How to schedule your day and work from home with kids but without distraction

I started working from home in 2013 when we moved back to Colombia. I liked the freedom and control I had over my schedule at first but by January 2020, I was ready to get out of the house. I rented a small office in a co-working space and was getting more done than ever.

Then…well we all know what happened.

COVID19 hit and not only did the co-working space shut down but our eight- and four-year old were now home all day. Since my wife is a nurse, she still worked outside the house and I became Mr. Mom…and was getting less done than ever.

So I set about all the productivity ideas I’d ever read and talked with Zen masters in desperation to find a way to juggle those screaming little bundles of joy with my work. OK, so my conversations with Zen masters were less conversation and more watching YouTube videos on focus…don’t hate.

What I came up with was the perfect strategy for getting my work done while taking care of the kids, and without tying them to their beds!

How to Defeat Distractions While Working from Home

Before we get to the actual schedule I developed, we have to understand what kids at home really are to the work-from-home parent…a distraction.

OK, that sounds horrible but it’s true. A big part of the reason I returned to a dedicated office was the unending barrage of distractions at home, from food to TV and the phone. Some of these you can completely shut out while others (I’m looking at you Michael and Samantha) you have to learn how to work around.

Understanding it this way means if you can learn how to work with your kids at home, you can beat any distraction that comes your way and instantly become…SuperWorker!

A few of the way’s to beat distractions at home include:

  • Strict scheduling – more on this later but setting a time for everything helps you focus and not fall victim to reasoning like, “I know I’ve seen every episode of Bob’s Burgers ten-times over…but maybe today is the day they show a new one.”
  • Give yourself time to relax – scheduling downtime as well as time for light work, reading and exercise helps you focus better during those times of deep work.
  • Earplugs! Not very technical and you won’t find it in any productivity advice but don’t knock it until you try it.

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How to Keep Your Kids Entertained While Working at Home

Dealing with kids while working from home means a combination of smart scheduling and keeping them occupied. One solution is to sit their butts in front of the TV or give them tablets with the YouTube kids app…but I’m guessing you’re looking for a better approach to parenting.

Some of this is going to depend on your kids’ ages, whether they can be sat down with an activity alone or need constant supervision. Look hard enough though and most of these ideas can work for kids of any ages.

  • Puzzles – make sure you’ve got lots of age-appropriate puzzles. Too hard and your kids will give up, too easy and they’ll lose interest.
  • Board games – it helps if you have more than one kid (so if you’ve only got one child…get to it!). If you know another family with kids at home, you might try having the kids rotate between homes through the week.
  • Reading and Writing – our son is in virtual classes but it’s not nearly as much as his traditional schoolwork so we have him read a few pages a day then write a page about what he read.

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How to Work from Home with Kids at Home
How to Work from Home with Kids at Home

A Work at Home Schedule with Kids in the House

Here’s the schedule I worked out to be more productive with the kids at home. The idea is to get a solid seven hours of work in each day. That might not seem like enough if you’re used to an eight- or ten-hour workday in the office but you’ll be amazed at how much you get done when you’re really focused on work.

7am – I make sure to get the kids up so they will be ready to go to bed by eight- or nine-pm. If you’re more of a morning person and want to get up earlier, you can switch the hours up. The idea is to get the kids up, fed and sat down for their first activity by 8am.

8am – With the kids on an activity, I can get in two hours of deep work. This is a great concept of focusing on the most important work you do, the stuff that really moves the needle on your business or job. Don’t even think about answering emails or other ‘shallow’ work here, just that core part of your job.

10am – I talk to the kids for 30 minutes and make them a snack at ten. Giving them time to talk and a little attention helps so they don’t feel neglected when they can’t bother me during work time. I also set up the next activity for them to work on.

10:30am – By 10:30, I’m ready to sit down to two more hours of deep work. There are two huge benefits to scheduling your important ‘deep’ work in these first two blocks. First is you’ll feel great at the end of the day because you’ve always got the important stuff done. Second is if something does throw your schedule out of whack, you’ll have plenty of time to adjust and still get this work done.

12:30pm – By afternoon, you’ve gotten a solid four hours of work done and that stress and uncertainty of being productive enough won’t be an issue. Here I take half an hour to make lunch for the kids and put in a movie for one last hour.

OK, I know a few TV-haters that won’t like this idea. Another activity would work just as well here but remember, you’ve got to plan all these activities as well. One hour of TV or videos a day isn’t going to stunt their brains.

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1pm – Now I’m back to work for one more hour to get caught up on all the busy work that needs to get done. Here I’m checking emails, have any scheduled calls I need to take and just attending to the miscellaneous.

2pm – By now you’ve already put in five hours of work today. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re focused and don’t have to travel to- or from work. I spend the next few hours planning out the next day’s activities for the kids and playing a game with them.

5pm to 9pm – This is my block of time for all the things that makes me…me. I go to the gym, cook dinner, read and spend time with the family. I also make sure the kids get to bed by 8:30 or 9pm.

9pm – I’ll get my last two hours of work done late, working on projects or writing. If you’re more of a morning person, maybe you shift this to early morning before the kids get up. This is some of the most focused work of my day because I know that when I’m done, I can go to bed.

You don’t necessarily have to stick with these exact hours. Just understand that if you really plan and separate your time, you can get seven hours of work in and more done than you can imagine. In fact, you might even find that you get all your work done in five or six hours when you’re not distracted by co-workers or running around the office!

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