Productivity tips from someone who's worked at home with kids for two and a half weeks

You know, an expert

Are you working from home right now? There’s a good chance you might be. Whether it was a voluntary shift taken weeks ago, a move borne out of practical necessity once schools began shuttering, or the eventual result of an employer’s grudging capitulation to a state-issued mandate, millions of Americans are now trying their best to do their jobs remotely. What’s more, many of those people are trying to juggle full-time work with the sudden need to care for their children during the day as well.

How can you possibly balance it all?

Fortunately, I’m a bit of an expert on this subject. You see, I’ve been operating a home office and unlicensed daycare facility out of my house for nearly two and a half weeks now, and I’ve got some useful tips to help make this time more productive and efficient for your entire family.

Let’s review!

  • Set expectations. At the beginning of each day, have a meeting where you establish a schedule for the day. This will help remind you how long the day is going to be. At the end of each day, you’ll have a nice laugh as you look back at your foolish good intentions. You were so young then.

  • Set up a defined workspace. It’s easy to have the lines between home and work become blurred, but you’ll want to feel like you’re “going to the office” in the morning. If you have children, this will become their preferred play space.

  • Don’t work in your pajamas. You’re going to feel like you’re working from your bed if you do this. Instead, each morning, select an old Halloween costume from your closet. [sigh] Remember that time you went to a party? Now you’re just a haggard, weary person struggling to connect to Citrix. But you’re also a werewolf.

  • Don’t try to be a hero. There’s the impulse to want to replicate the education your children are missing out on while they’re home from school, but it’s unrealistic if you’re also working full time. A number of educational groups and beloved celebrities have created fun, enriching online content to help children learn from home. They won’t want to watch any of it, but you can leverage the threat of making them watch it to get them to put on pants.

  • You can pretend to be on a conference call even if you’re not. Put your headphones in and say “do we think that’s possible?” or “we’ll take that offline” every 5-7 minutes. If someone interrupts you, angrily whisper “I’m on a call!”

  • Schedule in breaks. If you have a bathroom with a locking door and a loud exhaust fan, you can hole away for a good 15 minutes at a time to weep privately.

  • Understand that everyone is going through the same thing. You might feel embarrassed if a child interrupts an important videoconference, but don’t sweat it — that had nothing to do with your eventual firing.

  • Offer a variety of healthy foods. Routine can be crushing if you let it — every day will begin to feel the same unless you mix things up. Try making something different for your children’s lunches each day! Consider options like Peanut Butter & Jelly, Jelly & Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter With Jelly, or Peanut Butter And Then A Short Time Later Also Jelly.

  • Try to recreate some of the fun outside activities you can’t do right now! It’s tough having nowhere to go and nothing to do, but with a little ingenuity, you can recreate some exciting activities in the comfort of your own home. Try setting up your own “escape room” in a laundry room or broom closet!

  • Oh, crap, your job. It’s been hours since you’ve been at your computer. Send an email so it looks like you’re alive. “Is anyone else having trouble with the server today?” Okay, great. Now that that’s taken care of, the children have started a fire.

  • Make it fun! This is a difficult situation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to have some fun with it. Children have vivid imaginations and are able to perceive wonder everywhere. Why not come up with something creative to liven up the days? Tell your children about Gorblox, the invisible demon that lives within the walls of your house!

  • Have a defined time when you stop work. With no commute to break up your day, it’s easy to end up feeling like you’re always on. Make sure to disconnect at the end of the day. Set an alarm for 5pm. There, did you have a nice, productive workday? Of course you didn’t. No one has. Nothing matters. I don’t know what day it is anymore. Flernsday? Is that a day? I haven’t seen another person in weeks. I think it’s Flernsday.

  • Build out the mythology. Everyone knows that Gorblox is 10,000 years old and his glowing red eyes can only be seen at the darkest hour of the night, but did you know that he is awakened by the sound of children arguing? The only way to lull Gorblox back into his centuries of slumber is by quietly eating your cereal.

  • Get some fresh air. [scanning updated CDC guidelines] Nevermind.

  • Make an offering to Gorblox. [worried voice] I think we’ve angered him. We should prepare an offering. The Ancient Book of Screams [holds up phonebook] says that the only thing that will please him is if Daddy gets 30 minutes of uninterrupted quiet time, and also the last of the Pringles.

  • A little screen time is okay. No more than 15 hours a day.

  • Where did Daddy go? Oh, no, Gorblox has taken him! He’s been sucked into a parallel dimension, never to be seen again! The barrier between that world and ours is thin, and it may sound like he’s curled up in the hall closet playing Bejeweled on his phone, but he’s not. He’s in the Gorblox Dimension.

With these helpful hints, you can make this time both productive and fun!

Oh, crap, I think they heard me. [pulls winter coats over head]

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)