TRT Podcast#9: How to Work from Home While Homeschooling
Is your child’s school closed due to the pandemic?
Do you suddenly find yourself working from home while also unexpectedly homeschooling?
I’ve been working from home for seven years. And while I’ve never officially homeschooled (until now), I’ve always had at least one child at home during the day.
I’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.
Learn my best tips for accomplishing work from home while also caring for your children.
It IS possible, and you can do it.
Listen to the full episode
Full episode transcript
You are listening to episode nine, how to work from home while homeschooling. Anna here. I spoke to you last week with tips for instant homeschoolers. Many of you like me do not typically homeschool, but with schools all over the world closing due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of us find ourselves with our children all day every day, which means we have become their teachers. And many of us are also working from home. So this is the question I've been asked a lot, how do I work from home and homeschool my kids and/or also care for my toddler or preschooler? Today's episode is all about productivity and management skills, two things you're going to become very good at. So let's get started.
The first thing you need to do is create a dedicated workspace. Even in a small house, it's important that you have a place where you can keep your computer and the things you need to do your work. I don't recommend carrying them around the house and doing them wherever it feels comfortable. Instead, have a special place so that you can take the things that you need and put them away at the end of the day. Hopefully it's also a place that your family respects and that people know not to put their things or take things from.
During the first few years of our marriage, my husband, who is a professor, also had a home office where he would work when he was not over at school. And he had his computer there and his shelves of books and everything else he needed and a door that shuts, which sounds pretty amazing to me because I've never had a door in my home office. It's always been somewhere in the middle of the house. And no, this is not ideal, but yes, it can work because I've been doing it for seven years. So let me tell you a little bit about how I make that work.
Currently, my home office is in the kitchen. I have a big roll top desk that we squeeze next to the kitchen table. It is crowded and you have to squeeze a little bit to get into the back chair, but it does work. What I like about it is that I can hear everything that's going on in the house when I need to. So sometimes when my kids are just playing happily, I can sit down and squeeze in some work that doesn't require a lot of deep thinking, I can hear if they're fighting and I need to intervene, I can hear if my preschooler needs help in the bathroom, I can hear if someone's at the door. I'm in the hub of the house and I can take care of those things.
I also really like that if everyone else is busy, like maybe somewhere playing outside with my husband and I'm in the kitchen making supper, I can stop to sit down at my computer to do a few things. So if I'm boiling water for something, I can sit down and answer some emails while I'm waiting for that to finish. This has allowed me to get a lot of those little tiny tasks done because I have a place that I can easily sit down and tackle them.
Of course, the challenge to having a home office in the middle of the house without a door is that it's hard to do deep work. The big thinking work, but I'm going to get to that in a little bit. So my first tip for you again, is just to find a place where you can store your things and work. And if you need to have two workspaces during the day, that's totally fine. Maybe during the daytime, you have a space in your kitchen, but then when you need to do your deep work, you have a card table in your bedroom. Whatever you do, make sure that you can accomplish both those little things that just have to be done and the hard thinking work that requires you to be by yourself.
The next tip is to be open with your boss. I feel really bad when I hear from people who say they have a 9:00 to 5:00 job and they're expected to do everything they do at work while homeschooling their kids. That's just not possible. You can't do everything you would do in a 9:00 to 5:00 job while managing your homeschool or caring for toddlers who are normally in daycare. That's just completely unrealistic.
And I hope that if you think this is what your boss expects of you, that you can have a candid, open conversation about what you can and cannot do during this time. You simply cannot shut yourself into a room while your big kids teach themselves all day long, or your toddler or preschooler babysits themselves all day. You know that, but your boss needs to know that too. Your boss needs to know the things that you're responsible for at home. There needs to be a discussion about what your boss's expectations are for you each day and to know where there's flexibility. What are the things that absolutely must get done every day and what are the things that can be pushed off if needed?
Once you know what your boss expects you to do, I recommend making a list of tasks that you can do depending on how present your children are. Here's what I mean. You could write down a list of things that you could easily do if your children are in the room with you. So let's say they're eating breakfast. They're all set up, what can you do at your computer at that moment? For me, it's answering most emails. Another thing would be to set up a list of things that you can do if your children are happy and busy. So let's say your preschooler is playing in the playroom and your older kids are working on their homework and don't need any help. Is there something you can do that requires a medium level of concentration but you could easily be distracted? For me, that's usually creating printables for preschool or kindergarten.
And then you're going to need to think about what type of stuff you need to do that is deep work. So something that you need to do without distraction. For me, that would be creating more complicated printables like reading passages and partner plays. I have to think a lot more when I create stuff like that. So those are some of my deep work things as well as creating trainings for The Measured Mom Plus, writing podcast episodes and recording episodes like I'm doing right now. I've got to have special focus time by myself to do those things.
Work off that list during the day. When your kids are close to you in the same room, are there little things you can do? When your kids are happy and busy, what are the things you can do? And then save that deep work time for another spot. And that's of course my second tip, you've got to have a dedicated time for deep work. I know this is hard to come by, especially if you have little ones, but here are some tips for what I've been able to do to make this work.
Number one, I do get up early. Sorry if you're not an early riser, but if you are, totally make use of that time. I actually talked about this last week, but our kids are not allowed to get out of their rooms until 6:40 even if they wake up early. So if you have had a habit in your house of kids getting up and making breakfast while you're still sleeping, you might want to have some kind of expectation that they have to stay in bed until a certain time, or if they wake up early, maybe they can read in their beds, but it's really essential that you have this time that you're not going to be interrupted. So if you like getting up early, set your alarm and maybe get a good hour's worth of that hard work done in the early morning if your job has that kind of flexibility.
My other time for deep work is the afternoon. I would prefer, of course, that this were in the middle of the morning when I'm the freshest, but of course, if you're homeschooling right now or you've got a toddler or a preschooler, they're probably awake and busy in the morning. So a good time might be the early afternoon after lunch. So if you have a toddler or even some preschoolers, they'll take a nap for you and you can use that time to focus on the deep work. Your older kids can have the understanding that hopefully, they've finished their schoolwork by now and this might be a time for them to watch a movie or to watch some TV or do some other thing that is going to keep them occupied while you tackle your work.
You can borrow a trick from teachers in the classroom. This is something that a lot of teachers do when they're teaching small groups and they want their students to know they cannot interrupt the teacher. They wear something like a scarf or something like that that gives an instant signal. No, you may not talk to me right now unless it's an emergency. You can certainly implement that as a parent with your older kids. Now, it's not going to work real well with kids under five probably, but older kids who are pretty self-sufficient, they can learn that that signal means Mom or Dad is not to be interrupted unless we have a real serious problem. Be sure to communicate with your family when that dedicated deep work time is, that's with your spouse and with your children so that everyone honors it. It may take some training for a while, but if you are consistent with your expectations, you will get that time that you can count on.
My next tip is to front load time with your young children. So I know that when my kids get up and it's time for breakfast, it's certainly very tempting to just keep working because I am on a roll after getting up early, but it's really important that you give your young children time at the beginning of the day so that they don't quickly become whiny and irritable. So you may be able to get a little bit of work done right after breakfast, but then after your older kids are starting with homeschool, you may need to spend some time reading or playing Candy Land with one of your younger children, and then you could set a timer. You could say, "Okay, Mommy, just read to you, Mommy played a game with you, now I need 30 minutes to do some work at my computer. And here's this timer. You can take it. When it beeps, I'll stop and we'll do something together."
Notice I'm not giving you a picture of a day that involves you working for eight hours uninterrupted because that's just not the world you're living in right now, but you can still accomplish quite a few things. The best way to accomplish those things is to use productivity hacks. That's my next tip for you because I know it's very easy when you finally do have time to work to waste that time. And that's frustrating, isn't it? You finally have two hours to sit at your computer and do some work and all you want to do is look at Facebook or watch YouTube videos. I've totally been there. And these are things I have to work at every day to keep myself focused because my work time is very limited. We have six kids. There's just a lot going on. And so these are some things that I have used to help me stay focused on my work.
One of the things I use is called Freedom. So I'll leave a link to all these things in the show notes, which you can find at themeasuredmom.com/episode9. So Freedom is something that you pay a one-time fee for. I think it was under $100 and it's just on my computer now, and I can block certain websites at different times. And you can set it up so that you could go in and cancel it if you decide you want to go back to those or you can set it up so that you can't cancel it and you're stuck. And that's usually the one that I choose.
So for example, I might say, "Okay, I have two hours. I have absolutely got to write these trainings for The Measured Mom Plus. I cannot watch YouTube videos right now." And so I set it up so I cannot access YouTube during those two hours. And if I try to, I'll go there and it will have this beautiful green screen with a butterfly that will say, "You are free!" And that means you're free to go do the things you need to do and not waste time on this website. It has been really helpful for me. I don't use it very often, but it does the job when I need it.
Something else I really like is called Focus@Will. This is a yearly fee, but it's not too much money, and it provides music that you can listen to in the background while you're working for periods of time. And there's all different kinds of music you can choose. I always choose the classical quiet piano music because I'm distracted by anything else, but there's anything for everybody. And so I set it for about 30 minutes and I know while that quiet music is playing, I absolutely have to be doing research for this particular topic and I cannot stop to do other things. That is really helpful for me. Once you make yourself get started, the time starts to fly and you actually make progress. It's just pushing past that initial resistance that you may feel.
I also have some Chrome extensions that I love. I have Facebook Feed Eradicator, and what that means is when I go into Facebook, I cannot see posts from my friends. I could go into their actual Facebook page and see what's new with them, which I do sometimes, but there's no feed. And I cannot tell you how much time this saves me. When I first joined Facebook, which I confess I dragged my feet for a long time to do, I would easily get sucked in and spend 45 minutes to an hour just visiting my friends' pages and reacting with their posts. Quickly, I realized that this was going to be really bad for my business until I figured out how to manage this.
So the Facebook Feed Eradicator means instead of seeing people's feeds, all I see is a nice time management quote. And I can still go into all the groups that I'm part of and that I manage, which is what I need to do, and not be sucked into all these feeds from my friends. I also got something like that for YouTube. It's called Distraction Free for YouTube. It's another Chrome extension and that means when I watch a YouTube video, it does not give me suggested videos on the side. That was another major time suck and I was really happy to discover that one. So I can still see a lot of suggested videos on my homepage in YouTube, but on the side of the video, it's this beautiful white space and not an endless list of other videos that I should watch.
Something else I want to mention quickly here is the Pomodoro Technique. I don't know if you've heard of that, but it's this idea that you set a timer for 25 minutes and you work nonstop during that time and then at the end of it, you give yourself a five minute break. Like stepping away from your computer, maybe walking around your house. I don't use this consistently, but sometimes, that idea of setting a timer for working for that period of time really helps. And this you can use with Focus@Will, which I told you about, where you can play music for a certain period of time.
My last tip for you is to prepare for your next day with a helpful evening ritual. One thing I tell my kids a lot lately is to do something for your future self. So what can you do that will make your morning self happier? What can you do that will make tomorrow better for your future self? We have to do things like this with our children, right? We might have them pack their lunch the night before or put their backpack by the door, but what about when you're working from home?
The biggest thing I can tell you, the biggest game changer for me when I do it is to write down the biggest three things I need to accomplish the next day for that day to be successful. And at first, you might feel yourself say, "What? Three things? I have a hundred things I need to do." Just try it. The cool thing about it is when you do those three things, you just feel like you got stuff done instead of feeling stressed out that you have so many things that are not crossed off. So what I do the day before is I write my big three things at the top of my planner and then beneath it, I write the other things I'd like to get done. So my top priority has to be getting those three things done. And when they're done, I can tackle the other things. I don't do this perfectly. It is something I am working at, but when I do it, my day goes so much better.
Something else I recommend is putting away all your work and clearing your workspace so you have a nice place to begin working the following day. In our house, for years, we've always spent the evening after supper tidying the house so we don't have to wake up to piles everywhere. The dishes are done. Now that my kids are older, they help. We have the playroom tidy. This almost always gets done. Unless we're somewhere in the evening, which isn't happening these days, the house is picked up. So when I come down the stairs in the morning to a blissfully quiet house, it's tidy and it allows me to get right into my work without feeling distracted by piles and clutter.
So those are my tips for you for working from home while homeschooling. Let's review those really quickly. Create a dedicated workspace. Be open with your boss about what you can do from home and ask for flexibility as to when you complete certain tasks. Have a dedicated time for deep work that your spouse and your children learn to respect. A time that you are not to be interrupted except in emergencies. Front load time with your youngest kids. So make sure that at the beginning of the day, you are playing games with them, reading to them, and then setting timers so that they know for a certain period of time, you are working. Use productivity hacks, which I will list in the show notes. And finally, prepare for the next day with a helpful evening ritual. For me, that's writing down the big tasks I need to complete the next day and working with everyone to tidy our house.
Thank you so much for listening and I hope you'll check out the show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode9. In those show notes, I'll share a link to some posts I created recently with tips for homeschooling your preschooler, kindergartner, first, second or third grader. I've got loads of helpful free resources included in each of those posts. So be sure to check it out. I'll talk to you again soon.
Resources mentioned in this episode
- Chrome extension: News Feed Eradicator for Facebook
- Chrome extension: Distraction Free for YouTube
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