In wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, millions of Americans unexpectedly have found themselves working from home. Even more difficult, many face the added challenge of taking care of their kids. At Independent Women’s Forum, we’ve been doing this work-from-home thing for a while. In addition to advocating for greater work flexibility for women, we live it. IWF is fully remote, and many of our colleagues are moms who juggle a full-time job and children at home with little outside help.
How do we do it? Here are a few of our favorite work from home hacks. Share yours using the hashtag #WorkFromHomeHacks.
Schedule ahead. When working from home, it can be difficult to separate being “on” and being “off.” To avoid accidentally working from dusk to dawn, schedule your day ahead of time, and don’t solely rely on a “To Do” list. “To Do” lists are great and we highly encourage using them, but also, allocate blocks of time for specific purposes. Moms—this means scheduling in “writing time” or time to work on a big project while the kids are napping or getting their daily screen time allowance. Save short emails for times you can multitask. Then when you’re done for the day, be done. Enjoy some time being “off.”
Carve out 2-3 hours of uninterrupted quiet time. If you’re not able to find 2-3 hours of uninterrupted quiet time during the day when the kids are awake and other distractions are at force, wake up early or stay up late. This will allow you to hammer out work that requires your full attention. It might be a difficult adjustment, but having a few hours with no meetings, calls, kids, TV, or breaking coronavirus news will save you from experiencing stress throughout the day.
Shower and dress up. Create a boundary between work and sleep that works for you. For some, this means wearing similar clothes as you would in the office. But the beauty of working from home is that you don’t have to wear the uncomfortable (and often, unstylish) work clothes! It’s fine to work in yoga pants, as long as they’re different from what you wear to sleep. Get up and put yourself together enough to leave the house. You’ll be amazed the difference it makes.
Set yourself up for your work day before the kids wake up. Another important one for moms—whether it’s showering and “dressing up,” reviewing your meetings and to do lists, or responding to emergency emails, get things done before the kids awake so that when they are fed and settled, you aren’t wasting precious minutes trying to start your day.
Meal prep. If you’re not used to working from home, you probably aren’t used to preparing three meals a day for yourself, plus any snacks. Plus … preparing meals for any kids you have running around. Plan meals ahead of time, and prepare wisely. For example, if you enjoy starting your morning with a smoothie, don’t just make one—make a batch that’s big enough to last you a few days. This will save you a precious 15 minutes or more on a busy morning. And, it will help keep you healthy. For dinners, do the same—cook meals that make good leftovers. (Follow Julie Gunlock for some great suggestions!) And remember: Just because you’re home all day does not mean you have more time to cook. In fact, if you’re unexpectedly taking care of kids while trying to do your full-time job, it’s the opposite. You have less time than you did before. Remember that, and save the complicated recipes for the weekend.
Load up on water and snacks. Before retreating for your quiet time, arm yourself with water, snacks, work materials, and anything else you might need. Avoiding an unnecessary walk to the kitchen for snacks helps avoid getting pulled into a conversation that takes an unexpected 15 minutes. Of course, if your kid really needs you, that’s the beauty of working from home. You can be there in a moment’s notice.
Use evening home chores to plan for tomorrow. While the meal is cooking, take a few minutes to write and prioritize your To Do list. It usually doesn’t take a lot of mental capacity but can help set you up for success the next day.
Take advantage of the mute button. It can be difficult doing conference calls (or in our case, radio interviews) with children and/or barking dogs in the background—the mute button can be a life savior. I once did a radio interview with a crying baby and barking dog in the background, and by strategically unmuting my phone only when it was my turn to speak, the host didn’t even notice. Also: No one wants to hear you typing or sipping down that smoothie in the background on a conference call.
Find ways to socialize, and don’t feel bad about it. If you take a random 20 minutes during the workday to Facetime with a friend, you might feel guilty for slacking off. Don’t. Working from home is socially isolating. It can be very lonely. Everyone needs to develop some coping mechanisms for this. Without coronavirus, that means scheduling the occasional coffee or lunch. In the current crisis, catching up with a friend for a few minutes is just as important. So forgo the guilt. Taking a few minutes here and there to connect with loved ones will make you a better employee, and a better friend.
Give grace. Don’t be demanding of colleagues. They may have childcare situations worse than yours and may not be able to respond as soon as you email or may need to have a task reassigned. The time may come when you’ll need someone to give you grace in return. And most importantly, give grace to yourself. Working from home isn’t easy under normal circumstances, and it’s certainly not easy under these.