As the coronavirus has spread across America, many workers have suddenly found themselves working from home. Not only that, but their kids are also schooling from home. This situation has only added to the stress that the virus has brought.
But as with most situations and changes, once you get used to a situation and work out the kinks, things will get better. And as a person who homeschools their children while working from home, I am in the unique position to give you a little advice to smooth the transition. And don’t worry, things do get easier.
1. Have a Plan
While working from home there can be a lot of distractions, so you need to make sure you have an attack plan. At the end of each workday, write down the important projects that you need to get done the next day and put them in order. (I use a weekly planner for this, but you can use a sticky note or something on your desktop.) Put this in the middle of your desk or desktop where you will see it the next morning and keep it visible throughout the day to keep you focused. And the next morning, start attacking your projects in the order that you wrote them down.
2. Make Sure the Kids Have a Plan Too
If you’re spending your entire day asking your kids what they are supposed to be doing or trying to keep them on task, your work is going to suffer. Your kids do better with a plan for the day too. My kids have a plan that we print out for them at the beginning of the week that includes daily check-off items and has a space for chores and special projects. This keeps them focused and makes it so everyone can work, including me.
3. Designate Your Space…or Not
A lot of times it’s easier to get into the working mindset when you designate a space in your house where you work. I have a large desk with a big monitor where I can keep everything I need to do my best work. And this works best for me…most of the time. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I just need things a little differently. Or maybe I’m traveling but still need to finish a project. This is when I grab my laptop and find whatever space is comfortable. So, my advice is to designate a specific space where you work but be flexible.
4. Have a Work Routine
Routines can save your life…or ruin it. I’m serious. While working from home you will get into a routine and develop certain habits, and these can help you or hurt you. The most important thing is to make sure these habits and the routine are on purpose. Plan out your work hours. Plan when you will start work and finish work. Plan how you will handle interruptions from your kids, because you’ll have them. Plan out when you will take breaks, because you’ll need them. And then follow your plans, adjusting as needed, until you’ve developed a routine that is effective and that you’re comfortable with.
5. Kids Need Routines Too
Setting up a home routine for your kids is also incredibly important (plus it cuts down on so much stress). If your kids know that every morning they have to wake up, get dressed, make their bed, eat breakfast, and then start on the number one item of their school plan, it helps them and you immensely. They already know what they are supposed to do. They already have a plan. And you know what they are supposed to do as well. So now if you see (or hear) them getting off track, all you need to do is remind them to follow their plan.
6. Take Breaks
While it may seem counterintuitive for me to say that taking breaks will help you work more effectively, it’s true. Humans can only truly focus and work hard at something for so long. Our brains follow what’s called an ultradian rhythm. This means that your brain can only work at a high level for so long before it needs rest. Typically the brain does its best work in 90-minute cycles after which it needs a 10-20 minute break. You can sometimes go up to two hours but 90 minutes is ideal. So, plan for this and use it wisely. After sitting at your desk for 90 minutes, grab the kids and take a brisk walk outside. Another 90 minutes later, do some push-ups or a little meditation. 90 more minutes, grab lunch and have a picnic outside with your little people. And so on. After working this way for a few days, you’ll discover that you get more done than ever before while also having a lot more energy at the end of the day.
7. Communicate and Clarify
With everyone in your office working remotely, it is incredibly important that everyone knows what the priorities are and what everyone else is doing. It might be helpful to have a meeting at the beginning of the week with your team where everyone shares what they are working on and any concerns they have. You should also check in with your team throughout the week via email, chats, phone calls, etc. Stay connected. And remember to still have a little bit of fun. While you can no longer share funny jokes around the water cooler, you can send a funny meme or a quick email about that hilarious thing your kid just said. (And make sure you sit down as a family and clarify what the expectations are for the family each week too.)
8. Take Advantage of Technology
Working remotely has never been easier. We can communicate instantaneously via email, chat, phone calls, video conferencing, you name it. Take advantage of it. Video conference for team meetings. Share your screen with a coworker to problem solve together. Chat often to stay connected and informed. Just because you’re working apart doesn’t mean you can’t still work together.
And your kids can take advantage of technology too. There are so many great programs available online to help them learn and grow. Some of my favorites are Khan Academy (math, English, history, etc.), Mystery Doug (science), Scratch (beginning programming), Typing.com, and MrPStudios (art). Plus, kids can use Google
Hangouts, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to still see and talk with their friends and family. This really helps kids feel like they are still connected to the outside world.
9. Avoid Distractions
With all the wonders that come with technology, there are also a ton of distractions. Don’t check Instagram just for a minute while waiting for a program to load. Don’t have Facebook up on your work desktop. Don’t click on that YouTube video your buddy just sent you. Just don’t. These things will drain hundreds of your valuable working hours if you let them, so don’t let them. Save them for after work. I also like to reserve the first two hours of my day (the quietest at my house) for my most important project. I get up, get on my computer, and immediately set to work on that project. And, this is the most important part, I don’t check my work email until after those two hours. This allows me to get my most important project done every day and helps me feel amazingly productive or just plain amazing, it’s one of the two.
10. Enjoy Yourself
You’ve been thrust into a unique situation and it’s time to enjoy it. Focus on all the positives of your current situation. Have gratitude for all your blessings. You are working from home, but you’re still working. You have a job when thousands don’t. If your kid keeps bugging you during a project, you have the opportunity to take a break from that project and have some one-on-one time with your child. Use your work breaks to spend time with your children, do fun things with them, and talk. You’ll never have this much time with your kids again and one day they’ll be all grown up. Relish this opportunity you’ve been given. It can be as rewarding as you make it.
I hope these tips will help you as you navigate these unprecedented times. And, who knows, you just might be a whole lot better at this whole teleworking/homeschool thing than you think.