by Jason C. Evans

Parenting is hard in and of itself. But working from homewith young children amid the COVID-19 outbreak is an extra challenging new reality for parents.

Productivity can take a big hit, and space constraints have become the new normal as families stay home to help prevent the spread of the virus. Adding to the challenge, school closures and distance learning have forced many parents to take on a second role as a teacher.

It’s not easy to work productively from home with young children in the mix. Recent data shows interruptions reduce productivity at an exponential rate. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine revealed typical office workers are interrupted or switch tasks—on average—every three minutes and five seconds, potentially costing them up to six hours a day. Even following a small interruption, it can take 23 minutes for a worker to get back on task. Momentum loss and do-overs kill productivity and can lead to frustration.

But the last thing we want is to experience ongoing frustration with our children. Fortunately, there are some proactive steps to improve work efficiency and productivity at home—while parenting effectively: Designate your Office Space.

  • Embrace Change. Most importantly, accept the new situation and understand the real changes now in effect. Winston Churchill would be proud.
  • Set Expectations Early. Relay those expectations to everyone involved. Examples include: if I’m on an urgent call, the caretaker will take children out or will know when to interrupt me and what issues are important enough for the interruption, etc.
  • Communicate. In any relationship, business and personal, open communication is critical. Make sure the lines of communication are open—between you and your partner, as well as with your co-workers and employer.
  • Make Clear Boundaries. Boundaries become blurred when working from home. It’s easier to decline personal calls or distractions in the office because “I’m at the office.” You need to be willing to do the same at home by stating, “I’m working right now.” Explain to your kids you can not play or hang out with them just because you are home.
  • Designate your Office Space. Physical space is an important boundary and heightens productivity. At home, you may not be accustomed to working hard and denying personal activities. It becomes more comfortable if you designate a specific physical space for your working time. This space may be a child-free zone—absent emergencies. That room or area of your home will get your head into the “I’m working right now” headspace and sharpen your focus.
  • Establish a Good Routine. Maintain regular hours and let your boss, co-workers, client, employees, etc., know your preferred routine—e.g., the day starts at 9 a.m. and lunch is at noon. A routine helps alleviate stress and promotes productive habits. If a routine is neglected, it’s easy to lapse into unhealthy habits such as working through lunch. Routines are essential for young children too. To ensure quiet and minimize disruption, plan important calls around their rest or nap time.
  • Take Breaks. Plan regular breaks throughout the day, so you can help your children with important tasks such as homework, as well as reenergize yourself.
  • Get Help. If it’s in your budget, hire a babysitter, for at least a few hours a week. The sitter can help divert and entertain your children, especially during the busiest part of your workday. To avoid becoming frustrated with each other, try couple’s therapy to work through these new issues facing you both at home.
  • Reinvent and Adapt. While it may sound like the opposite of routine, adaptability is also critical. In the “Pyramid of Success”, John Wooden—the legendary NCAA basketball coach of UCLA—states that adaptability or the ability to reinvent in any situation is crucial to developing a routine. Coach Wooden knew even in his regimented basketball practices; reinvention is necessary for us to reach our potential and avoid boredom or malaise. The first step in reinventing is the debrief. At the end of the day, have an open discussion with your partner and/or children about what they liked or didn’t like about their day. How could the process be made better?

Working from home with children takes will power, organization and routine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it. Take short breaks for a walk or a snack with your kids. This will allow you to put more energy into your work ultimately. By following these simple tips, you can ideally determine what will work best for you and your family.