How to Stay Focused When You're Working from home with kids
Two young boys making faces to illustrate how distracting it can be working from home with kids

How to Stay Focused When You’re Working from home with kids

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Don’t want to read 100’s of words about staying focused working from home with kids? No worries. You can listen to the podcast OR scroll all the way down for the video.

It’s that time of year again. Back to school!

In a normal world, school starting up brings a bit of relief to working parents. But, we aren’t in a normal world right now.

This past week I brought all of my kids out onto the sidewalk to take our traditional “first day of school” pictures. And, as soon as we were done, they marched right back inside the house to begin school…from home…on their laptops.

Working from home with kids || My daughters on their first day of school

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. They’re great kids. The best, maybe.

But, right now, like a lot of us, I’m working from home. Them going to school from home while I’m ALSO working from home brings a level of complexity, and let’s just say it, craziness.

Working from home with kids who are going to school in the room right next to you makes it very difficult to stay productive and focused. In fact, most times it feels downright impossible.

My Struggles Working from Home With Kids

I’m a get things done kind of dad who doesn’t view my kids as an obstacle to my goals in life. I pride myself on being able to be super productive with only small amounts of time available. I’ve even written about how to learn web design as a busy dad.

But, this season is an entirely different monster.

I have never faced something that has challenged my productivity and focus like this. Working from home with kids who are also trying to learn the anatomy of a cell or how to subtract double-digit numbers is a beast.

Thankfully, through some trial and error, there have been a few tricks I’ve learned that have helped to alleviate some of the stress that is a natural bi-product of working from home with kids.

You might be in a similar situation desperately trying to find the brain space to get work done with both your boss and your 7 year old breathing down your neck. Don’t worry help is on the way.

Defining the Problem

The first step to find a solution for any complex problem is to define what the problem actually is.

You might think this is simple in this situation BUT HOLD ON A SECOND. Every problem has layers to it. And, getting to the root of the problem is always a bit more difficult than what’s on the surface.

Think about a fight you’ve had with a friend or spouse. The thing you’re arguing about isn’t really the thing you’re arguing about.

The argument might appear to be about taking the trash out when it’s full BUT really the argument is about being appreciated or respected.

The same is true in this situation.

The problem isn’t just simply that working from home with kids is hard.

Internal and External Challenges

This problem has two components to it:

  1. The internal component
  2. The external component

The external component is the obvious one. You’re trying to get work done and your kids are constantly interrupting you with school related questions.

Most of the time when we face a problem we try to solve it by only addressing the external challenge. THE PROBLEM WITH THAT is that if you don’t face the internal challenge the external challenge will present itself in a different way and you will still get distracted.

Let’s look at social media. It’s really easy to blame Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, etc for why you have a hard time staying on task

The problem with that is there was a long season of time when those things didn’t exist AND YET PEOPLE STILL STRUGGLED WITH STAYING FOCUSED AT WORK.

You know what used to be popular scapegoat for lack of worker productivity?

Solitaire

That’s right. The rudimentary game installed on every single Microsoft computer was blamed for costing the American workforce trillions of dollars in misused work time.

Game of solitaire on microsoft computer

Before people could even imagine working from home with kids they were distracted by other things.

So, if we’re really honest with ourselves, the external challenges are less the issue. It’s the internal ones we have to address first and foremost or we’ll just keep finding different ways to stay distracted.

Solutions for Internal Challenges

There’s probably a lot to the internal challenges we face when it comes to being distracted. And, not all of us will have the same internal challenges.

And, after all this isn’t a therapy session blog.

But, there are a few things I’ve found that can pretty universally help with the core issues of our easily distracted nature.

Self-Compassion

The first is self-compassion.

In Nir Eyal’s book “Indistractable” he talks about how one of the key components to staying focused is self-compassion.

He said this:

“If you find yourself listening to that little voice in your head that sometimes bullies you around. It’s important to know how to respond. Instead of accepting what the voice says or arguing with it, remind yourself that obstacles are apart of the process of growth. We don’t get better without practice which can be difficult at times. A good rule of thumb is to talk to yourself the way you might talk to a friend. Since we know so much about ourselves we tend to be our own worst critics.  But, if we talk to ourselves the way we help a friend we can see the situation for what it really is. Telling yourself things like “This is what it’s like to get better at something,” and “You’re on your way,” are healthier ways to handle self-doubt.”

In other words, go easy on yourself.

Being hard on yourself with productivity only starts this endless cycle of being less and less productive.

Here’s what typically happens:

  1. You get distracted
  2. You feel bad for getting distracted
  3. Rather, than face the pain of having wasted time you avoid working and stay distracted
  4. Start with step one again until you somehow pull yourself out of the cycle

You’ve got to stop the madness! Here’s how.

Common humanity

Common humanity is the idea that all of us are probably struggling with similar things. And, by realizing that we are all struggling with something similar it makes it easy to not be so hard on ourselves.

Let me just reassure you. We are all struggling with productivity.

I’ve not talked to anyone who has said they are crushing it right now with everything going on.

So, take a deep breath. It’s not just you.

There’s something about feeling alone in your struggle that makes it so much worse. And, it makes it easier to have less compassion for yourself.

So, rest easy. You’re not alone.

Watch Your Internal Dialogue

Another thing to work on with self-compassion is your internal dialgue.

It’s estimated that we have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. The National Science Foundation did a study in 2005 that said of those 12,000 to 60,0000 thoughts 80% of them were negative.

That’s as much as 48,000 negative, fearful, self-abasing thoughts per day.

Exhausting.

If you’re going to have more self-compassion you’ve got to change the script.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not an article on the power of positive thinking. I’m of the mindset that if you don’t address a real problem it doesn’t just go away.

The key thing to do here is to first acknowledge the thought and THEN replace it with a better one.

Instead of thinking your distractedness is the root of you having horrible will power think of it as an obstacle that you’re learning from.

Think of it as batting practice for a big game or tournament. Then every moment of distraction is an opportunity to learn and get better rather than some indictment on your value as a person.

The External Issue

Now for the external issue…your kids.

You might think it’s impossible to keep from being interrupted when you’re working from home with kids. After all, they don’t listen to you about putting their clothes in the hamper why would they listen to you about toning down the distraction.

But, be encouraged, there are some simple things you can do to keep your kids on task with their school without needing to interrupt you every 30 minutes while you’re working.

Establish Routines

One of the best things we’ve done to keep our kids entertained is having them create schedules for themselves.

We mainly did this over the past summer.

Rather than have them walk around like zombies all day on their devices we had them come up different things they would do at different times of the day.

This kept them pre-occupied while also giving them some autonomy.

We did have them include certain things in their schedule that involved learning and growing. It wasn’t all unfettered device time. BUT, for the most part we let them choose.

This helped to establish a precedent for how their day would look. They got into their own routines and I was able to focus more on work because they weren’t constantly asking me what they should do.

We are also going to set specific times when the kids can come ask for help. That way we aren’t available at the drop of a hat.

This might seem mean like you’re neglecting your kids BUT trust me kids learn more from struggle than they do you swooping in to save the day.

You’d be surprised what they come up with when you just give them a little bit of space to struggle it out on their own.

Develop Systems

There are two systems we’ve put in place that have been game-changers for working from home with kids.

The first is called the “Before You Ask Daddy Process.”

The first two days of school I noticed that my youngest daughter was coming to me with questions before she had even really thought about it.

That made me realize that she didn’t have a good system for problem-solving on her own. SO, we made one

It looks something like this:

  1. Write down what your question actually is. Doing this helps them pause and really think through what they’re having trouble with.
  2. Think about it really hard for 1 minute. This keeps them from being lazy and not really trying to come up with a solution.
  3. Look for something that can help. A lot of times the answer was right in front of them they just didn’t look. If that’s not the case there’s always Google!
  4. Make an educated guess. At this point, I’m just wanting them to give it a shot. This isn’t pulling something out of thin air. It’s taking what they already know and trying to come up with a solution.
  5. Take a break from the problem. Sometimes a little breather is all you need to figure something out.
  6. Come back to it. After a little bit of time I have them come back to the problem and see if they can find a solution.

Now, when they come to me, the first thing I ask is, “Did you go through the ‘Before You Ask Daddy Process?'” If the answer is no, I send them back out to work on it.

This has reduced the number of questions I get by a ton making working from home with kids WAY more bearable.

Do a Little Prep Work

Finally, a little prep work can go a long way when it comes to working from home with kids.

We made sure to set up our kids work space in a way that would help THEM stay less distracted an on task.

First, we made sure they didn’t have to do their work in their room. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s never a good idea to do your work in the same place you try to sleep.

My youngest daughter's desk for school to show the prep work we've done for working from home with kids

The same is true for kids. So, they each have a dedicated desk and area to do their work in. I also made them a poster board that outlined their schedule for the day and listed out the “Before You Ask Daddy Process.”

They love their space and more importantly it helps them stay on task which makes my life much easier.

Working From Home with Kids Isn’t Impossible

Believe it or not, your kids are under a lot of stress, too.

Think about it. They’re stuck at home with their parents while they’re trying to learn. It’s a bummer for them as well.

So, just as you have self-compassion make sure to show your kids grace as well. Even if you get frustrated with their interruptions, do your best to respond in a loving and gentle way.

When kids feel safe, it’s easier for them to learn and grow which means it will be easier for you to work from home.

So, remember working from home with kids is not an impossible task. Work on having self-compassion and put some things in place that will help your kids learn how to problem solve without you being there to save the day.

In the long run, they’ll be more equipped for life with you and you’ll be able to get some work done.

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Comments

  1. Focus is important but so is managing your personal priorities like kids and family. You’ll have a much better time working from home if you can find the right balance.

  2. Alain says:

    Great post! Congrats! I’m struggling myself with my little 2 years old boy for which we have a routine as well. It’s sort of complicated when they can’t go for the before-you-ask-daddy.

    • Chris Misterek says:

      Yeah, I imagine it’s a bit more complicated when you’ve got a toddler in the house. I think at a certain point, you have to just throw your hands up and say, “This is the best I can do with the situation I have.” And, there’s nothing wrong with that.

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