~by Dayton Uttinger~
Modern technology has enabled businesses to offer working from home more and more, so you’ve likely had the opportunity to decide if working from home is an option for you. On the other hand, you might have realized that a graduate degree is necessary in order to progress in your field, and that remains true for both social science and STEM fields. And whether you’re studying online or simply completing your thesis, your home is often the best place to get work done, provided you have a good Wi-Fi connection. There’s simply fewer distractions and more comfort wearing your pajamas in your favorite arm chair.
However, this entire situation can be ruined when your kids are unexpectedly home for the day. Maybe they’re not even your kids. Whether because of a snow day, sudden teacher in-service or a sick babysitter, you somehow end up with the kids when you’re supposed to be working from home. This is the opposite of an office environment because kids are distracting in multiple ways. They constantly demand your mental and physical energy, especially when they are younger. You might think it’s impossible to multitask to this degree. After all, completing professional tasks can be difficult when you’ve got a toddler tugging on your leg or a third grader complaining that there’s nothing to eat.
So, how are you going to manage this day? Easy: take the day off. Not an option? Less easy, but certainly doable…
What absolutely must get done that day? Make a list of things that are non-negotiable. Then, list out those tasks that you can do mostly on autopilot. These will enable you to multitask to the best of your ability. Is this an ideal situation? Of course not, but listing it out will help you be more conscious of what exactly needs to get done. And you’ll be able to best utilize every moment, whether they’re napping or asking that you “listen” to their squabbles.
Teach Them Independence
If at all possible, engage them in some sort of solitary activity. Or, if they have siblings they can play with, encourage that as well. However, if they have a history of fighting or one of them always ends up in tears, it might be better to keep them separate. There are some ways that you can stop their bickering, but that’s more of a long-term goal. You just need to survive this day.
Alright, but next issue: what can they do that will keep them sufficiently busy without causing a path of destruction?
Any pets? This is a perfect place to start. If there are, then you have an automatic source of entertainment/occupation. Dogs need to be walked, fish need to fed, even cats get social after some catnip. But, of course, be cautious. Canine communication isn’t always obvious to kids, fish feeding can be more complicated than even you realize, and cats’ claws can be more dangerous than perceived. Either the child or the pet might be too fragile for sustained interaction. Use your best judgement to determine what pet activities can go unsupervised.
If there are no pets, some limited TV or computer time is okay, but we know that extended screen time isn’t good for them either. You should go through the obvious options: books, puzzles, board games, tag with their friends or siblings, arts and crafts, etc. However, you should try to tailor the activities to children specifically based on their own interests. If they are particularly active, don’t attempt to sit them down with a long chapter book. It’ll only agitate them, increasing the time you spend watching them and away from work. Similarly, if the child is creative and loves a certain TV character, give them some art supplies to draw their own version of an episode, or ask them to depict what their favorite moment was. There are lots of things that kids can do to keep busy; you just have to be as creative as they are.
If all else fails, and the kids are young enough, encourage some nap time. Use their silence to your advantage, and make sure to be extra productive during this time.
Let People Know
By no means should you use this as an excuse, but it is still a good idea to let your coworkers or group partners know that you might not be available to respond at a moment’s notice. If you have a larger business that you’re working with, you don’t want to send out a company-wide email alerting everyone of your situation. Instead, include a notice on your Google Calendar that you’re out of the office and working from home. Especially if your calendar has been integrated into a company database, interested coworkers can check your schedule if they’re curious, and it won’t flood everybody’s inbox.
On the other hand, if you’re working on a considerably smaller scale, it’s probably easier to directly communicate with pertinent parties specifically. Also, you’re freer to be a little more frank with those individuals, since you probably have a more “family feel.” You can say things like, “Hey, Frank, I’ve got my sister’s kids for the day. I’ll still be working, and you can count on getting X, Y and Z done, but just a heads up.”
Kids are way more distracting than any of your coworkers or fellow students (I hope). But, fortunately, you have a level of control over them. Whether they’re your own children or somebody else’s, getting work done while they’re around is difficult, but can be done as long as you prepare a game plan and tailor activities to those children. Keep them busy, sit down in your home office or armchair, and get to work.
Meet the Author: Dayton Uttinger
Dayton did not agree to the clock that everyone else seems to operate around; she writes by night and barely functions in sunlight. She dreams of changing the world from the comfort of her couch.