How to focus and write when your kids are also at home
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Let’s be clear, it is impossible to work from home and get done as much as a normal working day if your kids are also at home. And that's fine. Maybe if you have angel kids that sleep a lot, play on their own, and then watch some screens without fighting, you could be OKish. But if your kids cannot play alone for more than ten minutes, wake up before 6.00 and have energy non-stop till 19.00… good luck! And yes, my kids are the second type of children. But there are things you can do to be productive the hours you work, while not being full day stressed multi-tasking (which is a killer of productivity). So following on the last week post with strategies to focus and write from home, here come some tips (and breathing exercise) for when your kids are also at home:
Schedule 2h focus blocks that you alternate with your partner
Organizing your day in 1.5-2 h blocks to focus on one important task (see the previous post for the concept of “golden hour”) is a common strategy to boost productivity. In our family, I start right out of bed (6 am), then I spend 2h with the kids and so on. If you are alone with the kids at home, you could squeeze one block before the other person goes to work and another one, when your partner arrives from work, and…be sure you send a "Thank you" card to Netflix!
Golden hours become platinum hours
This can be a period of 100% productivity (potentially, but don’t torture yourself if it isn’t). Use platinum hours for your most important tasks: those that are pivotal and require energy. It also helps if you start working on your first task before the platinum hour, so you can deep into it faster (you can download here my weekly planner to schedule those tasks). Then, push yourself to finish what you planned to do in that platinum hour. This is quite important, because, with the kids there, that difficult task may eat up your entire day (and cause a significant delay on all other things). This is a moment in life to let the perfectionist inside you go…done better than perfect!
Shutdown distraction during your platinum hour
You need to be super focused, absolutely no distraction allowed. If you can, lock yourself in a room and leave the telephone outside. First days kids will try to enter the room with diverse drama stories, but after consistently sending them back, they won’t interrupt you so much anymore! Be patient, your kids also need to adapt to this new situation (and learn about the platinum hour!).
While with the kids, sprinkle periods of 50% (or less) productivity
Then you can work on things that do not require too much attention and energy, or that you can finish quickly (because you will be interrupted a lot!). Following the framework of energy/pivotal, you could your number 2 tasks: in my list I have emails, working on figures, materials and methods, or on the design of a PowerPoint presentation. And what can the kids do in the 50% period? Obviously…screen time! If you are in the group of lucky parents, your kids might be entertaining themselves. For the not-so-lucky ones, ideas that can work during 30 min: building (legos, wooden blocks, huts with blankets and pillows), mess-type of things (potion-making, painting, playdough), arts and crafts (coloring plates, origami, paper airplanes, color beads), shooting (darts, bow and arrow, nerf guns against a tower of cups). In our home we are in “survival mode”, there will be better times (and weekends) for “good” parenting.
Accept and enjoy the off-time
Plan also time to play, and accept that this is gonna be a period of 0% productivity. Then simply enjoy playing with and for your kids, do it mindfully, be present. During this time don't sneakily check the email in your phone (how do they always catch us?), or worry about how much more work you could be doing instead of building legos. You could also insert then all those daily essentials like eating, taking a shower, doing some exercise, getting some sun if you have a garden, or perhaps even a nap! In this difficult period, give yourself permission to do whatever is good for your physical and mental health.
We are living a situation that most people on this planet have never experienced before. Although it is difficult, stop judging yourself about whether you are a good parent if you are not baking cookies and homeschooling your kids, or about how productive you are (or you are not). Try to adjust your expectations about work and family time, and make self-care a priority. Being present has never been so important...try to put your phone away while focusing or playing with your kids, and to do some mindful breaks. To help you with those breaks, I have recorded an audio with a simple but effective breathing exercise. It’s only 2 min and I am sure you’ll feel good afterward. Just download it here! And action creates momentum, so please listen to it now (the effect is stronger if you lay on the floor with your legs up against a wall, and your arms open like a T). And remember, especially in difficult periods like this one, be kind to those around you and to yourself!