People tell me I’ve lost my mind. They ask how I do it. And now that the coronavirus is forcing people to work from home and schools to close… lots of people suddenly find themselves on the same crazy-train that is my daily life.
Let me explain. I work full time from home for The Get Smart Group. I’m the Senior Account Manager, and I manage my own list of clients as well as a portion of The Get Smart Group’s team. In addition to my full time job, I homeschool my kids part time. In a non-coronavirus environment, here’s how that works: my kids attend school two days a week (three days a week starting in 7th grade), and I homeschool them the rest of the week using a curriculum set by the school. It’s not a life that everyone would choose, but it works well for our family.
Never did I imagine that this would become “normal” for the entire country. And now I find myself in a unique position. I know what it’s like to be homeschooling and working from home, because I do it all the time. Here are my tips!
1. Set office hours.
This is 100% my number one tip to successfully manage homeschooling and working. Working from home can become all encompassing if you don’t set strong boundaries. It’s easy to check email at night, or log on to “take care of a few things” while dinner is in the oven. If you do a little bit of work at night, and a little bit of “home” during the workday… nothing gets your full attention. Instead, set hours when you will work and stick to them. This is helpful if you have kids, because then they know when you’ll be available to answer any homework questions that they have.
2. Don’t assume that your kids know what’s going on.
Yes, they will listen to your phone calls. Yes, they will be in the same room with you. But, they don’t think like an adult. Even smart, responsible teenagers can be completely clueless. Immediately after a tense work call, your kid will appear at your desk to show you a drawing or ask you for a snack. It’s annoying, but they genuinely don’t know any better. Just expect it.
3. Get dressed for work.
Kids of all ages are visual. If you’re at the computer in your pajamas, it’s easy to assume you’re looking up recipes or browsing YouTube. If you’re at the computer in clothing that you regularly wear to the office, it sends a visual signal that you’re working. Note: putting on a pair of high heels or work shoes sends the same visual cue as long as your desk is situated so your kids can see your feet.
4. Prep food in the mornings.
Over the years, my greatest struggle when it comes to working from home and homeschooling is that I’m too tired to make dinner at night. With that in mind, I highly recommend prepping for dinner first thing in the morning. Chop veggies, thaw your meat… sometimes I even cook the entire meal!
5. Pack lunches and snacks in the mornings, too.
I recommend this for two different reasons:
- If lunch is already made, then you’ll have time over your regular lunch break to eat with your kids, tell knock-knock jokes, and answer homework questions. Taking this time for them in the middle of the day means they’ll be less needy when you’re in the middle of an important phone call.
- Having your food in a lunch box keeps you (and the kids) from foraging through the refrigerator all day. Giving your kids a lunch box of items they can eat without permission means fewer questions when you’re trying to work.
6. Leave paper on your desk for them to write you notes.
Conversations like the image below happen all the time in my house. Writing notes like this is a great option for when you’re on the phone (or a video call) and they have a question.
7. Develop a signal so they know you mean business.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this. There is a 100% chance that you’ll be on a video conference, or a work call, and the kids will get loud. One time, within 30 seconds of my boss calling me, my kids started playing with the dog, sumo wrestling, playing the harmonica and playing the recorder all at the same time! I didn’t even know we owned a harmonica! For moments like these, I keep a cowbell at my desk. I mute myself on the call, ring the cowbell loudly, and my kids know they’re being too loud. (Figure out a signal that works for your house and practice it a few times so everyone is on the same page.)
8. Write down what you expect them to do before they can have screen time.
My kids won’t work for money, but they will work for video games! Before they can play, they have to complete their homework for the day and they have a list of chores that they need to complete. If you’re homeschooling and working full time, you’ll need the help to keep the house clean. No single person can do everything, and I’m a firm believer that kids should help around the house. For those who are interested, my chore list is below. My kids are 11 and 13. They do all of these tasks, and they still have time to play video games for about 2 hours a day.
9. Allow some time in the evenings to get ready for tomorrow.
At the end of my work day, while I’m still at the computer, I print the boys’ homework they’ll do for the next day. That evening, I ask them to do math and one other subject. I explain that now is a good time, while I’m not working, for them to look over their assignments and ask questions for anything they can’t complete on their own. I don’t hover over them while they do this. I cook dinner, wash dishes, fold laundry, put together a puzzle, etc and they work on their school.
10. Be kind to yourself and the people around you.
This is new territory for everyone. Know that things won’t be perfect, and extend grace to yourself. Your co-workers are likely going through this too, and they’ll need some extra grace as well. Sometimes, the best way to be kind to yourself is to ask for help. I’m blessed to have a husband who can cook, so he’ll often cook while I’m finishing up work, or he’ll help the kids with homework questions. Now’s not the time to prove that you’re a superhero, so ask for help as often as necessary until this season passes.
11. Give yourself some space to process the events of the day.
On this side of my computer monitor, I’m talking to business owners who are making tough choices. On the other side of my computer monitor, there’s an 11 year old drawing pictures of our dog and declaring, “This is the best day of my life!” It’s gut wrenching. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t prioritize my own mental health. Kids are kids, and they will suck all of the energy out of you if you let them. So, don’t let them. I like my kids to be in their rooms around 9pm each night, even if they’re not tired. This allows me to wind down and process my own events of the day. And then, I get up the next morning and do it all over again.
12. Remember that kids will be kids.
They will not do chores up to your standard. They will take shortcuts thinking that you won’t notice. They’ll “forget” to do lots of things. They’ll try to outsmart you, and sometimes they’ll succeed. Hold them accountable for their choices, but also remember that they’re kids doing what kids do. They’ll get their payback when they grow up and have their own children.
I could go on and on, but these tips are a good place to start if you’re suddenly homeschooling and working from home. Do you have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them! Let’s all pull together, share ideas, and get through this together!