One of the challenges of working at home is getting work done while caring for your children. It’s best to get as much work done as possible while children are sleeping, but that’s not always possible. With a toddler who almost never naps, I feel your pain. If you need to keep the kiddos busy while you tackle some work, here are some tips and tricks to help.
Set up a desk or table beside yours.
Children want to be near adults, and are often curious about what adults are doing. As a work at home mom, that can mean a lot of interruptions just to have your child asking, “Mom, whatcha doing?” Help him see what you do (and be close to you) by setting up a table or desk by yours. This is also a great place for your child to work on activities.
Provide structured activities.
Speaking of activities, they do need to be structured when you have a toddler or preschooler. Allowing free play—for me at least—has been disastrous in the past. Structured activities help young children focus and be productive. They’ll also enjoy doing some “work” just like Mommy.
Some ideas for structured activities include:
- Painting with watercolors (keep a towel underneath to minimize cleanup)
- Drawing or coloring
- Crayon rubbing activities
- Sorting bears
- Mr. Potato Head (or blocks or other “building” toys)
- Sensory bin activities
Use a timer (Pomodoro Technique).
To help your child be patient while you work, she needs to know that the work will end eventually. Setting a timer (using the Pomodoro Technique) works because it provides your child with an audible cue that you’re now free for uninterrupted interaction. When I first started using the technique, I’d have to set it for 5-10 minutes, because my son couldn’t focus longer than that. I can now set it for 20-25 minutes.
For the next segment of time (or Pomodoro), spend time with your children, work on your chores or participate in your normal routine. Yes, it makes work a little disjointed, but it’s a good compromise. It allows you to tackle some work and spend quality time with the kids, too.
Your child must know, of course, that he or she can interrupt in case of an emergency (he’s hurt, someone’s at the door, etc.). I prefer to keep my child in the same room while I work—a little distracting, yes, but at least I know he’s not getting into something he shouldn’t.
Rotate toys to maintain interest.
If you choose to allow free play while you work, rotating toys can be a huge help in keeping your child interested. You can have toy bins for different days of the week, or put the toy box in a secure location, bringing out one toy at a time throughout the day for your child to enjoy.
Keep the television turned off.
Some people say that they work better with the noise of the television in the background, but that’s not the case for most people. White noise can help you focus, but noise that contains words or audible conversation pulls your mind in two different directions. Even children interested in a certain toy experience a 25% drop in focus when the television is on. Anyway, keeping the television off is better for both you and the kids. Don’t get me wrong—I do allow screen time for a little while each day. I just prefer not to do it while I’m working.
Finally, if you can’t get any work done despite these tips, you may just need to chalk it up to a family day. Everyone needs a little undivided attention now and then.
Need more time management and productivity tips? Check out this post on How to Get Things Done (Even When You Don’t Feel Like It).