Let’s be honest, life has taken a sharp turn from where we were just a few short weeks ago. Many of us find ourselves working from home for the first time WITH our kids underfoot.
If you find yourself tripping over laundry, sharing a desk with your three-year-old’s cheerios, and seething quietly at your significant other, all while getting nonstop texts from your boss or co-worker-these work from home tips are for you.
First, I’ve worked from home for several years with a plethora of children. I normally scoff at “work from home” articles because they make too many assumptions.
“Create a Workspace”. “Minimize Distractions”. “Turn the TV off”. “Create a set schedule.” This is great if you’re a robot or live alone. Many of us don’t have time, space, or silence in our homes.
Here’s some real work from home tips you won’t hear anywhere else.
1a. Ignore the idea of “morning me time” and “set schedules” if you are not wired that way.
Morning people have no problem making “me time” in the mornings. Night people do. If we asked morning people to make 8-10 pm the time to do their most difficult tasks of the day, they’d think we’re nuts. Yet this work from home tip is touted everywhere in regards to making early mornings the time to do your most productive work.
“Set” your schedule to what works best for your own body and your own family life. If you know you are completely worthless between the hours of 2pm-4pm, embrace it. Do other tasks. Go for a walk. Prep dinner. Take a 20-minute nap. Don’t plow through. It’s a waste of your time and your company’s money because you won’t be productive.
“Set hours” from 8 am -5 pm also may not work for your kids. If you know they fall apart and start fighting around 3 pm-(Ok more like 8:00 am, 8:10 am, 8:35am…) there’s no point in yelling for the next 45 minutes. (I’ve tried it with zero positive results.) Instead, stop working during that time each day and engage with them.
1b. You’ll Struggle with Motivating Yourself to Work- Especially with the World Burning Down Around You.
If you are a person who is super chill or freaking out, you may find yourself waking up at 11 am after binge watching, “Baby Ballroom” and crying yourself to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. You’re going to need some motivation. Like a paycheck as your motivation.
Here’s the simplest motivation mantra you can use, “I’m never going to want to work-so I might as well do it anyway.”
So easy. Totally works. “I’m never going to want to exercise, eat healthy…be your friend…”
In addition, give yourself grace because you will be under a tremendous amount of new stress. You are unable to think clearly and be “productive” when you are stressed.
You hear this advice over and over again, but it works. Take a deep breath. Several. All the time. Anytime you start to feel anxious or angry. Breathe.
AND, get outside in the fresh air if you can for at least 20 minutes. (That’s easy for me to say since I live in Colorado.) However, if you have a balcony, rooftop-anything, get outside. It boosts your vitamin D, your serotonin levels, and will calm you down.
If you can’t go outside, I love the “Calm” app.
Do yoga…with the dog and your kids in your face-it works great. Just don’t be shocked when you’re doing a “Downward Facing Dog” and you get a glimpse of what’s living under your couch.
2. Communicate with Your Boss Regarding Expectations, Boundaries, Etc.
In a perfect world, because this is a unique time, there should be some flexibility and space for growth, failure and adjustments. If your boss has no idea how to manage remotely here are some great questions to ask:
-Can I adapt the hours I work to find the right rhythm for my job while balancing my family? I think these times work best….
-Can I adapt the times if we find they are not working?
-What is the best way to communicate? (Text, email, phone call, Slack, etc.)
-If I get a text or email from you at random hours when I’m not scheduled to work, are you expecting an immediate reply, or can I respond when I’m “back on the clock”?
-What is the best way for us to communicate with each other to let you to know I’m getting my work done, etc.? (Example, weekly one on one zoom call, end of the day completed task list, etc.)
-Because this is a new and challenging time, if I find I’m a struggling with balancing everything or adapting, who do I talk to? Are there resources for me through HR, etc.?
Just like all relationships communication is key. Also, just like all relationships, unmet or unclear expectations are a relationship killer. Addressing these types of questions upfront can help “flatten the curve” when it comes to miscommunication, hurt feelings, or resentment.
AND, if you find yourself now communicating only with email, texts or a project management software-feelings will get hurt. Exclamation points, curt responses, etc., are breeding grounds for miscommunication. Having that group discussion upfront regarding the need to give everyone the “benefit of the doubt” in their communication, can once again, help “flatten the curve”.
3. Banish the Idea of a Monday-Friday Work Week or a Definitive Line Between Work and Home Time if it Doesn’t Work for You.
If you have the ability to set your own hours or work for yourself, you may find with kids at home it’s easier to work less per day with a longer week.
I work most days for fewer hours. It works best with my kid’s schedules, the fact I’m on the road speaking a lot, needing creative time, or I’m simply mentally or physically exhausted. (I’ve almost died a bunch so I listen to my mind and body.)
My work life is more fluid and a lifestyle, as opposed to a structured schedule. This works for me.
If you’re structured-I almost just made you spit out your coffee with this work from home tip. Not everyone operates best-especially at home-with high amounts of structure. A certain amount of freedom for some people is not just for fun-it’s actually important to their overall mental health. Be open to the fact people operate differently.
4. You’ll Get Lonely, Overwhelmed and Make Bad Choices.
High amounts of change in a short amount of time with zero time to process, is a recipe for some hardcore mental/emotional struggles.
If you’re an extrovert, the initial excitement of nixing your commute while working in PJ’s will quickly wain when you realize your lonely and have no one to talk to. Recognize this WILL be an issue for you. Set up “coffee dates”, “Game Nights”, “Girl’s Night In”, via video.
In regard to work, a “happy hour” Friday’s at 4 pm may be a great way to wrap up each week with your team to check in and see how everyone is doing and set the game plan for the following week.
If you’re an introvert, the crowded house with lack of ability to process or take in your surroundings may cause you to have moments of complete overwhelm. A movie, laying down for 20 minutes, or locking yourself in the bathroom with a book for 30 minutes may be a saving grace. (Pro-tip: If you lock yourself in the bathroom shove a rug under the crack so the kids don’t slip their toys, fingers and notes under. Then put your earphones on so you can’t hear them whisper and breathe since their faces will be smashed up against the door….)
You may overeat. Over exercise. Over drink. Over yell. Under work. Under communicate. Under- get out of bed. You’re probably going to have some meltdowns…daily.
When you find yourself “over” or “under” anything you’re trying to medicate your negative emotions.
When you’re starting to shove your hand down the chip bag, or start to clean the kitchen counter for the 307th time that morning-STOP and take note of your emotions.
-Acknowledge that it is OK to feel the way you feel.
-Give yourself a certain amount of time to be angry, sad, scared, etc. It can be 10 minutes. Even a day.
-When your literal time is up, it’s time to pull up your bootstraps and get back out there and deal. No excuses. Eat the chips while cleaning the kitchen counter….in moderation.
5. The House Will Drive You Crazy.
WARNING: I’m going to make a politically incorrect comment on this work from home tip. (I also acknowledge that I’m not addressing single parents in this portion. I was a single Mom for a bit. It’s hard. VERY hard. That’s for another article.)
Back to being politically incorrect: My firsthand experience with the men in my life is MOST (not all) men can work and not think twice about the house being a mess.
My husband has ZERO problem grabbing his laptop and guitar and heading to the basement to work while the house is in utter turmoil.
I cannot work when I know there’s dishes rotting on the counter, laundry that needs to be changed, crumbs on the floor…and divorce papers that need to be filed….I just can’t. With kids at home 24/7 this is a legit problem.
On the other hand, my husband can’t work with music playing, chaos, etc. He goes down in the quiet. I can tune it out.
A nicely decorated, distraction free, dedicated workspace is great if you have time and money. Most of us don’t. Think outside of the office box. If you need distraction free, can your garage, laundry room (yes, laundry room) or even bed work?
If there’s simply no place, can you rotate hours with your significant other of 2-hour shifts of child/house care, while the other works? One gets the bedroom, while the other works on the schooling and the mess.
As far as household chores, with kids at home, the chores are never done. Here’s some things we do at my house:
-My husband and I both spend 30 minutes of housework before we “go to work” in the morning.
-We split the housework based on what we “both don’t mind doing”. Neither one of us has the “I love housework” gene. Instead, we break it down by what he doesn’t mind doing too much, and what I don’t mind too much. Then we negotiate on the “we both hate doing that”. Oddly enough, I love doing yardwork. He hates it. He doesn’t mind bathrooms. I hate it. Saturdays he’s cleaning toilets and I’m working on the lawn and we “both don’t mind doing it”.
-I get up and move around as a reward to myself every 90 minutes. During those 10 or 20 minutes I rotate the laundry, let the dogs out, do the dishes, etc.
-At night, when all the kids were still here, we had a “20 minute clean up time”. We set the timer for 20 minutes from 8:00 pm – 8:20 pm. Everyone was responsible for picking up their own items from the main living areas. (Kitchen, living room, bathrooms, etc.) If there was any time left, they spent it on their rooms. We always got everything picked up because there was 7 of us. 7 x 20 literally saved me hours of time.
Keep the end in mind. I used to clean non-stop and I still get distracted. With most of the kids graduated, looking back those times of household chaos really are sweet memories. I miss the matchbox cars and playdough crumbs all over the floor. Someday you’re house will be too clean. Like your Grandma’s house that smelled of mold and Pledge. Recognize it’s hard, but remember it’s temporary. Too temporary.
6. You will Hate Your Spouse, Roommate, Children, or Significant Other…Maybe Even the Cat. (The Cat Already Hates You So the Feeling Will Be Mutual.)
Everyone’s struggling with sudden change and everyone will handle it differently. This means the best AND the worse will come out of all of us. You will hate everyone and everything at certain points-especially your spouse or significant other.
My work from home tip, before the big blow outs-know it’s coming and make it fun.
-Have a talk where you openly acknowledge things are a wee bit stressful during this time.
-Share the negative side of how you handle stress. (This could be you get angry, depressed, withdrawn, lash out.) If you unsure how you handle it poorly, I’m sure your S.O. will be more than happy to share the negative side of you.
-Then really think about what it is that you need during those moments. Do you need to go in a room and do 20 minutes of push-ups to physically get the anger out? Do you need to go scream in your pillow, or have a good 10-minute cry? Once you’ve come up with some ideas, let everyone in the house know. This way, when you blow up or completely shut down, they know what’s happening and to leave you alone to go do what you need to do.
-One fun idea is to write each person’s name (or have your kids’ draw each of you) on separate pieces of paper. Then post it on the fridge or a wall. Have another piece of paper that says, “Today I feel”, and have strips of paper with emoji faces on it. Everyone posts what they’re feeling each morning. (Passive aggressive tip: you can always stomp over mid-day and change it while staring at the person who’s making you crazy.)
This can be a non-threatening way to get a pulse on how everyone is doing. It’s fun for the kids, but it will also give you a world of insight on each of your family members.
-I know this seems weird, but the above idea is also a great way to check in on your team if you are a boss or a manager. You can have everyone at a set time in the morning do a “today I’m feeling” and then text a gif. It can be fun, but you’ll also know who to check in on.
It may feel goofy or uncomfortable to you or to some on the team, but the idea is really about care. You care about them as individuals and want to support them during this time. It will also help mitigate issues and improve your bottom line. Stressed or unhappy employees aren’t productive. Cared for employees, are not only productive, but committed.
7. This Can Be the Greatest Thing That Ever Happened to You and to Your Family
My most important work from home tip:
We get lost in the day to day. Most of us don’t “live” we just survive our list of “to do’s”.
Family life is the same. It’s carpool, work, groceries, cleaning. Now amidst all the chaos of everyone home, or the loneliness of just being with yourself, this is an opportunity to learn about yourself and those you’ve taken for granted.
You are about to learn so much you didn’t know about one another, including yourself. This is a good thing.
Yesterday, I saw a mom walking her school age son up the road. He was having so much fun, because it was something special. Being together. Just him and his Mom. Between work and school-they normally wouldn’t have that precious time.
These moments for our kids can be life changing. Make these moments count.
If you are alone, now is a really great time to evaluate yourself, what you want/need in your life, relationships, work, etc. Write the life out you want. Take a hard look at what needs to change.
When the clouds part and the sun begins to peeks through again, my hope is that people will slowly enter back into life knowing what truly matters. Just like I did the first time I got up out of the hospital bed.
Your relationships at work, home, friends, and extended family can be what makes life both bitter and sweet. Acknowledge the bitter but choose the sweet.
These next weeks can be the greatest thing that ever happened to you by being around those you love and stretching yourself to be a better person.
Sending you literal well wishes.
Kindly, Stacy P.
PS Struggling with productivity or anxiety during Covid? Here’s a helpful blog post.
Stacy Pederson is a Colorado based Funny Motivational Keynote Speaker. If you need help navigating your workforce through stressful times click HERE:
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