Fact: Working with kids at home isn't simple - but it's not impossible. And it's actually rewarding and fun!
Some back story: I have two offices:
- One is in Stamford, seven floors up (at the penthouse!), where I coach, meet clients, and brainstorm new directions for my company.
- The other is in Oxford, second floor, where I also coach and brainstorm. One of the reasons I left corporate so many years ago was to bypass any type of commute. Why? One reason: the highways in Connecticut are a mess.
Another reason why I left corporate was to spend more time with my kids. During my previous 20 corporate years, I had a 2-3 hour total commute, coupled with a hefty workload, delivering me home at an hour which made it difficult to spend a lot of time with my kids. So I made a change — I launched my own coaching company and it's been gangbusters ever since.
During the school year, working with kids is pretty easy — they catch the bus or they ride to school with my wife (she works at their school).
Unfortunately, over the summer and with school sports/activities, it gets pretty crazy. Since I have more control over my schedule, I can be a bit more flexible.
Over the past 8 years, I've learned a lot about building and maintaining a successful company AND making time for my kids so they don't miss out on things while I spend time with them. Here's what I've learned — it takes four simple rules:
This is #1 because it's the most important. Many telecommuters and entrepreneurs make the simple mistake of not scheduling and planning out their schedule first and then syncing with the master family schedule. If you have a business, every meeting and activity is important, so those get locked in first. Some tips:
- Set a regular and specific schedule during the week and build it into your planner. When you get up, when you interact with the kids, when you need to work, have lunch, resume work, and when you will stop working. Clear time-blocking on your schedule sets the tone for the rest of the steps.
- Let your kids know each day about the schedule. I used to post it on my door so they would know when to enter (no client sessions) or when to stay away (on with clients).
- If you are on a call with work and things might be hectic, let the caller know you're working from home (if possible), you might be interrupted, and that you apologize ahead of time if it happens. Most, if not all people are cool today with that info.
- Set up a series of hand signals if your kids do barge in unannounced. They should always know never to talk and use signals to say things like "going outside to play", "I'm hungry", "someone is at the door", etc.
- I also work on the weekends. I get up early - 6 AM - and get in 2-3 hours of work every Sat/Sun before the family is up and running. Thnk of it - I get 4-6 extra hours of work in without impacting my family's schedule!
Most people who work from home attempt to build boundaries between their work and personal lives, but for some reason, it tends to go by the wayside. Here are some tips to make your work/life day easier:
- If my door is closed, I'm working and don't open it unless it's an emergency.
- If my door is open, come on in. In fact, my son Andrew used to frequently play on the floor in my office while I worked. It was 'our' time together.
- If your kids are too small (baby), then you'll have to wrap your schedule around them. With a little work (and luck), you can get a few hours here and there scheduling around their naps, bouncer-time, and other activities.
- If your kids are too young to understand boundaries, you probably haven't tried very hard to enforce them. I know — I'm a jerk — but it's probably true. It takes a strong will, repetition, and determination to reinforce your boundaries. Ultimately, they will get it.
- Make sure you spend time with them in the morning, lunchtime, and to close-up shop early for dinner — when you give them something to look forward to — they will enjoy it so much more.
- Here's a typical schedule I've used in the past (it delivers at least 8 hours of work):
- 4:30 to 5 AM - Get up, shower, and dress.
- 5 to 6 AM - Plan day and begin work.
- 6 AM to 7 AM - Get kids up and get them ready for school (if summer, let them sleep in).
- 7 to 8 AM - Bus or drive them to school.
- 8 AM to 12 Noon - Work.
- 12 Noon to 1 PM - Lunch (have it with kids if they're home).
- 1 to 4 PM - Work.
- 4 to 5 PM - Pick them up from after-school activities.
- If it's during the summer (no driving to school) there might more interaction, instead of driving.
There are always exceptions to any rule. You need to balance sticking to your schedule with all the wonderful interruptions that occur during the day:
- If they get in a fight with their brother or sister.
- If they get hurt (an 'owwee', nothing serious)
- If they break something (like a lamp, it happens often)
- Or some other non-emergency interruption.
If you plan out your day, you can easily slip in concessions without it totally flipping your schedule to mayhem. Don't let these small road-bumps totally obliterate your schedule. In fact, you can easily move around activities, tasks, calls and meetings if you time-block your schedule and you have a small amount of time to recover.
I do have one rule, when I am on a very important call, don't interrupt me unless someone is bleeding profusely from an artery.
Your son is sick. You forgot about your daughter's after-school activity uniform. They forgot their lunch. Shit happens — and you have to react instantly to break into your work schedule and fix whatever has happened. More tips:
- Don't stress out. These things happen infrequently and your clients/boss will probably understand. Since they are emergencies and they don't happen often, everyone understands and will easily assist where needed.
- Focus on the emergency first. Get it settled, make a plan, then let the impacted parties know ASAP. A quick phone call, an email, or a text will let them know what has happened and when you can recover.
- Don't feel guilty. How many work emergencies have you handled? Thousands. One personal emergency will not fly the train off the rails. We tend to make personal emergencies HUGE. They're not and everyone understands.
I hope some of these tips can help you operate more effectively and efficiently at home. In addition, you can spend more time with your kids — that's why you're working from home!
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P.S. Working from home and pulling your hair out? Let’s talk. I’ve worked with thousands of people who wanted to take assertive steps and change — call or email me to schedule a complimentary (free) coaching session on the phone. No obligation — just coaching!
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