try to find a dedicated workspace in your apartment. Maybe you have a quiet corner in your living room? Or can place a desk in your bedroom?
A workspace like this will help your brain to get into a “work mode”. Once you sit at your desk, you will find it easier to be productive. Once you leave that space, your brain finds it easier to switch to personal life again. Keeping this separate can be a real game-changer!
Having a dedicated workspace is so much better than working from your couch one day and from your kitchen table the other day.
It will also help your kids understand that if you are sitting at your desk or are in your home office, you have to work and can’t play with them.
Tip #3: Set Boundaries
It’s hard for kids to understand that mom and dad are at home but need some time alone to get work done. To be productive (and keep your sanity) you should set boundaries.
For instance: If you have your home office in a separate room, explain to your kids that a closed-door means that they are not allowed to come in (unless it’s an emergency) because you are in an important meeting. You could also use a sign on the outside that says “Do not disturb”. Even better: Let your kids draw the sign. They are more likely to respect the rule if they helped to implement it.
If you don’t have a dedicated room but a space in the living room, you could still make this a designated area. For example, you could use tape around your desk as a kind of invisible wall. Your kids are not allowed to leave toys within that area or to play below your desk and disturb you.
Another idea would be to make designated kids’ areas if that works better for your situation. They can play in their bedroom or within specific areas of the living room. Make it a kind of game, “You can only play in here, the rest of the floor is lava”. See how long they stick to the rules.
Remember that BBC News interview where the kids walk into the room during the video call? Although it’s hilarious, of course, we all try to avoid these kinds of interruptions:
Tip #4: Block out Noise
The idea of your kids being quiet and playing peacefully in their room the entire day is surely amazing – but unrealistic.
Get noise-canceling headphones to block out most of the background noise. You could go for over-ear bluetooth headphones or noise-isolating earbuds.
If that’s not enough, you could use white noise to help you focus even better on your work while your kids are playing in the background. A popular app for this would be White Noise Lite.
And a third idea: if you want to make phone calls and don’t want the other person to hear your kids in the background, use apps such as Krisp. With just one button, all the background noise will be removed and only your voice is hearable.
Tip #5: Make a Schedule
Remote work scheduling is vital. Not only for online work in general but particularly for working from home with kids. As said before, don’t try to mimic your normal office day. Instead, acknowledge your new situation.
Don’t get up in the morning and let everything just happen and see how things turn out. Because in most cases, that means you won’t get much work done. Make a plan for when you are going to work on what tasks. Make a plan for breaks, meal breaks, and when you are going to spend time with your kids.
Also, set realistic goals. If you plan to get 9 hours of straight productivity in your first home office week with two little kids around, you are likely going to get disappointed.
Tip #6: Make a Priority List
Another idea when it comes to scheduling would be to make a priority list. This, of course, depends on the kind of job you have. Every day in the morning, list 3 things that you want to get done today and do these tasks first. The rest of your tasks go to an optional “nice-to-have” to-do list.
Even if you only manage to get 5 hours of work done instead of 7, you will at least be able to tick those tasks off of your list. If your kids are having a good day and you get to do some more work, do additional tasks.
This will take away some pressure and even if your day doesn’t go as planned, at least you have accomplished your most important tasks.
Tip #7: Boost Your Productivity
If you want to be great at working from home with kids, it will help a lot if you first learn how to be productive when working from home in general. There are many productivity tips you can apply to get more done in less time. For instance:
- Using the Pomodoro technique (work sprints of 25 minutes followed by short breaks)
- Batch working for higher concentration
- Eliminating distractions, such as social media, with the help of apps
I’ve listed all of my favorite productivity tips for remote workers in the linked blog post. Check it out to learn more.
Tip #8: Implement Routines
Especially toddlers need routines. They help your kids find stability and get along with rules much better. If every day is different, they might find it hard to understand why mommy or daddy play with them all morning on some days but on others, they have to play alone.
Start with the usual morning routines, like getting dressed, brushing teeth, and eating breakfast. After that, a short playtime together, then they play by themselves for a while. Once the big clock in the living room hits a certain time, they know that their parents stop working now and play again with them because that’s what they do every day. So they have something to look forward to and trust that it is going to happen.
Tip #9: Consider Starting Early
I know it doesn’t sound very appealing but getting up before your kids can give you 1-3 hours of solid work.
If you normally wake your kids up at 7 am to get ready, let them sleep until 9 am (if they are already sleeping that long). That means you can get ready in the morning without any rush and have some uninterrupted home office time.
Your kids might also be happy about the chance of sleeping in.
Tip #10: Block Longer Periods of Time
In the beginning, you might be happy about every 20 minutes you get to work from home without being interrupted by your kids. Absolutely understandable!
But in the long run, try to get longer periods of uninterrupted work time. Every time you stop working and later have to focus again, you lose time and your productivity suffers. Of course, you shouldn’t sit down 5 hours straight but get up and stretch every once in a while.
But if you can manage to plan in 3-4 hours of work in a row, you will get much more done than if you had the same hours but broken down into 30 minute-sections.
Tip #11: Use Naptime or Quiet Time
As just said, longer periods of uninterrupted work are gold!
You could use the hours in the morning before your kids get up or after lunch when it’s naptime. That’s also perfect for your productivity.
Of course, not every child is happy about naptime and falls to sleep immediately. Don’t spend 45 minutes trying to force your kids to sleep. That will only cost you time and leave you and your little ones frustrated and exhausted.
If he or she doesn’t want to sleep, suggest quiet time. For the next 1 or 2 hours, they can read, listen to an audiobook or play something super quiet in their beds. That still gives you the chance to get some deep work.
Tip #12: Get help with Childcare
If you have a partner and he or she is working from home and flexible, too, swap child care duties. You take care of your kids until lunch and after that you swap. You can work without interruptions while your partner is looking after your kids or jumping in case they need attention.
Or maybe you have a family member who can come over for a couple of hours 2 days a week?
If that won’t work, consider getting a babysitter. You don’t necessarily need someone all day every day. But just a couple of hours of uninterrupted work to get your most important tasks done would help a lot.
Tip #13: Plan in More Breaks
When you work from home without kids, you usually have your meal breaks and maybe a few short breaks in between to stretch or check your private mails.
When you have kids around, you should plan for more breaks. Your kids won’t understand that they need to leave you alone so you can work. You are at home and available so they want attention.
So besides breakfast and lunch, plan some more breaks for a little playtime. “We can play now for half an hour, after that, I go back to work for two hours and after that, we can play again.” That gives them something to look forward to and doesn’t leave them hanging alone for too long.
Tip #14: Plan in Unplanned Interruptions
We all know that you can’t plan every minute with your kids. Although you made a great schedule that is very kid-friendly and gives you time to be productive, there are still days when these plans won’t work out.
Maybe your toddler is currently in a growth spurt and very clingy or grumpy. Or your child wakes up sick and with a fever. Or they hurt themselves while playing and need someone to comfort them.
Don’t overload your daily schedule. Keep a bit of spare time for these kinds of “emergencies” you will have when you are with your kids all day.
Tip #15: Be Communicative
It’s great that you have a schedule and know when you want to work and when you are available to play with your kids. But you need to communicate your plan, too.
Obviously, if you have a partner, you need to let him or her know about your plans so everyone is on the same page and you can support each other.
But also make sure to let your kids know about your working schedule. Depending on how old they are, you can hang your daily or weekly schedule at the fridge so they know when you are busy. Or set a big timer somewhere so they can see the time left until your next break.
Make sure you are very communicative about the schedule and plans.
Tip #16: Go Outside
Keeping your small kids inside your apartment all day won’t work. There’s just too much energy involved.
Make it a habit to go out with them regularly. You can use your lunch break or a break in the morning or afternoon. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Go to the playground. Let your kids run.
The goal is to burn off as much energy as possible. Once you are back at home, they will be a bit more chilled. This will, in most cases, stop them from tearing the house apart while you are trying to get your work done.
On top of that, the fresh air and different scenery are also a great way for you to get a break from work and reset your brain for more productivity.
Tip #17: Prepare Entertainment
We all know that situation: The entire kids’ room is full of toys and games, yet they have no idea what to play and are bored. Prevent that! Here are a few ideas:
- Don’t give them all toys at once. Too many options. Hand them out one by one so they always have a little surprise and feel like it’s something special.
- Dig out old toys. Maybe you have a box with old toys or games in your basement or attic which they haven’t seen in ages but used to love? Your kids might fall in love with these again and be entertained for a while.
- Make a daily/weekly list of games. Make a list of potential games your kids can play every day or week and read it to them in the morning (in case they can’t read yet). Make sure to not set strict plans but give them options to choose from.
- Jar of games. Write down all of their toys or games on little paper snippets and place them in an empty jar. Whenever they get bored, they can pull a slip from the jar and know what to play now.
- Themed weekly adventures. If you want to be very creative, you could also come up with a new game theme every week. For instance, in week 1 you can play everything “Castle” (dressing up like a princess, drawing castle paintings, singing Disney songs, making a paper crown, playing with toy horses or princesses, etc.). Week 2 it’s everything “Dinosaurs”, week 3 “Outer Space”, etc.
- Toy swapping. Instead of constantly buying new toys to keep your kids entertained, you could swap toys with other parents. Everyone fills a box with toys and exchange it for a week or two with other parents. Your kids will always discover something new and you don’t have to spend money on it. (Tip: Make sure to write your name on the toys or include a list so everything finds its way back home).
Again, make sure to give your kids options and inspirations, no strict plans.
Also, do yourself a favor and pick entertainment that is rather quiet and not accident-prone. So suggesting something that involves trumpets and drums or pointy and sharp utensils is surely not the best idea.
Tip #18: Organize Virtual Playdates
If your kids cannot play with others during the day, you could organize virtual playdates. Just as you can have video conferences, your kids can have video playdates.
Use a tablet or your phone to connect with one of your kid’s friends. Give them an hour or so to play together online. They could sing songs, draw pictures, or play with their toys in their room. Kids are creative they usually come up with something.
This would be a nice exchange for playing alone.
Tip #19: Ask for Chores
This is something my mom used to do when I had school holidays and got bored: She wrote me a list of chores (I was not a big fan of these lists, lol).
In case your kids get bored during the day and can’t find something interesting to do, suggest them to do chores instead. That could be tidying up their room, emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming the living room, watering the plants, etc.
In most cases, they will magically disappear into their rooms and find something much more important to do, leaving you alone to get your work done.
Tip #20: Prepare Snacks
Naturally, your kids will come and ask you for snacks several times a day. While minor, these are still moments that interrupt your productivity. In the end, you might be so annoyed that you give them chocolate 10 times a day.
To prevent this, prepare snacks in the morning. You could slice an apple or carrots, prepare a bowl of nuts or berries, or get any other healthy snacks ready. Of course, you could also get them a chocolate bar as well every once in a while.
Place those snacks where they can reach them. So every time your kids feel like they want to munch something they can grab the snack of their choice (obviously the chocolate option will go first)
Tip #21: Don’t Combine Kids and Work
Although you’ve set boundaries, there might still be occasions when it doesn’t go as planned. If that happens, don’t try to juggle both your kids and work. Take a break, take care of your kids, and then return to work.
For instance, you are on the phone with your team member and your toddler comes in, climbs all over you, and demands attention no matter what. In those moments it’s usually better to excuse yourself and tell your colleague that you will call back in 10 minutes. Take care of your child and once it’s quiet in the room again, finish the call.
It can be very frustrating for the person on the phone when you can’t really listen or focus on the call. In those cases, it is best to pause for a minute and continue in a professional manner afterward.
Tip #22: Don’t Cleanup During the Day
Your kids will be home all day, every day. Naturally, your house is going to be chaotic. Very chaotic. Be prepared to see toys all over the place, dirty fingerprints, and spilled snacks everywhere.
It is what it is. If you are normally a very clean type of person, get used to the idea. Don’t be tempted to clean up all day! This will only cost you time and nerves.
Leave these things for when you are finished with your work. You can then clean up together with your kids in the evening.
Tip #23: Don’t Stress Out
No matter what you do, when you work from home with kids around there will always be days where things don’t go as planned. Especially, when you are new to the home office world or if your kids are very young or in a not-so-cooperative phase.
Don’t get stressed out by this! Getting angry doesn’t help anyone. Take a deep breath (or two or three), close your eyes for a moment, and let it go. Also, meditation helps a lot in finding inner peace and being able to deal with frustrating situations.
Don’t feel bad if you made your kids watch movies half of the day or if you gave them a bit too much chocolate today to keep them quiet. We all have those days.
If nothing helps, it may be best to just call it a day. Give your kids and yourself (!) some love for your effort and patience and start again refreshed tomorrow.
Tip #24: Thank Your Kids
You working from home may be a new situation for your kids, too. So if they did well and were understanding during the day, don’t forget to thank them for their good behavior.
Tell them that you are proud of how they handled the situation, they did a great job and this helped you a lot in getting your work done.
Tip #25: Don’t Overwork
I know that some days are just incredibly stressful and your workload doesn’t seem to end. But don’t make the mistake and overwork.
If you get up early in the morning to work a few hours before your kids get up, use every minute of the day to be productive, and then work again until late at night when your kids are asleep, you will soon burn out. And that doesn’t help anyone.
If you want to be productive while working at home and be able to take good care of your kids, you need to keep your sanity. Make sure you don’t go too crazy about your working hours. You need to stay mentally healthy – for your kids and your work.
Home Office with Kids: You’ve Got This!
I know, that was a massive list! But I’ve tried to give you as many tips, ideas, and inspirations as possible. I hope that you can implement a few of them into your daily routines.
As said before, working from home with kids around is not easy. There are going to be days when it’s no problem at all and days when it’s just extremely chaotic. With time you grow into this and things get easier. But no matter what, be gentle with yourself and your kids. You got this!