A Parent’s Guide to Working From Home, During a Global Pandemic, Without Going Insane

A few tips for parents working from home to get through their days without going completely insane during COVID-19 quarantine.

Though I usually enjoy working from Viget’s lovely Boulder office, during quarantine I am now working from home while simultaneously parenting my 3-year-old daughter Audrey. My husband works in healthcare and though he is not on the front lines battling COVID-19, he is still an essential worker and as such leaves our home to work every day.

Some working/parenting days are great! I somehow get my tasks accomplished, my kid is happy, and we spend some quality time together.

And some days are awful. I have to ignore my daughter having a meltdown and try to focus on meetings, and I wish I wasn’t in this situation at all. Most days are somewhere in the middle; I’m just doing my best to get by.

I’ve seen enough working parent memes and cries for help on social media to know that I’m not alone. There are many parents out there who now get to experience the stress and anxiety of living through a global pandemic while simultaneously navigating ways to stay productive while working from home and being an effective parent. Fun isn’t it?

I’m not an expert on the matter, but I have found a few small things that are making me feel a bit more sane. I hope sharing them will make someone else’s life easier too.

Truths to Accept

First, let’s acknowledge some truths about this new situation we find ourselves in:

Truth 1: We’ve lost something.

Parents have lost more than daycare and schools during this epidemic. We’ve lost any time that we had for ourselves, and that was really valuable. We no longer have small moments in the day to catch up on our personal lives. I no longer have a commute to separate my work duties from my mom duties, or catch up with my friends, or just be quiet.

Truth 2: We’re human.

The reason you can’t be a great employee and a great parent and a great friend and a great partner or spouse all day every day isn’t because you’re doing a bad job, it’s because being constantly wonderful in all aspects of your life is impossible. Pick one or two of those things a day to focus on.

Truth 3: We’re all doing our best.

This is the most important part of this article. Be kind to yourselves. This isn’t easy, and putting so much pressure on yourself that you break isn’t going to make it any easier.

Work from Home Goals

Now that we’ve accepted some truths about our current situation, let’s set some goals.

Goal 1: Do Good Work

At Viget, and wherever you work, with kids or without we all want to make sure that the quality of our work stays up throughout the pandemic and that we can continue to be reliable team members and employees to the best of our abilities.

Goal 2: Stay Sane

We need to figure out ways to do this without sacrificing ourselves entirely. For me, this means fitting my work into normal work hours as much as possible so that I can still have some downtime in the evenings.

Goal 3: Make This Sustainable

None of us knows how long this will last but we may as well begin mentally preparing for a long haul.

Work from Home Rules

Now, there are some great Work from Home Rules that apply to everyone with or without kids. My coworker Paul Koch shared these with the Viget team a Jeremy Bearimy ago and I agree this is also the foundation for working from home with kids.

  1. When you’re in a remote meeting, minimize other windows to stay focused
  2. Set a schedule and avoid chores*
  3. Take breaks away from the screen
  4. Plan your workday on the calendar+
  5. Be mindful of Slack and social media as a distraction
  6. Use timers+
  7. Keep your work area separate from where you relax
  8. Pretend that you’re still WFW
  9. Experiment and figure out what works for you

In the improv spirit I say “Yes, AND….” to these tips. And so, here are my adjusted rules for WFH while kiddos around: These have both been really solid tools for me, so let’s dig in.

Daily flexible schedule for kids

Day Planning: Calendars and Timers

A few small tweaks and adjustments make this even more doable for me and my 3-year-old. First- I don’t avoid chores entirely. If I’m going up and down the stairs all day anyway I might as well throw in a load of laundry while I’m at it. The more I can get done during the day means a greater chance of some down time in the evening.

Each morning I plan my day and Audrey’s day:

My Work Day:

Audrey's Day

Identify times of day you are more likely to be focus and protect them. For me, I know I have a block of time from 5-7a before Audrey wakes up and again during “nap time” from 1-3p.I built a construction paper “schedule” that we update and reorganize daily. We make the schedule together each day. She feels ownership over it and she gets to be the one who tells me what we do next.
Look at your calendar first thing and make adjustments either in your plans or move meetings if you have to.I’m strategic about screen time- I try to schedule it when I have meetings. It also helps to schedule a physical activity before screen time as she is less likely to get bored.
Make goals for your day: Tackle time sensitive tasks first. Take care of things that either your co-workers or clients are waiting on from you first, this will help your day be a lot less stressful. Non-time sensitive tasks come next- these can be done at any time of day.We always include “nap time” even though she rarely naps anymore. This is mostly a time for us both to be alone.

When we make the schedule together it also helps me understand her favorite parts of the day and reminds me to include them.

Once our days are planned, I also use timers to help keep the structure of the day. (I bought a great alarm clock for kids on Amazon that turns colors to signal bedtime and quiet time. It’s been hugely worth it for me.)

Timers for Me:

Timers for Audrey:

More than ever, I rely on a time tracking timer. At Viget we use Harvest to track time, and it has a handy built in timer, but there are many apps or online tools that could help you keep track of your time as well.Audrey knows what time she can come out of her room in the morning. If she wakes up before the light is green she plays quietly in her room.
I need a timer because the days and hours are bleeding together- without tracking as I go it would be really hard for me to remember when I worked on certain projects or know for certain if I gave Viget enough time for the day.She knows how long “nap time” is in the afternoon.
Starting and stopping the timer helps me turn on and off “work mode”, which is a helpful sanity bonus.Perhaps best of all I am not the bad guy! “Sorry honey, the light isn’t green yet and there really isn’t anything mommy can do about it” is my new favorite way to ensure we both get some quiet time.

Work from Home Rules: Updated for Parents

Finally, I have a few more Work from Home Rules for parents to add to the list:

  1. Minimize other windows in remote meetings
  2. Set a schedule and fit in some chores if time allows
  3. Take breaks away from the screen
  4. Schedule both your and your kids’ days
  5. Be mindful of Slack and social media as a distraction
  6. Use timers to track your own time and help your kids understand the day
  7. Keep your work area separate from where you relax
  8. Pretend that you’re still WFW
  9. Experiment and figure out what works for you
  10. Be prepared with a few activities
    • Each morning, have just ONE thing ready to go. This can be a worksheet you printed out, a coloring station setup, a new bag of kinetic sand you just got delivered from Amazon, a kids dance video on YouTube or an iPad game. Recently I started enlisting my mom to read stories on Facetime. The activity doesn’t have to be new each day but (especially for young kids) it has to be handy for you to start up quickly if your schedule changes
  11. Clearly communicate your availability with your team and project PMs
    • Life happens. Some days are going to be hard. Whatever you do, don’t burn yourself out or leave your team hanging. If you need to move a meeting or take a day off, communicate that as early and as clearly as you can.
  12. Take PTO if you can
    • None of us are superheroes. If you’re feeling overwhelmed- take a look at the next few days and figure out which one makes the most sense for you to take a break.
  13. Take breaks to be alone without doing a task
    • Work and family responsibilities have blended together, there’s almost no room for being alone. If you can find some precious alone time don’t use it to fold laundry or clean the bathroom. Just zone out. I think we all really need this.

Last but not least, enjoy your time at home if you can. This is an unusual circumstance and even though it’s really hard, there are parts that are really great too.

If you have some great WFH tips we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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