Interruptions every 5 minutes. Homeschooling. Sibling fighting. Diaper changing. Butt wiping. WHINING, OH THE FREAKING WHINING. Everything feels like a constant crisis. Oh and you are supposed to be working full time too right now? Riggggghht.
Those of you in this situation right now have been really heavy on my heart. Some families might be enjoying the free time together and lack of a to do list, but I know some of you feel quite the opposite. The feeling that you cannot seem to get anything right, parenting, working, homeschooling, etc. It feels like you are half-a$$ing every single part of your life, because you have no other choice and I get that on such a deep level you have no idea.
4 years ago when Rocky was just 6 months old, I left a job at a university I loved because I desperately needed something more flexible and just different. I wanted to continue to help students and families through the admission process but also be home more with my new baby. So I found a new position where I could do just that, yay! A few days a week, I was still out and about visiting high schools, student appointments, presentations, college fairs etc. But two days a week I did not have a sitter and I was home working and parenting at the same time. My two worlds beautifully blended together, the dream! Yeah no.
I was switching back and forth from parent to employee every 5 minutes, had such a hard time focusing on anything, even just replying to a simple email. My brain was fried at the end of the day with nothing to show for.
It took a lot of trial and error, but I did learn a lot about how to stay sane, productive & present on those days and that is what I want to share with some of you.
Nowadays, I have two savage toddlers and still have work to get done when they are home with me. I can crank out quite a bit of stuff before the girls wake up, during nap time, during their TV time and then using some other tricks. It is not always ideal nor is it an 8am-5pm day by any means, but you can get a lot more done than you think when you are super intentional and focused with the little time you have.
NAME WHAT IS ESSENTIAL.
Your job likely has parts of it that are more important than others, now is not the time to do anything extra. Think about what tasks absolutely have to get done every day and write them down, have them in front of you always. I write mine on a post-it every morning and stick it to my laptop or put it on the kitchen counter. You will be distracted by a million things at home, it is crucial to keep what is important in front of you to make sure they stay front and center in your mind because Mom brain is REAL PEOPLE.
And if your children magically decide to go play by themselves for an hour- you NEED to have that essential list in front of you so you do not end up just staring at a wall or scrolling for 45 minutes.
2. USE SCREENS & SPECIAL TOYS AS A TOOL NOT A FREE FOR ALL:
I know it can feel like the only way to get things done is to have unlimited screen time, TV on all day, and toys scattered everywhere. However, you are probably realizing that this does not work too well. The more intentional you can be, the more bang for your time you can get. Our girls (4 & 2.5) get TV time for an hour at the same time every single day. Because this is ‘special’ and the only time the TV is normally on, they are zoned in. There could be a hurricane outside and they would not budge, it is both scary and awesome. I use this time to crank out an hour of work, usually email, or whatever else I need to get done that day. ESSENTIAL tasks only.
Special toys/crafts that kids can only use for Mom and Dad’s “work time” are clutch. At the beginning of every month I go to the dollar store and pick up $20-30 worth of random crafts and new coloring books etc. If I need 30 minutes of computer time or to make calls, I will give them these “special work baskets” that they only get when mom has to work. I can almost always get 30 -45 minutes with their special toys, sometimes it turns into independent play that lasts for hours which is an even bigger bonus!
3. TIME BLOCK YOUR TASKS:
Okay, so you have named what is essential. You maybe have a few 30-60 minute blocks you have identified when your kids are sleeping, watching a movie, playing with special toys or having independent play time. Now you need to TIME BLOCK your tasks.
For example: From 3-4pm everyday when my girls have their show or movie time, I respond to emails and messages. NOTHING ELSE. I don’t start new projects, I don’t clean my fridge, I don’t scroll social media, I don’t brainstorm ideas. I answer email and nothing else and then if it gets done before my time is up, I can start something else as I see fit. Time blocking essentially just means doing the task at hand for a certain amount of time with high focus.
4. DESIGNATE A WORK SPACE.
Maybe this is the kitchen counter for you right now, maybe it is a closet (me!), but having a designated space helps with focus. Bonus if you cannot see much of your house from that space and get that itch to wipe the counter or fold laundry (this is why my closet office works well for me). This also helps kids with ‘soft boundaries’. Of course you going into your office does not mean they will not fight or leave you alone for 30 minutes, but it does help them have a visual of “Oh, okay Mom is in her work space”. I cannot leave my kids alone and out of sight when I work, but having them see me in my work space is very helpful. Kids don’t know that you have a million things on your mind. They don’t know the difference of you being their mom and you trying to work. The more you can help with just some soft boundaries, the better!
4. LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA.
Mama, your brain is swiss cheese right now. Social media just makes the swiss cheese WORSE. When you don’t set limits for social media or mindless scrolling, It will make you more short tempered, more likely to forget and less focused. I have 30 minute limits on FB and Instagram and my phone tells me when I have hit those limits. When I choose to ignore them, those are the days my brain feels the worst. Limit social media or take it away completely for a little bit, this will help your focus tremendously.
These tips don’t always mean things work out perfectly, but I can still usually get 4-6 hours of solid work in on the days I need to when I don’t have a sitter or my husband here.
And if you get to the end of your day and still feel like you didn’t parent enough, close up the laptop, put away the phone and just read a book to them. There are some days when I look back and think oh my god I wasn’t present with them at all today, then I immediately grab a book. My girls will always say yes to snuggling on the couch and a book of their choice, so that is my marker. If I read to them today, they felt loved. Hang in there Mamas, I see you.