With schools and daycares closed and more employees working from home than ever, many of us are facing the difficult scenario of juggling our workload along with caring for our children. As a fully remote team, we’re used to working around kids at Happenings Media. But having our kids with us ALL the time (for an extended period of time like this) is new even for us. Still, we’re using our experience to offer some strategies to establish some order and maximize your efforts.

We’ve given you tips on Teaching at Home During COVID-19, and we’re bringing you weekly ideas of Things to Do at Home with Kids. But this article is all about YOU, and how you can stay sane while working from home:

Get in the Right Mindset

We’re not saying to put on your heels and a full face of makeup every day. But it can be hard to get in “productive mode” if you’re living in your PJs 24/7. Try to carve out some time to shower and at least put on something that you wouldn’t be embarrassed answering a virtual call. (We fully support the work-from-home mullet – business on top, yoga pants on the bottom.)

Figure Out a (Flexible) Schedule

If your job requires you to work certain hours, obviously you need to stick to it as much as possible. But otherwise, you might need to be more flexible during this time – especially if you have kids at home with you.

Think outside the 9 to 5. This could mean splitting your work up throughout the day – an hour or two before everyone wakes up; an hour or two during naptime;  some time during independent play and/or virtual learning; and a couple of hours after bedtime. If you have virtual meetings you need to attend, work your day around them. Otherwise, you’d be surprised how those little increments spread throughout the day quickly add up to a full day’s worth of work.

If you and your partner are BOTH working from home, you might need to work in shifts. For example, one parent occupies the kids/helps with school work in the morning while the other works. Family lunch together, then swap for the afternoon. You can both work during naps, before the kids wake up or after they go to bed. Compare your “To Dos” the night before so you’re both on the same page.

Make Lists & Prioritize

“Use a to-do list. Lack of time forces ultimate prioritization and efficiency. Try not to waste time on stuff like email and social media. Work through the top 3 most important things first. Then get to everything else if there’s time. Use passive time like tv time for the less labor/brain intensive stuff like catching up on email.” – Angela Giovine, Happenings Media Publisher & President

In times like these, EVERYTHING can seem overwhelming. You’re constantly being pulled in different directions by work, family, and needing a few minutes of alone time. And then there’s the stress of what’s going on around us. It’s enough to make you want to ignore the world and zone out to some Tiger King.

Making lists helps you visualize everything instead of just thinking, “I have so much to do, I don’t know where to start!”  (Plus, getting to check things off is a GREAT feeling!) Before you go to bed at night, make a list of what you want to accomplish the next day. Include work tasks that need to be completed, but also add in things like do a craft with the kids, clean the bathroom, do 15 minutes of yoga. That way you’re getting some balance in your day. Put a star next to the things that NEED to happen, and then go from there. (If it isn’t practical to do the most important things first, at least schedule the time where it will happen.)

At the end of the day, give yourself a pat on the back (or a glass of wine and some chocolate) to celebrate the things you accomplished. And if you didn’t get to something, don’t beat yourself up. Add it to the list for tomorrow.

Take Breaks

When you’re in the office, it’s unlikely that you’re sitting at your desk for hours straight without any breaks. You’re probably going to meetings, talking to coworkers, going to lunch. So for your own sanity, don’t expect yourself to work without breaks at home. You will get burnt out.

If you have kids, this is even more important. Work for 30 to 50 minutes while they do something semi-independently, then take a 10-minute break to hang out together or switch up the activity. Resources like GoNoodle are great for this – everyone can get out their wiggles together! If it’s a nice day, go for a walk around the block.

Set Up a Designated Work Space

If you have an office to work from – great. But if you’ve never worked at home before, you might not have a designated work space. Pick a spot and then set up your computer and all of your gear. Even better if it’s somewhere with a door that shuts!

Having said that, you might need to be flexible during this time. Your only available workspace might be the kitchen table or a lift-up coffee table in the family room. So grab a basket, bin or tote that you can stash everything when you need to clear your space for other family needs. This also comes in handy if you need to move around your house with your kids. You might need to “hideout” in your bedroom for a conference call, but then you can work alongside your kids at the table while answering emails. If you have a good wifi signal, you could even move your office outside. And if all else fails, take a call in your car!

When you’re putting together your work space, include some noise cancelling headphones! They’re particularly useful if you’re working around kids or a noisy partner/roommate.

Communicate Clearly & Efficiently

If you’re used to talking to your coworkers in person, you might need to communicate more thoughtfully than you’re used to. Communicate your schedule to your coworkers so they know when to reach out to you. It’s also best that everyone knows the “emergency” protocol, too. For example, non-urgent requests are made through email. But if something is extremely time sensitive, pair it with a text too.

Speaking of requests, be really clear with your needs to eliminate unnecessary back and forth. But also recognize that everyone might be more stressed than usual during this time. Tone isn’t always easy to identify without face to face cues. Politeness and kindness go a long way.

Plan Kid Activities That Don’t Require Active Supervision

It probably goes without saying, but … Naptime. Is. Your. Friend. Take full advantage of naptime by using it for the tasks that require your complete focus and concentration. If your child no longer takes naps, at least try to enforce “Quiet Time” for 1-hour each afternoon where he/she is expected to listen to calm music, look through books independently, or watch a show with the volume low. When you pair naptime along with time before the kids wake up or after they go to bed, you should be able to get in a few solid hours without too much interruption.

During the rest of your worktime, set your kids up for success by planning a few activities that they can do without your direct participation. This is when you’ll want to do your work that is easier to do in small increments and doesn’t require as much concentration. With older kids, tell them your expectations for when it’s okay to disturb you. (Someone’s bleeding. You have a question that can’t wait 10 minutes.) With younger kids, this might be when you move your workspace so that they’re in your sight but they don’t need you to be actively guiding them.

Activity Ideas:

Kinetic Sand
Color Wonder markers
Coloring books
Melissa & Doug reusable stickers
Trains and cars
Sensory bins – rice with hidden toys, etc.
Tasks like separating different pasta shapes. (Combine a few different boxes of pasta in a big bowl. Ask a toddler to sort them into smaller bowls.)
Small trampoline
Ball pit
Coloring cardboard boxes to make into cars, rockets, castles … you get the point
Video Games (older kids)
Board Games (older kids)

“My kids are 3 and 2, so they require a lot of hands-on interaction. I do my more passive work with them nearby and try to use positive ways to explain when they will have my undivided attention. ‘Mommy needs to work for 10 minutes while you color, but then it will be fun to build that together!'” ~ Michelle Reese, Happenings Media Editorial Director 

Online resources that you can feel good about:

Resources for Families and Kids: Have Fun and Learn While Social Distancing
Best Documentaries for Kids
Elmwood Park Zoo is doing live Facebook videos every day at 11 a.m. introducing different animals.
Bucks County Dance Center is doing live Facebook videos, Music & Storytime with Miss Sandy nightly at 7 p.m. but you can watch anytime.
Bucks County Library: Let’s Play School – activities for ages 3-5
6ABC’s Adam Joseph is doing live storytime on Facebook each morning at 9:30 a.m.
Kids’ author Mo Willems is releasing a new “Lunch Doodle” video each weekday at 1 p.m.
Cape May County Park & Zoo is doing daily virtual tours daily at 11:30 a.m.
Fluency & Fitness is offering 21 days of free unlimited access to their site with lessons in reading and math that incorporate movement.
Scholastic Learn at Home – free articles, stories, videos and fun learning challenges
Education Companies Offering Free Subscriptions

Utilize Business Tools That Can Help

Luckily, we live in an age where technology even allows us to work from home! There are plenty of tools that can help make things easier.

Links to resources:

Zoom – Hold online meetings with your team. And for tips on how to use virtual backgrounds during a Zoom session (you know, to block out those piles of laundry), click here.

Slack – Stay on the same page and make decisions faster by bringing all of your work communication into one place.

Microsoft Teams – Keep teams connected. Chat, meet, call and collaborate all in one place.

Amazon Remote Work & Learning

Evernote – Keeps all of your notes organized. No searching for notebooks.

Trello – Great for to-do lists.

1Password – All necessary passwords are save in one place and accessible for everyone who needs them.

“Technology isn’t JUST useful for bringing businesses together. Make use of Zoom and FaceTime for some virtual babysitting when needed! Set-up calls with grandparents, cousins and friends that your kids are missing. As long as they can keep the convo going without parental prompting, it’s probably enough to keep them occupied that you can get something accomplished.”
~ Michelle Reese, Editorial Director

Go Easy On Yourself (and Others)

There’s a reason most people are either full-time employees, full-time stay-at-home parents, or part-time employees. Most of us are operating under new circumstances, and we’re all deserving of some grace.

PS – If you need some ideas for relieving stress, click here.

“Most importantly I think people need to give themselves a break during this time and just do the best they can! It’s important to remember that most are dealing with the same challenges.”
~ Amy Iurato, Happenings Media Associate Publisher

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