With many people now working from home, work-life balance has taken on a whole new meaning. Here’s how to boost work-from-home productivity (and avoid killing your kids!)
At Sassy Mama Singapore, almost everyone on our team is a parent, and since the site launched back in 2013, working from home has been the norm. Working from home affords tremendous flexibility – you can interact with your kids more during the day, you can be around to deal with handymen or aircon servicing, you can take your dog for a walk – but it also has its drawbacks, such as feeling isolated, lacking that office culture camaraderie and brainstorming, and of course endless distractions…from your kids, handymen and aircon servicing, and so on!
As more and more people start working from home to ensure social distancing to fight the spread of Coronavirus, we thought it would be a good time to share our top tips for working from home, particularly when you’re working from home with kids underfoot. From what to wear to fitting in workouts and knowing when to call it quits, read on for our hard-won work-from-home wisdom!
Make lists! I start each of my weekdays by creating a list of the things that I want to accomplish that day, both work-related and personal. Once I have my work list done I identify my top three priorities for the day and tackle those items first and plan/schedule my day around them. This way if I only get to those three things I still feel a level of accomplishment. Working from home can come with a ton of distractions. When a distraction comes up (like a pile of laundry, or realizing my aircon servicing is overdue) I add it to my list and get to it later vs. letting it distract or derail my day.
Clean up by 8am
It’s best to have a morning routine, but sometimes, like it or not, my little one will dictate how my morning goes with her mood swings. Whatever the circumstance, I like to tell myself to be ready for work by 8am! After dropping her at childcare I’ll do whatever I need to do – wash the baby bottles, make the bed, morning stretches or meditation – all before a set time. I find it easier to get to work mode after.
Calls in the morning: I try and schedule all my calls in the morning so I don’t have to rush them when I need to go and pick up my kids or when they are home.
Take small breaks
Sometimes I can get uninspired or stuck with my design and illustrations. It helps when I take small breaks in between to declutter my mind. Unlike working in the office where you can just turn to a co-worker for quick input, working remotely or from home can be isolating. Whenever I’m out of ideas, I’ll leave my desk for a while, go out to water my plants or make myself a cup of coffee. Staying in one position for long hours can be tiring.
Decide what time you’ll just absolutely stop working
For me this is 5pm on some days and 6pm on some days. At that point in time, I usually would have handled anything urgent and the rest can simply wait! This is now precious time for mommy to be with her kiddos. Sometimes this just means I’m sitting opposite my daughter while she has her dinner and we just chat, or she’ll maybe quiz me about the latest pop songs.
Gear, Tools & Equipment
Get yourself a monitor: I have a 13-inch laptop (ie small!) so plugging it into a monitor has been a gamechanger! Of course then you need a keyboard and a trackpad or mouse, but it makes my work so much easier. It also means I mostly use the desk rather than trying to work from the couch or bed.
Headphones can be key: If my kids are being super noisy in the same room as where I work or getting on each other’s nerves, I switch from speaker mode to putting on my noise-cancelling headphones and then, zen…..
Have a work playlist: Whatever gets you in the mood to work, play it! I like to listen to lounge music while working or if I’m in a mood for a solo sing-a-long, I’ll listen to my throwback 90s playlist. Who doesn’t love a little bit of young Britney and N’Sync?
Diffuse essential oils to help keep you focussed: Peppermint or ready-made blends such as COMO’s “Invigorate” or Aesop’s “Anouk oil burner blend” are some of my favourites. A yummy smelling work space lifts my mood and makes me want to stay put!
Ensure you have enough (day)light to keep your mind alert: If possible and space allows, try and set up your workspace against / near / close to a window so that you can benefit from daylight. If that is not an option, buy a bright enough desk or floor lamp – preferably with a dimmer!
Try and keep your workspace tidy so as to calm your busy mind. A vase of fresh (or dried) flowers, a picture frame, “artwork” created by your little one(s) are much more pleasing for the eyes than a big pile of paper or other family members’ admin.
Health & Wellness
Posture: When you’re at home by yourself it’s easy to end up working in positions that just wouldn’t fly in an office. I often find I’ve crossed my legs and am sitting on one foot while hunched over my keyboard. I’m resorted to sticking up post-it notes reminding me to watch my posture. My physio told me that she’s already seen lots of people who are suffering from neck and shoulder problems after working from home!
Treat exercise like a scheduled class: You know how when you belong to a gym it can be cutthroat competitive signing up for classes and ensuring you get a spot? When you work from home self-scheduled exercise (like going for a run, or doing Yoga) can easily fall by the wayside as you say “I’ll just send this one other email” or “Oops have to go pick the kids up now!” Suddenly it’s 6pm and you’re still sitting there in your gym clothes. Block out exercise time on your schedule, let co-workers know, and don’t feel bad about it!
Take a mental health break! In the afternoons when I start to feel a bit sluggish I take a 10-15 minute mental recharge break. I love doing the Calm App’s Daily Calm Guided Meditation. It always leaves me with an energy boost.
Exercise around your kids’ schedule: My 3-year-old recently started preschool so my trigger to exercise is when my helper leaves to pick her up. I know then that I have a certain amount of time where I won’t be needed or interrupted, so I can swim or do yoga without any distractions. It’s definitely helped having a set time to exercise and I’m motivated not to put it off so that I can be home before she gets back from preschool to tell me about her day.
Stay hydrated: I always keep a bottle of water next to me and refill it when it is empty, if I don’t I just forget to drink!
Give yourself little treats through the day
I take little 10-minute breaks for coffee and for a cuddle with my baby boy. It’s really hard because he’s RIGHT THERE at home with me and I can hear him hanging out with my helper and he desperately reaches out for me when he sees me and cries when I leave. Breaks my heart in pieces, but this relates to my point about setting a definite end time.
Meal plan for lunch and snacks! I am really good with planning the week’s dinners out ahead of time but often forget about lunches/snacks. On the days that I don’t plan ahead for what I am going to eat for lunch I find that I “waste” time scrolling through food delivery services or popping out to go to the grocery store or pick up takeout. Planning ahead also ensures that I make healthier choices. I also recommend not eating lunch at your desk in front of your computer. A change of scenery and a 30-minute break for lunch to watch a show or listen to music pays productivity dividends later in the day.
Have go-to lunches:
My go-to lunches rotate between the following
– soup with garlic bread
– salad meal
Then there’s the occasional leftovers and/or sometimes the indulgent Deliveroo meal if I’m just craving something. But the above are things you can put together real fast. I love to batch-make soups and freeze them, or even get frozen soups (prepared fresh, so not canned). And I always keep my salads varied so I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing everyday. Follow this Twitter account for inspiration: @randomsaladboi – it’s literally a Random Salad Generator LOL!
Get dressed! When you work from home it can be easy to stay in your PJs all day or way past the morning time. I find that getting dressed each morning helps my brain transition into “work mode” vs. “lounge mode” mindset and sets me up for productivity. Plus it helps keep those occasional lazy stay-in-PJs-all-day weekends feel luxurious and special.
Wake up and put on gym clothes: If you do plan on working out/going to the gym at some point during the day, wearing your gym clothes from the start creates one less hurdle for when you’re ready to exercise, I find, because you won’t have to drop everything to go change. Plus it’s motivation to get it done so you can shower!
Dealing with kids: My kids are 7 & 3 and don’t always understand why I can’t play with them. We don’t have the space for a dedicated study so my desk is in the living room (my husband has claimed the bedroom as he has more frequent conference calls) so they have access to me when they’re home. Often everyone ends up grumpy as I repeatedly ask them to leave me alone and they repeatedly ask for me to play with them. I’ve found it’s easier to take a 10-minute break and give them my full attention rather than put up with the constant interruptions. They are usually more understanding then about me having to go back to work.
Kids’ interruptions: Kids will be kids and they will want to see you and chat to you if they know you are home regardless of the fact that you are working. So I told them that they can always come to me unless I am on a call. Then we chat for a while, I answer their questions and the majority of the time I manage to send them away after a few minutes. Banning them completely would be impossible. On a related note, Screen time: Setting up clear times when they know they can access iPads or watch TV will save you a lot of interruptions and nagging that can literally drive you nuts.
Working with a fur friend: I love working from home because it allows me to care for my puppy without worrying about rushing home to let her out but sadly telling her “I need 5 minutes to finish an email” doesn’t compute. Getting her on a routine has helped tremendously in scheduling my time. She is pretty chill during the day but come 3-4pm her internal clock goes off and she is a ball of energy who is ready and expects her afternoon trip to the park. I also keep a Kong filled with peanut butter on hand in the freezer to distract her in case she gets antsy while I am on a conference call or trying to focus on a project. If she seems to be asking for attention and I am about to pop on a call or start a task I’ll make sure to play with her for 10 min or take her down for a quick break so that she feels content and lets me focus on what I need to do.
Stay Online: It’s important to connect with someone even when you’re working from home! Have someone you can chat online with while working so it doesn’t feel like you’re doing this alone – you’re not. Share funny memes or outside of work topic with a close friend or colleague occasionally.
Do Work or Be With Your Kids, but don’t try to do both: Honestly I am totally guilty of this and try to get away with it more often than I should, and it usually ends up biting me in the butt. Each day around 5pm, our amazing helper will go into the kitchen to cook my kids’ dinner. Maybe 25% of the time they will play happily and quietly in the living room while I sit on the couch working away at my laptop and keeping a loose eye on them, and everybody’s happy. The other 75% of the time? They’re getting into physical altercations over MagnaTiles, or pulling the dog’s tail, or opening the fridge and trying to take juice out. And I end up screaming at them because I’m trying to send an email and am mad that they’re interrupting me, and then feel massive amounts of mom guilt. You know what? It’s not worth it. It’s better to just shut my laptop, be 100% present with them, and revisit the issue when they’re eating dinner, or after they’ve gone to bed. I realize I’m tremendously privileged to not have to juggle multiple things at one time like so many parents around the world right now, but I might as well take advantage to ensure my kids are happier for it, because isn’t that the point?
What are YOUR work-from-home tips, mamas? Let us know on Facebook or Instagram!
Lead image and Violet Lim image by Irina Nilsson; to-do list image sourced via Pexels; Louise Hill home office, Sabina Munshi and Nura J images by Sugarlight Photography; laptop on dining table image by Steph Adams; Grace Clapham image by Katie Martin-Sperry; home workout image sourced via Instagram; lunch image by Madeleine Shaw; dog image sourced via Unsplash