Tips to survive (and thrive) while working from home with kids
As someone who has successfully worked from home with young kids for nearly 6 years, I wanted to share my best advice for making it happen. It is a blessing and madness at times, but with the right mindset you can make it work.
The number one reason I love my job is because of how much time it enables me to spend with my kids. Before the pandemic, I picked up my son at preschool everyday at noon and we got to enjoy lunch together before I put him down for nap. I would then continue working until I met my 5 year old at the bus stop at 2:45 pm. My work schedule has complete flexibility and I don’t take that for granted, but this often means I’m making sacrifices to accomplish everything (and I unfortunately have to turn down a lot of projects).
Not everyone has the opportunity to work from home right now. Those of us who do should be grateful despite the inevitable chaos and stress that comes with the territory. The following tips have worked for me over the years and I hope you will find a few takeaways to help you during this challenging time.
First you might be surprised to learn how much my kids were home with me while I wrote Run Fast. Eat Slow. and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. I started writing the first cookbook just after my daughter was born (I wrote the book proposal while I was pregnant). I wrote the manuscript for our second cookbook in 9 months while I was pregnant with our second kid and my 3 year old was in preschool only from 9am to noon. I finished the editing, recipe testing and photoshoots for our second book while nursing a newborn and taking care of a toddler, which was definitely exhausting and required serious organization.
Right now Shalane and I are developing our third cookbook, Rise and Run: Recipes, Rituals, and Runs to Jumpstart Your Day. I was so excited to finally write a book without kids at home that I actually wrote about this milestone in our book proposal. I may have jinxed myself because now both my 2 year old, 5 year old, and husband are home all day. My husband and I are balancing full-time work schedules and home school. We are very thankful for this work during a time when so many Americans have lost their jobs. And we are even more grateful to have part-time help from my mom.
So here are my top tips for working from home with kids. Share this with all your working parent friends! And a huge gratitude hug goes out to all those working the frontline to keep us healthy.
I’ve been blessed with babies who are great sleepers and they usually sleep until 7:30am. I wake up at 5:30am to knock out work (or to run) before the kids get up. I never allow myself to work in the evenings because it disrupts my sleep. I find I’m much more productive if I wake up early and go to bed early. Sleep is especially important right now!
It can be really tempting to try to stay on top of household chores while working from home but this quickly sucks up valuable work time. I don’t let the mess bother me while I’m working. I save all chores like laundry, dishes, and the endless piles of toys for the evenings. I find it’s therapeutic to clean before bed. I’m also grateful for a husband who takes on a lot of the cleaning. He’s used to walking in the door to complete disarray and is a dishwashing champ (especially helpful on days when I’m recipe testing).
Minimize Your Beauty Routine (but get dressed)
My morning beauty routine takes 15 minutes tops. I splash water on my face and put in my contacts and throw on comfy yoga clothes. I tend to wear the same thing everyday, which makes getting dressed in the morning super quick. I run every other morning and right now I’m embarrassed to admit that I usually skip showering unless I’ve run. I also only wash my hair once or twice a week. Ohhh the secret benefits of working from home!
Strictly Limit Social Media
Social media and reading the news sucks up time faster than anything else. It can be really challenging to stay off my phone while working so I leave my phone in a different room. I often don’t respond to non-urgent text messages until after the kids are in bed—sorry friends.
Use Do Not Disturb
I use the Do Not Disturb function on my computer to ensure I’m not interrupted by alerts or email pop-ups while I’m writing. I also only check email a couple times per day or I set aside time to respond to emails in one swoop.
Find Your Focus Quickly
I’ve read productivity books that say it takes an average of 20 minutes to find your focus. I’m often working in short bursts and sometimes only have 20 minutes total time to work. I believe running helps me focus a lot faster (increased oxygen to the brain). I find my focus fast by taking on a short writing task before diving into more detailed work. Use easier tasks as a warm-up to projects that require more focus.
Complete Hardest Tasks First
Most people lose focus, productivity and motivation as the day goes on. I always try to knock out my hardest work first. I write in the mornings and recipe test in the afternoons.
Save Mindless Work for Later
I love that there are parts of my job that my kids can help with like recipe testing and taking photos of dishes. I save the easier parts of my job for when the kids are with me in the kitchen.
Stick to a Schedule
My husband and I wrote out a daily schedule of morning runs, work hours, outdoor adventures with the kids, homeschool time, and more. Right now we are balancing a lot. I set aside my phone when I’m playing with the kids and we stay off our laptops during the evenings. I binge on social media and the news from 8 to 9pm when the kids are in bed. I turn my phone to airplane mode for the rest of the evening so that I can unwind and be asleep by 10pm. It’s really hard to limit my time on my phone right now with social distancing in place, but anytime I sabotage my own rule I end up not sleeping as well.
Designate a Quiet Workspace
Create a workspace that is separate from the rest of the house and ideally not your bedroom. Your home office should be inspiring, comfortable, have good natural light, and be a space you enjoy spending time. I love my office despite the constant clutter of papers. Right now my husband is working from our 1963 vintage camper trailer parked in the driveway. Its freezing in the camper (he has a small space heater) but this keeps us from interrupting each other (and a little separation is good for our marriage!).
I’m more productive on days when I run first thing in the morning. I keep my weekday runs to around 4 miles—quick and easy but beneficial to my mind. Running helps me wake-up and feel energized. I also sleep better when I run at first light (helps set your circadian rhythm). This morning it was snowing outside when I left the house at 7am and I didn’t feel like running, but I know it’s always worth it on the other side. I felt so good when I got back home that I was able to knock out this blog post to share with you before diving in on editing breakfast recipes.
Meal Prep on Weekends
I talk a lot about meal prep on Instagram. Meal prepping on the weekends saves me a ton of time during the week. I block out two hours every Sunday to prep snacks, work lunches and dinner staples. If I have to stop working to cook lunch from scratch I would just end up eating a PB sandwich every single day. We have soup, salads, rice bowls, smoothies, granola, roasted nuts, etc at the ready for quick bites. Taking the time to eat a nourishing and satisfying breakfast and lunch will greatly improve your work productivity. If you let yourself get too hangry while working, you’ll end up getting up every half hour to get a snack—been there, done that, not productive!
I hope this helps those who are working remotely for the first time. Share your best working from home hacks with me on Instagram by tagging me and I’ll repost the best ones.
Top photo by Tiffany Renshaw.
Cookbook photoshoot with a newborn on set.