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Has your productivity gone down since schools closed and you have your kids home full-time? You need these productivity tips!
Working from home while your kids are home is hard. There’s always so much to do, and so many interruptions to keep you from doing it.
But, you really can cross stuff off your to-do list when kids are around. It is definitely possible.
If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to grow my freelance writing business while homeschooling nine kids…
However, being productive with kids in the home takes being intentional. You have to plan to be productive.
And that’s exactly what I’m going to show you how to do. Here are my top ten productivity tips for getting stuff done with kids by your side.
1. Be Realistic
Be honest with yourself for a minute. Are you trying to jam 27 hours worth of tasks into your days?
Or hoping that your five-year-old will sit perfectly still for five or six hours doing school work while you take care of business?
You may be laughing at the absurdness of my examples, but you know that unrealistic expectations abound.
So, the first rule of productivity with kids is to be realistic. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for massive disappointment.
How old are your kids? How many do you have? What other commitments besides keeping your kids alive and well, and your business do you have?
Have you taught your kids to help around the house? Do you expect them to?
How much sleep do you need to be fully rested?
These are all questions that you have to answer to make sure your expectations are realistic. What works for one mom may not work for you, because your household and needs are different.
If you don’t need as much sleep, you’ll be able to work longer than people who have to get eight solid hours. If you have kids who help cook and do chores, you can delegate more tasks from your list.
So, think about where you are now. Don’t make your plans based on where you want to be. Start with where you are and go from there.
Are you asking yourself to do too much?
If yes, what can you cut? Here’s a post with some ideas:
You can do it all, but you can’t do it all perfectly or at the same time. Some areas of your life are going to get less attention some times. And that is perfectly okay.
Now here is one final question to make sure your expectations are realistic. Ask yourself:
Are your expectations for your kids developmentally-appropriate?
Young kids have short attention spans. They really do best with shorter activities and lots of breaks.
But, kids also rise and fall to meet our expectations. They are very much self-fulfilling prophecies, to use the term I learned in teacher college.
So there is a balance, and only you can find it for your children.
Just keep their ages and abilities and interests in mind as you make plans, okay?
2. Don’t Wing It
Winging it is the opposite of being productive. Winging it is when you decide just to do whatever you feel like and don’t intentionally make plans.
You need a plan.
And a backup plan…because having your kids around all day doesn’t always go as you planned in the first place.
Each day, sit down and make a list of your top priorities. What do you NEED to get done?
Tip: Don’t make this list long. 3-4 things is plenty, on top of your normal chores and meals and all that.
Now, once you have your priorities, talk to your kids about them. Keep them in the loop so they know what to expect.
Most kids thrive with some sort of routine. Find something that works for your family, and go for it. Tweak it each day as needed, but keep as many elements the same day after day as possible. You will all get much more done.
Here’s a deeper look at how I handle planning:
Once a week, make sure you look at the week in advance. Pay attention to any important due dates, appointments, or Zoom meetings you may have. Those will take some extra planning to make happen, so you don’t want to forget about them until the day of.
As you’re creating a plan for your time, also create one for your meals. You’ll stress less and spend less time in the kitchen if you don’t have to stand by your cupboards trying to figure out what to make.
It’s the perfect time to let your kids take over some of the meals. Younger kids can usually handle sandwiches or Lunchable style meals…older ones can do even more.
3. Bribe Your Kids
This one might shock some of you, but I don’t care. It’s honestly a great way to boost your productivity with kids in the home.
And if you think about it, you get a lot of your work done because you’re bribed as well…turn that assignment in on time? Get paid.
Do the work. Get the reward.
So obviously, I think bribing has gotten a bad rap in the parenting world. But I also know that it can be taken too far.
Kids should do some things around the house just because they need done. There’s no doubt about that. That’s why each of my kids have morning chores and table chores they are responsible for.
But, even with those, there is a certain amount of motivation involved, because certain privileges in our home are only unlocked as chores get done.
So now that you have a better understanding of where I’m coming from when I say bribe your kids, here are some specific ways it plays out in my home:
- Pick up 25 things and put them away and you can pick a piece of candy
- Fold the laundry and put yours away and you can earn 15 minutes on the Nintendo Switch
- Keep an eye on the little guys while I’m in this phone meeting and if everything is good when I get done, we’ll go outside and play for a while before I get back to work
- If anyone wants to clean the garbage out of the van, I’ll give you $0.50
For my kids, I bribe them when I ask them to do something extra or bigger than they normally would be responsible for. And I let them know clearly what they are going to get when they are done.
It’s never anything big. Or expensive.
But, it is a little something to say thank you, I appreciate what you did.
So don’t feel guilty about bribing your kids. It can work wonders!
4. Engage Your Kids
You can’t just leave your kids to their own devices and pray that everything goes smoothly. I can promise that you won’t like the decisions they make.
When I try to just go do something really quick without taking time to prep the kids, I have found:
- Flour dumped on the kitchen floor for toy cars to drive in
- A naked toddler climbing on the table
- An empty bag of chocolate chips
- Fighting siblings
And much more. I could give you example after example of how things go downhill fast if I don’t take the time to engage my kids before I go work.
But, I won’t. Instead, let me encourage you.
Always engage your kids and make your expectations clear.
Go over the following:
- What are your kids going to do?
- Where are they allowed to be?
- What noise level is acceptable?
- How long will they need to do this activity?
- What happens if they get bored?
- Who can they do the activity with?
- Are they in charge of anyone?
It seems like a long list, but it will become habit. Soon you won’t even have to think about it.
And the more often you spell things out clearly for your kids, the more likely they are to make better choices on their own if they’re presented with another opportunity.
Quick note: Your kids won’t need this much oversight forever. They really do grow up so quickly. But, you know your kids best. Don’t give them choices and responsibilities they aren’t ready for.
Make a list of activities to engage your kids. And set them up for success while you get some work done.
Then they won’t be making more work for you while you’re busy with something else.
Here are some posts that can help:
Once you have a list, help each of your kids pick an activity before you start working. Help them get out the materials they are going to need. Set clear expectations.
And then, sit nearby if possible. Your presence is a great deterrent against unfavorable behavior.
5. Have Quiet Time
You and your kids will drive each other crazy if you don’t spend a little time apart. That’s why we have a 90-minute quiet time each day.
The kids need some space. I need some space. And it’s an awesome time for me to actually get a lot of focus work done.
Set rules for quiet time, and make it a routine. You want your kids to enjoy this time and look forward to it, not dread it so much they fight you each day.
Here are some of our rules:
- Littles take a nap
- You must pick an activity or two that can be done in one place
- It’s quiet time, so be quiet
- If you have school work left, you must finish that first
- Stay in your space
- Use your items respectfully
- If you break the rules, you go to bed for the rest of quiet time
That last one? That helps so much. My older kids do not want to go to bed. And they know that I’m serious about it. They have all been sent at one time or another.
So, what do we do during quiet time?
I typically put on a movie that lasts at least ninety minutes. My kids who are just starting to outgrow naps often fall asleep if I set them up on the couch with a blanket and pillow and put on a movie they’ve seen a bazillion times already.
Kids can also:
- Build with Legos
- Work on a hobby
- Have free play in the playroom
- Set up the car rug and build a city around it
- Read a book
- Take a nap
- Cook something (if it can be done safely and they can clean up)
On their “day” of the week, my kids also get 1/2 an hour of video game time during quiet time.
What do I do during quiet time?
Typically, I work during quiet time. I may:
- Write a blog post
- Do client work
- Update my business records
- Do research
- Pitch for new gigs
- Plan my content calendar
- Work on updating my course
But, sometimes I use quiet time to refresh. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I don’t plan on working for the whole time. Instead I might:
- Read a book
- Take a nap
- Go for a walk (if my husband or one of my older kids is home to hold the fort)
- Watch an episode of something
- Play a game on my phone
- Surf the social media
- Listen to a podcast
By having a list of tasks for work, and self-care tasks, I don’t have to stop and think when quiet time rolls around. I can just get straight to whatever I’ve decided to do.
6. Schedule Family Writing Time
When you and your kids are all working quietly, it’s an amazing thing. You can really get productive when there’s not a lot of noise.
I put a Family Writing Time into our schedule several times a week. During this time, everyone in the family works quietly on something.
Then when the timer beeps, we clean up and share what we did with the family.
It’s been a great way for me to get another 30 minutes of work time into my days. And the kids really love this time. The sharing time is so fun.
To learn more about Family Writing Time, here’s a book I wrote:
You can also see a quick overview in this post:
7. Delegate Some Tasks
You are not the maid of the home. You are the mom. And you absolutely should not be doing everything.
You must delegate. Because the more you take off your list, the more productive you can be.
So, make a cleaning schedule and assign chores to your kids. It will take time to teach them. But, the benefits are definitely worth it.
I use the I Do, We Do, You Do method for teaching. That means I have the kids watch while I walk them through the chore step by step.
Then the next time, I ask them to help with some parts. We continue doing it together, as I slowly back down and let them take over more and more.
Then, I watch them do it while they walk me through what they are doing.
Once I’m confident they can do it correctly and safely, I let them do it. And then I just check in to make sure it’s going okay.
I always redo chore charts in July, when we aren’t homeschooling. That way I have more bandwidth in my day to teach new chores.
Then, my kids keep the same chores for a year. Then I’m not constantly having to teach new ones.
It works well for us. You might need to find your own schedule to work through.
But, stick with it and expect your kids to help.
As you’re delegating, you can also think of ways that your spouse can help you. Here’s a post exploring five ideas:
Delegation doesn’t only happen with people in your house. If you’re running a business, you can delegate business tasks as well throughout out-sourcing.
I’m a virtual assistant, and I take many tasks off of my client’s plates. That way they can focus on what they are good at and I can do the parts I’m good at.
We’re all more productive because we aren’t constantly overloaded with tasks we find draining.
Taking things off your plate is a good thing. So brainstorm ways to make it happen. Who else can do things?
Start making it happen.
8. Write Things Down
If you’re constantly relying on your brain to remember things, your productivity is going to go down. Your brain power will be absorbed by thinking and remembering and not on doing.
Do yourself a favor and write things down. It’s one of the best productivity tips I have. But, I have to keep reminding myself as well.
I love my Clever Fox planner for this. I can always tell on weeks when I haven’t made time to write plans out, because I always end up way more stressed.
So make it a habit. You are not wasting time when you plan.
Get things out of your brain and onto paper. You will see your productivity soar!
9. Don’t Waste the Moments
When you’re trying to be productive with kids around, your time isn’t likely to come in huge swatches. Instead, you’ll be dealing with moments.
You might look up and suddenly realize that your kids are voluntarily playing a game together.
Or that your kids are all playing nicely with Legos.
No matter what causes the moments, you will have them. You’ll find little chunks of time (typically 5-15 minutes) where you can get something done.
Another one of my productivity tips for you? Don’t waste those moments.
They are fleeting and your kids will interrupt you again before you know it.
So, have a plan. Make a list.
On your list, write down any tasks that:
- Can be completed in a small chunk of time
- Could be interrupted without problem (ie not focus work)
I break my list down by time commitment. That way I can quickly select an activity that I think will match the number of moments I have.
Here are some ideas for ways to use small moments for your business:
Two Minute Tasks
- Delete some emails
- Unsubscribe from an email list you no longer benefit from
- Pin a couple of pins from a group board to share the love
- Take a picture to use in social media or a blog post later
- Follow an influencer
Five Minute Tasks
- Download some creative commons photos for upcoming posts
- Brainstorm blog post ideas
- Outline the main points for a post
- Respond to a quick email
- Leave a comment on a post in your niche
- Update a template to create an image for a post
- Skim your notifications on Facebook
- Use a social media scheduler to schedule some posts
Ten Minute Tasks
- Research one topic for an upcoming post
- Draft a pitch
- Update your writing resume
- Finish a lesson in a course
- Update an old post to include a new image and more information
- Check your stats to learn more about where your traffic is coming from and use this information to create a quick plan of action
And here are some ideas for around the home:
Two Minute Tasks
- Sort the laundry or throw a load in
- Pick up all the _______ on the floor (I’d currently say shoes in my house!)
- Make a bed
Five Minute Tasks
- Load or unload the dishwasher
- Run to the basement and dig through the freezer to find the meat you need for dinner
- Review your meal plan to make sure you know what you’re eating
- Print coloring pages so your kids have them to use for Family Writing Time
- Fold a load of laundry
Ten Minute Tasks
- Give the baby a bath
- Throw something in the crock pot or dutch oven for dinner
- Clean the bathroom
- Organize a drawer or cupboard
Make yourself a similar set of lists. Then, when you have time you can pick something and go. The less you think, the more productive you can be.
10. Take a Break
Staying productive when you have kids at home is a challenge. It’s constantly juggling work and kids and home.
And you may feel like you aren’t succeeding at anything.
If you’re feeling down, your productivity is going to stink.
So sometimes the best way to boost your productivity is to take a break. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not.
Your brain needs a chance to rest and recharge. To enjoy life and not constantly be fretting.
If you feel like you just can’t, stop. Go take a break.
Play with the kids. Put your feet up and watch a movie.
Relax. And stop stressing.
If you can swing it, take a solid two days off from your business. If you can’t, only do the absolute essentials. Let everything else go.
When you come back to it, you will often have a better attitude. And you may just be surprised at how quickly you’re able to work with a fresh mind.
Breaks are a good thing. You are not designed to work all the time without rest.
So make sure you have the boundaries in place that you need to make breaks a regular part of your life.
Note: Breaks are good for kids too. If they’re having a hard time with school and just can’t, let them take a break. You might be amazed at how much better they do when they come back.
Breaks are not a sign of failure. They do not mean you aren’t hustling hard enough.
They are you giving your brain a chance to chill. And reflect. You can’t do that when you’re constantly in go mode.
A break can help boost your productivity like nothing else can…
Productivity Tips When Kids Are Home
There you have it, ten tips to help you be productive with kids home.
And for even more help getting work done with kids in the home, check out my course, Balancing Diapers and Deadlines. It equips you with the systems and tools you need to get more done as a busy mom.
Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.