The coronavirus pandemic has shifted our normal way of life, especially when it comes to work. People are being forced to either work from home or are being let go from their jobs all together. Childcare and schools are shut down for weeks or months leaving parents to figure out how to work from home with a toddler underfoot.
Now that you’re working from home, you thought it would be sunshine and rainbows. I mean you’ve dreamed of being able to work from home and be with your kids more, right?
But then you realize that having a toddler all day isn’t exactly something you’re used to and adding work in the mix is making it even harder.
Normally, you see your little one for this many hours on the weekend when it’s more relaxing and the goal is to just hang out with them. However, now that you want to actually get some work done, you quickly realize that managing both mom duty and being productive isn’t going to be as easy as you’d thought.
This is exactly what happened to me when I started working from home in 2018. I wasn’t prepared for that transition from working with adults all day and having dedicated time to work on things to having to work on projects while being interrupted a million times a day and balancing work time with playtime.
Eventually, I figured out some strategies that allowed me to get more done, feel good as a mom and, most importantly, keep my sanity in the process.
Here are the 6 strategies I used that can help you make working from home with your toddler much less stressful for both of you.
Create a routine
So I’ll be the first to say that I kind of rebelled against a routine when I first started working from home. Something about having to work in a 9-5 for years and years doing what other people tell you when they tell you makes the idea of being free feel really good. But being free from a job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a routine.
The big difference is that you’re the one in charge of the routine for your life instead of someone else creating it.
Trust me. I learned the hard way. Sure you think you can just wing it or do whatever you feel like when you feel like it. But trust me when I say that not having a routine means you’ll get little to nothing done.
When your toddler finally takes a nap, you won’t feel like working but instead, you’ll justify that you need some “me” time as well and deserve to watch the latest episodes of New Girl on Netflix. Next thing you know, it’s Friday and you look back at your week wondering why there are projects half-finished and some that went untouched altogether.
Where did the time go? Out the door. That’s where.
This is where your routine comes in.
Having designated work time is going to help 1) train your brain to this new norm of working from home and 2) force you to work diligently in those moments and not constantly be “trying to work” but never get anything done.
For your routine , put on there working, household duties and anything else that you feel takes up large chunks of time and is important to you.
Plan on working in 15-30 minute chunks of time
When you had your full-time job, you basically had all the time you needed to work on whatever project was in front of you in peace and quiet. A big adjustment working from home with a toddler around is that you no longer have the luxury of having hours upon hours of uninterrupted work time.
Reality is that you might get 15-30 minutes chunks to work on something. If you’re hoping for an hour of uninterrupted work but you’re not getting it because every time you try to start working, your child is asking for a snack again (how many snacks can this kid eat!?), then you’re going to get impatient and aggravated. No need to increase your stress level.
The better option is to plan out 15-30 minute work times. To optimize your time, create a list of tasks that you can get done during those chunks of time so you can make sure you’re productive as well.
Give tasks to occupy your toddler for that amount of time
If you are wanting to work for 30 minutes, then give your toddler a task that can (or at least has the potential to) last 30 minutes. I’m personally a fan of independent play because it fosters imagination, independence, and problem-solving so that’s a favorite choice of mine.
Another option that I like to use is watching TV. I know that’s not one you normally hear but I’m 100% ok with my child watching TV sometimes (but not all day). My thing is that I just want the content to be educational. For ideas, check out this list of educational shows for toddlers on Amazon Prime I put together. You can feel good about having your toddler watch these.
I also think it’s good to let my son know that he can do something fun, like watch tv, while mommy works so that he doesn’t think every time I’m working, it’s me ignoring him.
Take advantage of nap time, but…
This is the golden time of a work at home mom’s day. The temptation will be to relax yourself during nap time, but you must resist. Use this time to either catch up on household stuff OR get big projects done that require longer bouts of time.
Here’s a pro tip: don’t count on nap time to get work done. Yes, you can get a lot done during this time, but if you are counting on it and your child decides they don’t want to nap or are hard-headed about napping, then it’s just going to get you all stressed out again. So I learned to count nap time as extra but don’t count on it being a sure thing.
Wake up early or stay up late for quiet working time
Most work at home moms will tell you that this is crucial to their success.
Waking up a few hours before anyone else in the house might feel like a daunting task when sleep is so precious, but it’s seriously great for work time. As I write this post, it’s 5:30 am and I still have another 2 hours before anyone is even stirring in the house. Not only is it quiet so you can have focused work time but first thing in the morning (with the help of some coffee of course), your brain is ready to go.
If waking up early feels impossible for you, then staying up late is also an option. While it’s easier to do, it has the risk of being less productive. At the end of the day, you’re exhausted from everything the day held so trying to sit and write can be hard. One thing you can do though is try to do things that don’t require as much concentration at night.
There’s no right or wrong here. If you’re a night owl, then go with it. If you’re a pumpkin by 9 pm, then go with it and wake up early (by 4 am that means you’ve had 7 hours of sleep by the way).
Shift your expectations
How we think about our situation is going to dictate how we show up. Like I mentioned above, if you’re expecting life as a work at home mom to be really easy where you get to work all day while your toddler quietly entertains himself with playdough and building blocks, then you’re in for a rude awakening that will make you cranky and stressed.
Shift your expectations and things will go much smoother.
Don’t expect to be able to work all day or at all during the day. Consider any time you get to work as a bonus.
Know that your child is still a toddler. They aren’t out to ruin your work efforts, and despite what it might feel like, they don’t try to push every button you have. This is part of why you wanted to be at home with your child; so you could spend time with him so do it.
During the day, your job becomes Mom. That shift in perspective was a game-changer for me. It will help so much because you will go from feeling like your child is an interruption to feeling like they are your work (not in a bad way).
Your job is to play with blocks in the floor, make snacks and go on walks with your toddler. If you were trying to work, then these would be distractions, but if your job is mom, then you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing.
Your stress level will go down for sure because you won’t be stressing over what work you’re not doing. Being mom is your work during the day. This goes back to the routine I mentioned earlier. Work time is for work and then you don’t worry about it while you’re being mom and vice versa.
A big mistake I made when I first started working from home is that I was essentially at home working while ignoring my son all day. Not that I wasn’t watching him, but instead I would constantly give him stuff to do so that I could work. I thought I needed to hustle my way to success this way.
Then one day I realized that if I was going to be at home with him, I had to stop prioritizing work over him or I was going to teach him that work mattered more and that was a big part of why I wanted to come home in the first place; because he mattered more than any career.
Besides, I wasn’t there to just co-exist making sure he was alive. That was worse than sending him to daycare all day. At least there, he didn’t see me working all the time. I was at home to spend quality time with him and impact how he was experiencing each day, so I needed to do that.
After implementing these strategies in this post, I started to enjoy my life as a work at home mom way more. I was less stressed, enjoying time with my son and getting stuff done in my business.
I hope this list helps you do the same. Doing these things will allow you to work on your business with a toddler at home and keep your sanity in the process. It’s all about our thinking around it and combining that with awesome strategies for making it happen.