Get things done when working from home (even with kids)

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Working from home can sound fantastic, with all of that freedom and no commute, but it’s not always easy.  Sometimes it can feel impossible. But it’s not. 

Yes, you get to roll out of bed and be at your desk in a couple of steps without even needing to put a shred of clothing on to make a living, which is glorious, in theory. But getting out of bed to get to your desk across the room can be a challenge.

And there aren’t the usual social motivators and interactions that we get in an office, like other people looking busy in their cubicles, serendipitous meetings, or random water cooler conversations. Working from home can be lonely, especially if you live alone.

If you have kids, you may not have enough aloneness. No, you have constant distractions throughout the day. Not that you don’t love your children. You do. But they do have an amazing knack for yanking your attention away from your work when you’re all at home, say, during a pandemic. 

Even before the “shelter in place” order was given, I have been working from home for years and love it, even with our two lovely and very active boys. 

But I need little hacks and tricks to make it work well and help me be more productive.

Here they are. 

Abuse your calendar 

Schedule what you will be doing every day, all day. Seriously.

Use your calendar—hard. When will you be at your desk producing? For how long? When will you have that call with that client, your coworker? When will you eat lunch? Mark it all down. 

Doing this is the digital version of having social expectations except you’ve put it on your online calendar. Doing that gives you just a bit of accountability, at least to yourself. 

If you need that extra boost of fuel, share the calendar with others. It doesn’t need to be with your boss or coworkers. An outspoken friend will do. You know, the one who will call you out and FaceTime you just to make sure you’re at your desk when you said you would be. 

Set better goals 

We often set goals like “get work done,” but that’s not specific enough to be helpful, especially when you’re at home where it’s like the Wild West of working and anything goes because there’s no one watching. So setting the right kind of goals is critical to your success.  

First, you should note what task you want to accomplish or what project you want to start and how much of it, broken into smaller tasks, you want to complete during a block of time in the day. Doing that will revolutionize the way you think about how you spend your time. 

Second, don’t make big goals; make them small and bite-sized, something you can accomplish in an hour or two. Don’t make them aspirational so it’s a challenge to accomplish them. No.

Make them easily accomplishable. That way, you won’t get demoralized and you will feel and be productive.

You’ll be surprised by how much this will increase your productivity.  

Get the bed out of you

Some of us have a hard time getting out of bed. It just happens.

If that’s you, you don’t just need to get out of bed, but you need to get the bed out of you. You need create the social pressure that will break that habit and start a new one.  So do this.

Schedule early morning phone or video calls. 

If there’s a coworker or client or friend that you need to talk to, schedule a video call with them at the beginning of the day.

That will get you out of bed, because no one wants to look like a schlep buried under their duvet with bed head in a professional context. That will force you to at least look presentable from your waist up. 

Sometimes, there’s nothing like embarrassment to get our bodies out of bed. 

For a less shame-driven method, ask your partner or that outspoken friend, from earlier, to make sure you’re up. And you should consider sharing your calendar with them. 

Take breaks 

If you’re a person who loves to work, that’s great. But sometimes it can be to our detriment. 

There are times when you just need to take a minute and relax. You know, do nothing, stare out the window, listen to music, drool, call a friend. Put it in your calendar: “Drool, 2:30pm to 3:00pm.” It can be for an hour or just half that. But do it. 

It replaces the random water cooler conversations and gives our mind’s the reboot that it needs. It’s the breather that provides us the energy to attack our work with a refreshed mind, a new lens, renewed vigor. 

Noise-canceling headphones 

Good headphones are a must, especially if you have a family. Really. 

I love my children but sometimes they are loud. They like to bang on things and run up and down the halls—and SCREAM. And, with schools canceled for who knows how long, any extra tool that helps me focus and get into a flow state is gold. 

These are the headphones I use (affiliate). They are 24 karats of pure goodness. I’ve tested almost all of the other ones and these have the best sound and noise-canceling quality. 

If you’re not a listening-to-music-while-you-work type of person, that’s great. Don’t play music on them when you work. These headphones will give you the silence-is-golden-space you seek.

The noise-canceling feature is magical: They shut out all external sounds, making you feel like you’re on some serene mountaintop with Buddha doing downward dog with him next to a blossoming cherry tree. Really. 

Set your kids’ expectations

It sounds cruel to tell your kids that you need to do work and can’t be disturbed, but it’s actually good for them. 

Our eldest is in kindergarten and he’s insatiably curious and extremely social. We cherish him for it. 

But when I need to work, those characteristics we appreciate aren’t very conducive for me working. He wants to ask me questions about what I’m doing. He wants my attention. He wants to hang out, even when I have my golden noise-canceling headphones on (which don’t block out his tapping on my shoulder, by the way).

So I talk to him about work and let him know that when I have my headphones on, Daddy is trying to focus on something. It’s not a one-time conversation, but it happens far less now. 

We also gave him his own work, which includes writing and reading and math lessons that he does while mommy and daddy tend to their tasks. 

Closing thoughts about working from home

Many of you may be working from home for the first time. And it’s not easy to get into it in the beginning. But after you use some of these tools and figure out others that work well for you, it is one of the best ways to maximize your time and gain unparalleled freedom. 

Yes, these are extraordinary times. But they are also an opportunity to learn new skills and expand your ways of working. 

For more information about working from home, check out Remote: Office Not Required, a book about working remotely (affiliate). The founders of Basecamp, the project management tool, wrote it. They allow their entire team to live and work wherever they want. 

But no matter where you’re working, whether in cubical or in your undies at home, I hope you grow every day. 

And most importantly, stay safe and well. 

Lots of love,

John


 

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