Finding a balance as a work-at-home parent

The summer holidays are fast approaching and with them comes the double-edged sword that is having the children around for six weeks

While it is undoubtedly great to spend more time with the little ones, the prospect of keeping them entertained – or at least out of mischief! – is a daunting one.

Like a growing number of parents who either work for themselves or have negotiated flexible arrangements with their employers, I work permanently from home. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is tricky at the best of times as my office also happens to be the master bedroom and nursery, so it’s going to be a tough challenge in the weeks ahead!

That said, I’ve learned a lot in the last year since leaving my stressful old job to become a professional blogger, so here are my tips for finding a balance that better suits everyone.

Write a timetable

Planning your time in advance should help everybody. Set out your working hours and make sure everyone knows when you’re going to be working. Arrange some family days out and, if possible, schedule some breaks that you can spend with them.

I’m planning on taking a couple of half-hour breaks as well as lunch every day. As well as enjoying time with my wife and children, it’ll give me a break from the screen.

Set boundaries

Asking your children or partner to stay out of the way isn’t easy but is a must if you are going to be remotely productive. Your space needs to be a no-go zone during your working hours.

Of course, you may have to be flexible now and then. For example, I’m usually able to work while my daughter has her nap next to me, but am always prepared to take a break if there’s any danger of disturbing her.

Try not to feel guilty

I know this is easier said than done, particularly when you’re in the same building, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about getting your work done. Remind yourself that you’re not actively ignoring your children while working.

Similarly, if you have urgent work to complete and your partner is out, you mustn’t feel bad about putting the kids in front of the TV for a short while. As long as you spend time with them afterwards, no harm will be done!

Get dressed

It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of getting too comfortable when working from home, so it’s important to establish a pre-work routine and stick to it. The biggest temptation – particularly after a bad night with a teething baby – is to work in you pyjamas, but this encourages a lazy mindset and must be avoided!

Get up, showered and dressed and at your work space by the start time you’ve set yourself. This may sound daft, but I always put shoes on too; I already associated the joy of taking them off with the end of the work day, so having them on reminds me of the need to stay focussed.

Be disciplined

Untidy work spaces aren’t normally tolerated by employers and there’s a good reason for this as they can be a distraction. Keep your desk tidy and don’t allow anyone to put things on it.

Similarly, you must avoid the temptation to give yourself “just five minutes” on Facebook. We all know of its ability to pull you in, so close any tabs you don’t need while you’re working.

Don’t overdo it

Without a commute, it’s quite easy to end up working late. It’s a mistake I made quite a lot early on. I told myself that I wouldn’t have been home by the time in question so it was okay to carry on working.

Unfortunately, I ended up overrunning and clashing with the kids’ bedtime routine and that’s a big no. While children need to know that they can’t interrupt your time, it’s equally important to remember that you can’t disrupt theirs!

Reap the rewards

Working from home can be a solitary existence – even if you can hear the kids playing ‘quietly’ downstairs. This makes it even more important to spend some quality time with your family.

The family days out I mentioned earlier are my rewards for keeping my focus and getting my work done. We’ve already planned a few days out and they’re evenly spaced through the six-week school holidays and I’m really looking forward to them.

So good luck to my fellow work-at-home parents. It’s going to be a long summer, but we can do this!

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Guest Thursday, 14 December 2017