In the midst of the incomprehensible times that we are currently facing, our daily lives have been thrown for a loop.
As we try to navigate our way through working, teaching, and parenting all at the same time, in the same place, it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed.
For parents of toddlers, this can especially be a tough time. Most toddlers demand around-the-clock attention and juggling their entertainment and education with conference calls, answering emails, and being productive at work, can get hectic.
I became a work-at-home mom almost 2 years ago and love the flexibility, but it can be a challenge. Although I am home full-time, I had to put my toddlers in daycare in order to get anything done.
Now with a 1 and 2-year-old plus my husband at home with me, we’re all juggling a completely new schedule and lifestyle.
Here are some tips that have worked for me being a work-at-home mom for the past two years.
Related Post: 14 Lessons to Teach Your Toddler
1. Create a Schedule
Having a schedule is absolutely necessary when working-at-home with toddlers.
Our family tried to just wing it the first few days of being home and it was rough. My husband and I were constantly fighting over who’s working and who’s watching the kids and the toddlers had no structure so they were a disaster.
If you’re self-employed (own a small business, blog, coaching, etc.), you probably have more flexibility in setting your schedule because you’re not relying on other people telling you what to do and when to do it.
The easiest time to work from home if you’re self-employed is to leave all your work during nap and bedtime when you have the most peace and quiet. However, most people don’t have that luxury.
If you’re employed, you probably have more of a rigid schedule to work around.
Depending on how structured your typical workday has to be, you should set your office hours around important calls, meetings, or when you know you get a lot of emails.
Some questions to think about when setting up your schedule:
- How many hours do you need/hope to work that day?
- What times do you have virtual meetings/teleconferencing/calls?
- When will you return calls?
- When is typically your busiest time of day?
- What tasks can you accomplish while your child is occupied close to you?
- What tasks need to be completed when you have complete privacy?
- What activities will occupy your child for 5-10 minutes, 10-15 minutes, or 20-30 minutes?
- What activities will be mentally stimulating and educational for my toddler?
- What activities will be fun or relaxing for my toddler?
- When can we have bonding time as a family throughout the day?
I think in most cases, employers are a bit more lenient on your time and productivity given the circumstances of parents with kids at home.
Here is the current schedule that works for us:
In my daily schedule, I used 30-minute blocks because that’s often the maximum time that my toddlers can focus on one activity.
I tried to be as detailed as possible, but I also didn’t want to limit myself. In the blocks of time that are their creative play or outdoor time, I choose an activity from my toddler activity checklist.
Check it out for plenty of ideas to do with your toddler and always have something to keep them entertained!
Below you can download a copy of this daily schedule. There are 2 versions for you: one that is blank and one that just includes times for you to fill in on your own.
I included a copy of our schedule as a guide for you. You may not have the same routine as us, but use this as a reference.
Also, if your daily schedule will change from day-to-day, laminate it and then use a dry erase marker to change it each day!
2. Keep routines the same
Changes in routine are going to be especially stressful for both you and your children. It’s best to keep them as close to the previous schedule as possible.
Kids thrive on structure. Even though you may feel like they’re wild little animals some times doing whatever they please, they appreciate a good routine.
If they went to daycare or a babysitter typically, you can get the schedule from the teachers for times that they did circle time, recess, lunch, pretend play, etc.
Here are some ideas to help you create a daily schedule:
- Wake up, get dressed and have breakfast at the (almost) same time. Ok, this is going to vary a bit because you are subtracting you and your child’s commute which means more sleep for you (yay!)
- List the times for creative play, work, physical activity, meals, naps, exercise, and breaks.
- For babies and 1-year-olds, they probably already have a rigid schedule with meals and naps.
- For 2-4-year-olds, they should be able to engage and focus on activities better, but it’s important not to expect too much of them.
- Use 30-minute blocks because they probably won’t be able to focus on an activity for much longer than that.
- Get as specific as possible with activities, work, and playtime. Obviously, if you have to change an activity, that’s fine, but it will help when you are struggling with things to do or literally pulling your hair out.
- Stay as consistent with your previous routine as possible
3. Take turns with your partner
It’s especially beneficial if you have a spouse home with you who’s also working from home, to take turns watching the kids and working.
Instead of both trying to be on the computer or phone while keeping an eye on the kids, have one spend time with the kids, while the other can be productive.
My husband and I set up a schedule where I would work for 2 hours and he would watch the kids and then we would swap. I felt like 1.5- 2 hour increments were a perfect time frame.
4. Designate the best work/play space
You may already have a system set up in your house including a playroom and an office, but if not, you need to make one.
Decide where everyone can do their work most effectively and without distractions. Decide where the kids are most comfortable, but also include a novel space that will be fun and exciting to keep them entertained.
The office room should be as far away from the kids as possible to reduce distractions.
5. Capitalize On Naptime
If you’re lucky enough to have kids who still nap, that’s a huge chunk of time that you need to capitalize on.
Use naptime to focus 100% on the work you need to get done.
Don’t use it to clean, eat lunch, do a home project. If you need productivity time with complete focus and concentration, that is ultimately it.
I clean up the kid’s lunch and eat my own all while the kids are still awake and eating. This way I get a full uninterrupted 2 hours of working.
If your child is still of the age to nap but doesn’t, you can still put them in their crib or room for quiet time. Give them a book or their favorite toy and make sure that they stay in there for as long as you can.
Related Post: How to Make Breastfeeding Work as a Busy Mom
6. Be more productive during your work time
You’d be surprised at how much more productive you can be when you’re working from home if you set up specific parameters for yourself.
This will allow you to get more work done in a shorter period of time so you can fit in parenting throughout your day too.
- Put your phone away. Every little buzz, ping, or glow of your phone is a distraction. If you have a phone that you need for work calls, disable text messages or personal emails if possible. Delete social media apps (everything will still be there when you redownload the app).
- Limit all technology for that matter. I’m sure you need your computer for work, but turn the tv and music off, disable incoming personal emails and social media or just minimize them on the screen so you’re not distracted.
- Lock yourself in a room far from your kids. As long as you have help from someone watching the kids, distance yourself instead of trying to work in the middle of the kitchen.
- Set short term goals for your work period, ie. I will write 5 emails, make 3 designs, and contact my boss for clarification on… during your 2-hour work period.
- Diffuse essential oils. Some people swear that some essential oils can be energizing and uplifting, including peppermint, orange, lemon, spearmint, and rosemary.
- Have good lighting. Most of us don’t have the best lighting in our rooms for productivity. Office buildings are set up with bright fluorescent lights for a reason. If your office space isn’t bright enough, try using a great wattage lightbulb or bringing in an additional lamp.
- Make the room cooler. Warm air can make you tired and lethargic. Make sure it stays cool in your office to stay alert.
- Put on headphones. Personally, listening to music is a distraction, however many people thinkit’s helpful for their productivity. If you do listen to music, I’d suggest songs without words and maybe an upbeat tempo. You can also just use noise-canceling headphones where you don’t have to play any music but it will drown out the noise from the kids playing.
- Use a desk. If you’re setting up your work station on your couch or in bed, you’re bound to get sleepy and lose interest in your work. Be sure to sit at a desk or if you don’t have that use a table or even a chair at a dresser if possible.
7. Separate Mom and Business Roles
This is especially hard, however, I promise it will keep you feeling more productive and limit the guilt you may be feeling as you try to navigate the craziness.
You will need to give your full concentration to one area for a set amount of time. If you don’t do this, you will never feel accomplished or productive.
Trust me I’ve been there. Trying to type up a blog post while keeping one eye on my kid. I never feel like I’m doing either right.
It’s not possible to be in both mom mode and work mode at the same time, so when you’re playing with your kids, don’t think about work. When you’re working, don’t think about your kids.
This is why it’s so important to set a schedule of the day, so you know when to turn one mode off and turn the other on.
However, if you have a job that is still expecting a lot from you despite the times or you don’t have help from a spouse or grandparent, you may need to do a little bit of both.
In this case, only try to focus the work that requires the least amount of attention as you watch your kids (answering emails) and save the important stuff for naptime or before/after the kids are awake.
Our current situation is definitely an adjustment for all of us. Take time out of your day to reflect and just take a deep breath.
We will all come out of this stronger and more grateful and that will be a beautiful thing.