How To Work From Home (With Kids!) Like A Boss
Written by Erin Feher
Photography by ANA LERARIO GELLAR PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARIA DEL RIO
Working from home is the new reality for many people right now, with offices, restaurants, shops, and other public spaces closing their doors for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19. So, with people trying to figure out how to conduct conference calls, get through to-do lists, and meet deadlines from their dining room tables, often with kids sitting next to them, we decided to ask a handful of moms for whom working-from-home is old hat. We asked experienced WFH parents to share their tips for working from home like a boss, from how to keep the kids busy to how to keep that pile of unfolded laundry from distracting you from your real to-do list. They share their tried-and-true tips for working from home with kids below.
Plan Your Day
“In the same way that there’s a schedule or a structure at pre-school, we need to implement a schedule at home for best success. I like to write out a schedule each day and stick to it. For instance, from 9-10, arts and crafts, from 10-11 books, from 11-12 outside time, from 12-1 lunch, etc. Having a schedule helps my kids to feel safe and grounded.” -Kiley Taslitz-Anderson, founder of Jettie and mom to Baer, 4, and Finn, 22 months.
“We’ll choose two morning activities broken into 45-minute sections. Writing, drawing, coloring, numbers, Magnatiles, Hot Wheels, map activities, etc. We aim for one fun activity and one ordinary. I plan my calls at the beginning of an activity session where I’m most likely to have uninterrupted time. Then we’ll take a break and skateboard/scooter round the block, then back to another 45-minute activity section before we stop for lunch. After lunch I’ll get him to have some quiet time for an hour or so where he gets to choose his activity and that should get us to around 2 p.m. when we’ll take off somewhere for the rest of the day and come home for dinner.” –Temi Adamolekun, founder of Pembroke PR, mom to Rayo, 6.5.
“I make a prioritized list on a Post-It so I can see it all the time. If it’s somewhere on a machine, it does not work. Personally, I do best when there’s a million things on that list.” –Kelly Tunstall, artist and mom to Brixton, 10, and Gus, 6.
“I’ve been working from home since 2010. My workspace is a part of our living room. My top tip would be to avoid multitasking as much as possible. It’s best to set up a schedule with fun time toward the end of the day. Set the kids up with self-directed activities to do in blocks of time while you focus on work. I aim for about 45 minutes at a time and try to get my most important tasks done first while they are eager to please. Checking on them with your full focus between blocks will help to avoid distractions during. You can even set up fun lunch dates or if you have work they can help you with, let them be involved.” –Jessica Doll, self-employed photographer and content creator and mom to Aiden, 16 and Søren, 7.
Set The Tone
“I like to pretend like I’m going to the office and coming home at the end of the day. Somehow getting dressed, putting on real makeup, physically leaving, and coming back—even if it’s only for me helps. I light candles, have flowers, play music. It’s like a cool fancy office.” –Kelly Tunstall, artist and mom to Brixton, 10, and Gus, 6.
“Clock in and out. No matter if you have to. Stick to a time in the morning to turn on and turn off. And more importantly, find ways to help you transition to the on and off. For me, turning on means a host of things (including taking the kids to school, having a coffee, meditating, and setting a few minutes for news and blog reading). When it’s time to turn off, close the computer, switch on or off a light, light a candle. Just do something to actually transition your mind.” –LaTonya Yvette, writer and mom to River, 8, and Oak, 5.
“Stay the course. We get up and get ready as usual, as kids rely on routine. And although your new routine will be primarily at home, start your morning as usual so you can set the tone for a positive day!” –Jane Ablaza, marketing communications manager at Once Upon a Farm and mom to Samuel, 3, and Sloane, 6 months.
“Both me and my husband work from home. We’ve been doing it together for 2 years now. I wake up early to have a moment to myself and get ready as if I’m going to the office. My husband, on the other hand, takes a much more relaxed approached, calling his khaki shorts ‘work pants.'” -Dev Heyrana, artist and mom to Quinn, 7, and Rowan, 3.
“I typically try and take a break every hour and a half, because if I say to the kids ‘I’m upstairs all day you can’t come see me,’ it doesn’t work. But if I say ‘I’ll be down in an hour and a half,’ that works better, and I try to do something with them that I can do in 15 minutes. I say ‘I’ll be down in an hour and let’s make hot cocoa/read a book/ride your scooter.’ My kids, especially my 4-year-old, likes to know what the plan is, so that works really well.” -Kiley Taslitz-Anderson, founder of Jettie and mom to Baer, 4, and Finn, 22 months.
“I try to slot in time for me: whether it’s yoga, a long walk with the dog, or meeting a friend for coffee. All of these things help me break up the monotony of working by myself and help keep me energized and motivated to keep working.” -Sasha Basso, founder of Shop Ochre and mom to Luca, 4.
“The benefit of working from home is that you can choose to truly have extended lunch breaks. So, for me, my extended lunch breaks have been to work out for 28 minutes, to take a walk, to get on a call with a friend, or break out in a mid-day dance party. I enjoy being with myself in such a way, because I’ve learned how to take pleasure in it. I appreciate it so much.” –LaTonya Yvette, writer and mom to River, 8, and Oak, 5.
“I avoid, at all costs, going straight to the computer to work in the morning. Whether that means hiking with the kid, a brisk walk with the dog, or quickly pulling some weeds in the garden, activity helps me to settle my mind and get going.” –Elka Karl, head of media relations at Dada Scope and mom to Uli, 10.
“Breaks are a must, for you and your kids. Step outside if you can. Be present, and be patient. Everyone including your kids are trying to navigate your new work- and school-from-home situation.” –Jane Ablaza, marketing communications manager at Once Upon a Farm and mom to Samuel, 3, and Sloane, 6 months.
Separate Housework from Work-Work
“When I’m working, I try to avoid doing chores, even if they’re screaming for me to tackle them—like the dishes in the sink, the laundry in the basket, all of the things I need to do around the house. I try to make it so chores only get addressed during non-work hours, as if I wasn’t home to deal with them. It’s hard, and sometimes I can’t resist, but if I started doing housework then I’d never get my real work done.” -Sasha Basso, founder of Shop Ochre and mom to Luca, 4.
“Before I start work, I set a timer for 20 minutes and let myself go on a cleaning frenzy. The timer makes me work fast and stay focused, and then I have a clean and organized space to work in for the day. I cannot work with dirty dishes in the sink.” –Erin Feher, executive editor of MOTHER and mom to Orion, 6, and Vega, 2.
“Keeping the house clean means one less distraction. It’s really hard to resist cleaning the house if it’s dirty and I’m working from home. So, my husband usually cleans the kitchen before he leaves for work, and I quickly tidy and organize before the work day starts. No matter how much I resist, I cannot avoid running loads of laundry throughout the day. However, I save all folding for night time when all three family members can pitch in.” –Elka Karl, head of media relations at Dada Scope and mom to Uli, 10.
“Everything should be clean at the beginning of the day. Grouping household tasks together really helps, rather than doing them all day long.” –Kelly Tunstall, artist and mom to Brixton, 10, and Gus, 6.
“Transitions are hard, aren’t they? Lunch was one of the hardest transitions for me for many years. I have to be intentional about making sure I eat. This year, I feel like I truly figured it out. Personally, I’ve found that I need go out for lunch. Or actually stand up, make a lunch, and change my physical environment (the stoop is always a good idea). If I’m in a cafe working, it means I step out and actually go somewhere else to eat. Small but large things really help. No desk eating. I repeat, no desk eating. Especially, if you’re working from home.” –LaTonya Yvette, writer and mom to River, 8, and Oak, 5.
“I believe in nice easy snacks in bowls—like almonds and apricots—and nice bread with nice butter and farmers market jam or prosciutto for open face sandwiches keep me going. Nice stuff. Don’t forget…end of day is happy hour!” –Kelly Tunstall, artist and mom to Brixton, 10, and Gus, 6.
“I love to cook, so when I work from home I let myself take a proper lunch break to cook myself something I will actually enjoy eating. Oftentimes, I will make enough so the family can have the same meal for dinner.” –Erin Feher, executive editor of MOTHER and mom to Orion, 6, and Vega, 2.
Keep The Kids Busy
“A key motivator for our kiddo is subject interest. Right now he’s obsessed with ornithology, so any activities that I can pull for him around that topic help him to stay on task. He’s also old enough to take walks by himself now in our neighborhood, so he will take his binoculars to a park and watch birds while I work.” –Elka Karl, head of media relations at Dada Scope and mom to Uli, 10.
“Give them a to-do list. There’s always stuff to get done around the house, so giving your kids a to-do list will also make the time fly. As an added bonus, write a time value next to each task—for example: five minutes for taking out the trash, 30 minutes for cleaning the bathroom, and so on—and give them a couple of extra minutes on their favorite device.” -Nicole Reber, Director of Marketing at Circle and mom of two to Luna, 2.5, and Landon, 5.
“I need a space reserved for work and, as it turns out, Simone needs dedicated spaces for play. Simone likes to do her own thing for ~20 minute periods. She has specific areas of the house and backyard that are safe and full of engaging activities. For instance, we have a family garden in the backyard…and also a little garden area just for her. In that zone, she makes pretty much all the decisions about what gets planted and how those plants get cared for, among other choices. There, she has the freedom to make potions, plant rocks, decorate and re-decorate it every day—whatever she wants to do. This set-up of curated spaces is good for her sense of independence and creativity, and it provides a good chunk of “me time” for both of us.” -Talia Lueck, founder of Big Bear Studio, and mom to Simone, 5.
“Sometimes the biggest problem is that they’ll forget I’m home, and then they’ll hear me on a conference call and interrupt my work or the call. That’s why I bought a white noise machine. If I turn it on and put it right next to the door they can’t hear me if I’m on calls.” -Kiley Taslitz-Anderson, founder of Jettie and mom to Baer, 4, and Finn, 22 months.
“I’ve always felt it’s important for my son to understand that I love you dearly, you’re the light of my life, and that Mum works, Mum runs her own agency, and as much as he can, understand what that looks like.” –Temi Adamolekun, founder of Pembroke PR, mom to Rayo, 6.5
“Have little kids at home? Explain parent-work rules. While it feels impossible to have children understand the abstract idea of having a parent present that needs to work, I’ve learned that letting language lead is SO wonderful. I articulate when and how I’m free. I set them up with snacks, games or tv (and don’t judge myself). They understand what they hear. They care for what they see.”–LaTonya Yvette, writer and mom to River, 8, and Oak, 5.
“Part of the stress of working from home with a child present is feeling the need to pretend they’re not there and fearing an interruption during a call or presentation—which will inevitably happen at some point. Being transparent about parenting obligations and scheduling reasonable boundaries is beneficial for everyone. I communicate my dedicated hours for work and meetings, and I update my calendar accordingly. I do not guarantee uninterrupted meetings or calls without Frozen music in the background if it’s scheduled outside of my normal work hours. I’ve found that the stability of a well-communicated routine has been good for everyone: my clients, myself, and my child. I genuinely appreciate the work-life balance that having a home office affords. I don’t feel like I’m missing Simone’s childhood years for work, or missing out on my career due to having a family. It takes a little juggling, but then again, everything does! Yes, my five-year-old sometimes interrupts my work. But I still have fewer interruptions than when I worked in an open-space office surrounded by well-meaning colleagues who constantly stopped by my desk. Oh, and the office politics in a WFH environment are low stakes. As long as I don’t eat the last of the Cheerios. And I never do.” -Talia Lueck, founder of Big Bear Studio, and mom to Simone, 5.
“In the words of Jocko, have a clear plan, maximize the chances of success, minimize the risk of failure, prepare for contingency, be clear on intent, and have solid execution. Obviously as a mum to an active 6-year-old boy, the contingency part of any plan is huge but I keep hope alive. In reality, being prepared translates to us working out an approximate schedule for the week that’s similar to his school schedule. His input is important as if he feels he was part of the process he’s happier to go along with it. I’m also very diligent about mapping out what I’m going to get done to keep things on track despite the best intended interruptions.” –Temi Adamolekun, founder of Pembroke PR, mom to Rayo, 6.5.
“My husband and I communicate about our calendars daily. It only takes 5 minutes. We go over meetings, deadlines, the girls’ activities and appointments during the week. I encourage Jay to remind me twice if need be, we both know sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everything. When work is heavy for one of us, the other makes it a point to take over most of the day. We find balance in feeling respected and gracious about our situation. Knowing we’re in it together has been our strength.” -Dev Heyrana, artist and mom to Quinn, 7, and Rowan, 3.
Get Up and Move
“Know your audience! I have an active little boy so movement is critical for both our sakes! We start out our day with some form of exercise, either I go to the gym and he plays in the kids zone or we go for a bike ride or long walk/scooter ride. Burning off that layer of energy in the morning goes a long way with getting my guy to sit down!” –Temi Adamolekun, founder of Pembroke PR, mom to Rayo, 6.5.
Be A Night Owl
“Best believe when he’s asleep, I’m back to work for a few hours to make up for lost time…this time, uninterrupted.” –Temi Adamolekun, founder of Pembroke PR, mom to Rayo, 6.5.
Surrender to The Screen (Sometimes)
“Getting any work done with my kid around is tough, especially after a long day of school. But sometimes there’s a 6pm meeting or something time sensitive that can’t wait till post-bedtime. My trick is to turn on something relatively educational (Sesame Street for the win!) so he can relax, and I can efficiently finish my work.” -Sasha Basso, founder of Shop Ochre and mom to Luca, 4.
“Uli is only allowed screen time, which mostly consists of Nintendo Switch, on the weekends, and even then it’s fairly limited. (We use an app to track time and it turns off the Switch when his time is reached.) His time can be taken away in increments, or added to, depending on his behavior. So, if he’s helpful and does extra chores, he can get more time added to his weekend allotment. This is definitely a motivator if I’m trying to get in extra work and he’s acting squirrelly.” –Elka Karl, head of media relations at Dada Scope and mom to Uli, 10.
“I set the tone right away, letting them know the rules still apply and screens aren’t a replacement for school. I’m clear that they don’t just get to use screens whenever they want and create screen-free zones—set areas where screens aren’t allowed, such as bedrooms or the dinner table.” -Nicole Reber, Director of Marketing at Circle and mom of two to Luna, 2.5, and Landon, 5.
“Be not afraid of screens! I definitely limit screen time, but if I have a call or need to focus for 30 mins, my son will enjoy a game or movie on his iPad.” –Jane Ablaza, marketing communications manager at Once Upon a Farm and mom to Samuel, 3, and Sloane, 6 months.
“I often read to Simone on my breaks. She never tires of good stories, so to keep it going, I use the Calm app. After I’ve read a few books, Simone chooses an audio story. I always have an art table prepped so she can draw and listen, or do Legos and listen. When she’s immersed in a story, there are a lot fewer interruptions.” -Talia Lueck, founder of Big Bear Studio, and mom to Simone, 5.
Celebrate Getting Through The Day
“Be kind to yourself. It’s a transition for you and everyone. Get that take-out because then you get to sit down and have a meal with the family. What feels like you’re making a mistake can be your tool in how to approach the next day.” -Dev Heyrana, artist and mom to Quinn, 7, and Rowan, 3.
What are your tips for staying sane (and productive) while working from home with kids? Tell us in the comments below!
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There needs to be a how to work from home when you have four boys ages 6 and under. Good luck mommas!
I felt like most of these comments assume that there is someone else watching the kids while you are working or that the kids are not there and you are just working from home. Not much good advice for someone who is home with kids (alone) and trying to do work.