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How to work from home with your children

Created on by Artjom Vassiljev

working from home wfh productivity

Photo by NeONBRAND

Who knew that the remote work revolution would happen so suddenly? In the beginning there were just a handful of visionaries who “dared” to hire remote employees, at least some of them. Then there was the nomad movement which also ignited the remote-first startups. But until recently, number of companies working and hiring remote employees globally has been around 2500-6000. It’s hard to estimate now how many people are working from home. And if the pledge from European Union to Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook to reduce the video quality is a good scientific measure, then the number is “helluvalot” people are staying at home.

Most of the team behind Shipit has been working remotely for the past 7-10 years. We lead remote companies and teams and know how to spend the time efficiently. There is no lack of articles popping each day with advice about remote work, but their target audience are mostly young people without children. Working remotely and working from home with your family next to you are completely different things. Many of us were working remotely from co-working spaces, from cafes, and from home while all the family members were in the office and children in school. With the quarantine we had to adapt quickly, and here are some of the lifehacks we found useful to stay productive and keep your little ones busy and entertained.

Flexible work

Forget about the regular 9 to 5 schedule, if you want to have 1-3 hour chunks of uninterrupted and productive time, then you absolutely must move to flexible timetable. The only exception being scheduled company meetings.

Flexible work means that you will be splitting your work into smaller chunks and do them whenever you have a long enough moment. Move the most brain-intensive work into early mornings while your family is still sleeping. Waking up around 6-6:30 in the morning, making a coffee and a little stretch to wake up, then having 1-2 hours of deep work in silence until your children wake up. Similarly you can have 1-3 hours of productive work in the evening when your children are asleep. When you are able to find 3 large chunks of uninterrupted time, your get a “normal” 8-hour workday.

Spreading your work throughout the whole day, not just regular working hours, will help you free some chunks of time where you can play with your children together thus freeing your partner to have a bit of time for work. Change roles throughout the day so that each has time for work and play. While in the worst case scenario you will need to spend 16 hours a day for work if only one adult can work at the same time, when your children sleep or are busy playing, that time will go down.

You might feel that as a result of this schedule change you’re now working the whole day: from the moment you woke up until you go to sleep. To a degree that is indeed the case. And the only solution to this we have so far is to have a deeper engagement with your kids during the play time. That way you will think less about the work and have more fun with the family.

Finally if you can spread your work across the whole week, you might find it easier to work 6 days a week for 7 hours, or spend 6 hours a day throughout the whole week.

Games

Many countries have imposed isolation rules, and nobody knows how long these might take. So it’s better you do extensive research on activities for your child’s age. Here are some that have worked for us:

  • Treasure hunt: hide tasty treats in various places and leave written hints about their locations. This game has a lot of variations that can be played on different days: you can have sequential hints explaining where the next treasure is, you can draw a pirate map with marks; you can create simple puzzles and tasks that your children need to do in order to get the location. These can range from easy labyrinths and drawings to some diy projects depending on the age of the child.
  • Wireless headphones: playing music, podcasts, or audiobooks over regular speakers is not as exciting as “switching off” from the outside world and doing the same in the headphones. It was literally a lifesaver for us and gave us about an hour of work in silence, and that from a child who hates to play alone.
  • Stock the paper (no, not that one). Buy regular white paper and lots of colored too along with colored pens, pencils, glue, and scissors. YouTube is a great source of instructions and projects one can do from paper for children of any age. When you have access to a printer, you can also print color books.
  • Periodically hide some toys from the sight and re-discover them again after few days. This works great even without the quarantine. When you have all the toys available, children tend to get bored quickly due to so many options. When you leave them just a few and occasionally rotate the selection, they will play again with the old toys like it’s a brand new.
  • If you’re planning on getting brand new toys, you should choose the ones that would occupy your children the most. Lego and similar building blocks toys are one of the best choices, even for girls. Until about 8-14 years old children don’t really care whether it’s a “girly” or a “boyish” toy. Girls love to play with cars, building blocks, superheroes, and pistols as much as boys do. And vise-versa, boys love to play dolls, theaters, and fashion as much as girls.
  • Take regular trips to nature if the situation in your country allows for that. Getting away from the city will recharge both you and your children. Grab an empty matchbox and collect tiny forest treasures: flower petals, leafs, pine needles and cones, pebbles, twigs, and feathers. Make a list for a scavenger hunt that you need to find: a pine cone, a four-leaf clover, stone with a hole, a crow’s feather. Take the paper and crayons, place it on a tree and draw the bark. Compare how bark from the different trees look like.
  • Have a balcony and the weather is warm? Draw with water. Grab a jar with water and a brush, and let your child draw the full-sized you.
  • Family cooking. Children from the age of 3 love cooking. Start with simple tasks like cutting a cucumber or paprika. Prepare the cookie dough and ask your children to cut different shapes. Make a simple apple or pear pie together by taking an apple slice and wrapping it in the dough. It’s very simple to explain once and then allowing your child to be creative.
  • Simple science projects that either you can build together, or your children alone by following the instructions. One of the best ones we’ve made so far was to make a solar oven out of a shoe box. Use the cookie dough you’ve prepared in the previous step.
  • Have more than one child. We know it’s not an easy task and requires a lot of time, but in addition to a lot of fighting, siblings also play together a lot. It is rarely quite but at least you get some time to yourself.

Food

I personally find it relaxing to cook food and experiment on the kitchen. But it becomes a massive burden when I need to do work and manage a toddler. As such, a set menu for the next few days is a good timesaver. Instead of wandering across the shop looking for something to eat today and maybe tomorrow, spend 30-40 minutes of your time coming up with recipes for the next days. Go shopping with a list and prepare as much as you can in advance.

While not as tasty as you’d cook yourself, but a pasta sauce or a soup in jar would keep your tummies happy and save you 20-40 minutes of precious time for other activities. We don’t normally buy these, but now seems like a good time to balance some canned food with homemade.

Power naps

This one doesn’t work for all, and it might be really hard to squeeze in 20 minutes in already a busy schedule, but power naps provide a massive energy boost for you. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes, close the door to your bedroom, make it dark, and just close your eyes. Switch off all your thoughts and relax. This might not be long, and you might not fall asleep completely, but you will feel much better and have a fresh mind like if you just woke up from a good night sleep.

In conclusion

Everyone is adapting to the new way of working and living during these times. Use it wisely and productively to have a stronger bond with your children. Take this time to learn more about them, their interests, and maybe become a child yourself for a little longer. And always keep in mind that you’re not alone, you’re not the only person trying to be productive while your kids a shouting and fighting, your boss is saying something important over Zoom, and your food is burning on the stove.