I have worked as a full-time stay at home professional for the better-part of 5 years. I willfully made the decision, changing my career so I could make this shift. It has definitely had its fill of bumps, but I’ve learned a lot about how to work from home with a family, and hope that this advice helps you do the same.
First Things First - Shift Your Mindset
Trying to work in a chaotic space is insidious, at least for me. I don’t notice it right away, but after working in a noisy place for a while, I suddenly notice that my blood pressure is high, my brow is furrowed, and I feel grumpy. If I stay in this state for too long, it has the potential to ruin my entire afternoon. It sucks.
The thing is, most of those toxic thoughts are about how annoyed I am about my family literally using a living room for its intended purpose. It’s not my family who’s invading my space, I’m invading their space.
It's important that you change your thinking to this, because it helps flip the script - if you're frustrated, you have nobody to blame but yourself. What can you do to improve your situation?
Have a Family Morning Routine
When working from home with a family, the entire family is involved in the routine. You don’t have to schedule down to the minute, but it’s important that you at least have a general idea of what your day looks like.
I’m fortunate enough to have a wife who is a stay at home mom, so she and I tag-team the duties that need done throughout the day, and have fairly clear expectations on who does what. I make breakfast. She makes the coffee. I feed the baby, she homeschools the elder.
If you’re coming from being a daily commuter, you’re going to find that you have as much as a couple of hours that was previously lost in commuting. Redirect that time into something you can do with your family. This is an excellent way to take a break from work, and also gives you some great opportunities to flex your new found prerogative.
Pay Close Attention to Natural “Quiet Times”
As you continue to work out your routine, you’ll notice times where, all of a sudden, the house is quiet. These pockets of time will become your best opportunities to do your best work. Pay close attention to why it’s quiet. What happened before that? What time is it?
Sometimes it will be obvious, such as we just put the kids down for a nap, but sometimes it won’t be so obvious, such as the kids are quietly playing a video game in their room. Either way, you’ll notice patterns in everyone’s behavior, and if you capitalize on these patterns, you will get a natural understanding of when are your best times to work.
Work Early (Or Late)
My most successful days are when I do my most-difficult work while the family is sleeping. The reason why this is so important is because it sets you up for success for the rest of the day - no matter what happens when the family wakes up.
If you got the most-important thing done before your family wakes up, you’ll feel much more relaxed, and will be able to go with the flow. Are the kids really demanding your attention today? No problem, you can play with them because you know you already did the most critical thing today. Does your significant other need a break? Now you can give them a break, because you already did the key thing.
You have to accept that you won’t be able to be perfectly productive every day. Some days, your family will need you more than normal. Some days, your kids will be difficult, and you just won’t be able to concentrate. Hell, some days you just won’t be able to concentrate for no apparent reason.
The most beautiful thing about working from home is that, you have the freedom to figure out how to be productive in your own way, on your own terms. As long as your company knows how to manage a remote team, you’re probably able to do most of your most critical work when the house is quiet.
Set Up, and Tear Down Every Day
One thing that has helped me when working from home, is setting up, and tearing down my laptop setup every day. This routine has a similar effect as driving to, or from work. It creates a small amount of space in-between “work life” and “home life”, where you’re making the conscious decision to start, or stop working.
This started out as a necessity in my home because my desk is literally our kitchen table, but it has become a part of my routine that I have begun to love, and embrace. Setting up the desktop setup is just enough of a barrier to stop me from “checking in” or “doing one quick thing”, unless it’s important enough for me to go through the trouble. As a business owner, that can be really difficult to do.
It’s ironic that my son gets frustrated that I’m working while home. The irony that I work from home because I want more time with my family, and this is what I occasionally hear is not lost on me.
The truth is, I do see my family, and I am fortunate enough to get to spend more time with them than most, however, sometimes it doesn’t feel like that because I have to reject my children when they want my attention when I’m working. It can be exhausting.
What’s even worse, is my children have historically gotten mixed signals from me. This is because sometimes I’m working on something that cannot be interrupted, and other times I’m not. So it feels a lot like “daddy’s mood roulette” from their perspective, and I hate that. To help with this, we instituted a rule that has made a big difference. When Daddy is wearing headphones, don’t talk to him. This has two key benefits.
My family now knows, without question, when I’m available, and when I’m not.
I have found that everyone has become frustrated much less, simply because everyone knows when I need space to work. When my kids see my headphones, they don’t talk to me, unless there’s a problem.
My headphones deaden the noise in the room.
As I write this, I’m literally wearing headphones, and earplugs. This 1-2 punch drowns out almost all noise created by Frozen 2 playing on our TV. If I need to, I’ll also turn on some ambient music, and become 100% isolated.
You have to be consistent with the message. If you’re wearing headphones, it’s zero-tolerance. The answer is “no, I’m not available”. If you are inconsistent with this message, this will not work.
You also have to remember to remove the headphones when you can be interrupted. I usually do this when I’m doing “light work”, such as checking emails, reading notifications, etc.
Stop Working When You’re Done
This sounds so simple, but as a society, we are trained that we put our butts in a chair at 8 AM, and remain in that chair until 5 PM. This is, hands down, the worst thing about traditional office life, and is 100% why I went through everything I did to get out of it.
When was the last time, as an office worker, were you actually productive for 8 solid hours? As-in you sat down, worked, and stopped 8 hours later? How many days in a row did you do it before you found yourself dozing off at your desk at 2 PM? How long before your work started to dwindle? How was your mood?
The 40-hour work-week is bull-crap. It’s unsustainable, archaic, and has no place in the modern office lifestyle. Now that you work from home, you won’t feel as much societal pressure to sit at your desk and stare at cat memes for 3 hours. For the love of god, please flex this muscle.
I bet your company wants you to bring your best work to the table, and if you’re like me, your best work is limited to 2-4 hours of “deep work” before quality begins to degrade.
Embrace that reality. Kick ass on your deep work, send the necessary messages to everyone else, and get the hell out of there. If you do this consistently, you’ll find that you are able to get more done, with more consistency, in less time than you have ever done before.