How to focus: Proven methods for parents working from home

Whether you’ve been working from home for a while or just thrown into it recently, it can be challenging to say the least!  Learn twelve essential tips for parents working from home.

A lesson on physics was how we started our day.  Our goal was to create a new workspace for my husband who recently learned he needed to work from home. 

parents working from home

With my husband away, my two daughters and I had to determine a way to maneuver our large, heavy, solid-wood TV cabinet from upstairs to downstairs. 

Pure, brutal strength was not going to work. 

Putting our heads together we learned how to push, pull, and leverage gravity to our advantage. 

There was a moment as it was sliding down our stairs toward our brand-new wood floors, I thought maybe this wasn’t a good idea! 

When you’re thrust into a situation, like working from home, you have to make adjustments along the way. 

Through trial and error, research, and a few battle scars we have learned a few key strategies to stay productive at home.   The following are practical ways parents working from home can excel.

1. Set A Routine

Finding and sticking to a consistent family routine is key to staying productive. 

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Set working hours which include breaks and family time.  Use blocks of time during your day where you can check in with your kids or spouse such as during your lunch break.   

2. Make a Plan

As a parent working from home, you’ll need to be intentional with the routine you’ve created.  Before ending your work-day, plan out what needs to get accomplished the next day. 

Set aside your morning blocks of times for items that require focused attention. 

Research shows people are most productive in the morning.  Make your mornings count and utilize the time when you’re at your best.  Take advantage of when your willpower and energy are at their peak. 

3. List out your most important tasks

Lists are overwhelming.  What are your top 3 tasks for the day that will get you closer to your goal? 

On your plan, block out time for when you’re going to focus on your most important tasks.

Always, give yourself more time than you think a task will take.  You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when you complete purposeful tasks.  Nothing more defeating than feeling like you accomplished zilch at the end of the day. 

If those items don’t take as long as you thought are there other bonus tasks you can add? 

4. Set up a designated workspace

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Help out your brain and determine a space that will allow you to focus.  Having a consistent place to “go to work” will help your brain know when it’s time to start and end your day. 

Finding your perfect space may take a few attempts.  When my husband first started working from home, he ended up in three different locations before we found a space that worked for our family. 

We learned that sharing a workspace or having a multifunctional workspace is not ideal. 

Last, your space needs to be free from distractions.  Keep your desk clear from any unnecessary items.  We also have found that noise-canceling headphones or earbuds are very helpful when needing to focus or listen in on a Zoom meeting.

5. “Do Not Disturb”

Most phones, computers, and other communication platforms have a “do not disturb” setting. 

Don’t allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole of checking your Facebook, Instagram, texts, or even email when focusing on a task.  Save that for when your work is completed or when you’re taking a break.

6. Try a tracking system

Speaking of breaks…. Breaks are good for you!

One method is called the Pomodoro technique.  This system was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.  The system breaks down work into intervals or blocks of time. 

parents working from home

Tasks are broken down into 25-minute blocks.  Focused work for 25 minutes with a 5-minute break.  After four intervals take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.  

You can use a simple timer from your kitchen, on your watch or phone, or download an app.  The Pomodoro technique is a simple yet effective concept.  You can learn more about it here.

7. Bribe yourself: “First ___.  Then ____.”

As a speech therapist, I have used this technique many times when working with kids when they’re not willing participants. 

Here’s how it goes: “Johnny first practice five sentences, then you can blow bubbles.”  This tactic can be very effective in the therapy room but also in your own mind! 

“Tera finish your report, then you can have a glass of wine.”

What is something that you can work for?  Is it reading a book, listening to a Podcast, going out for a walk, watching an episode of your favorite show, or a glass of wine like me? 

Find what motivates you then save it for when you’ve accomplished your goals for the day.

8. Visual Cues

This method is helpful when other people are also at home. 

Visually seeing a closed/open door is an easy indicator to let people know when you need to focus or participate in a Zoom meeting.  Sometimes that’s not enough and printing out a picture of a stop sign is more effective. 

Whatever you choose, remember to communicate with family members what the expectation is during those times. 

Remind them that you have set aside break times in your day that you can use to address the needs of the family. 

9. Give yourself grace! 

If this is a new routine for you don’t be hard on yourself and also extend grace to others around you.  You’re not going to get it perfect right away.  Find out what works and tweak what isn’t working. 

10. Save household chores for later

This can be hard for a lot of parents!  A quick and sure way to get distracted is to juggle household chores while trying to work. 

Parents working from home can get distracted by all the things it takes to run a household. 

There’s nothing more distracting than hearing the dryer buzzer going off when you’re right in the middle of a thought.  The idea has left your mind and now all you can think about is getting the clothes out before they wrinkle! 

Juggling household chores will take you out of your zone of concentration causing your most important tasks to take longer to complete.

11. Parents working from home with little kids

Sometimes you’re going to need to utilize movies, online learning programs like ABCmouse.com, or even locking yourself in a bathroom to finish a Zoom meeting! 

If you have a spouse, communicate when you need distraction-free time (e.g. Zoom meetings, phone calls, focused attention on a task). 

Get creative with your schedule. 

Flex your work routine. One parent works while the other one cares for the children.  Then it switches to allow the other spouse work time. 

Work before the kids wake up or after they’ve gone to bed.

Other ideas include having ready-to-go healthy snacks on hand or creating activity boxes for younger kids (e.g. puzzles, art).  Anything to keep them occupied when you need it most.

The more you can plan ahead the more you’ll be able to focus on your work. 

12. Bonus Time

Working from home means no commute and less money spent on gas. Win-win!

Take advantage of your newfound time by learning a new skill, focusing on personal goals, and/or allowing for extra family time.  In the end, there are many perks. 

As parents working at home, you’re going to need to be more flexible and give yourself some grace

Working from home is a learning curve.

Try a routine and see how it works.  Make tweaks along the way until you find something that sticks and makes sense for you and your family. 

As my daughters and I were slowly and carefully bringing down the TV cabinet we had to communicate every step of the way.  Making adjustments to accommodate the size of the cabinet and shifting our bodies to leverage the weight. 

I’m happy to report we made it down the stairs without a scratch or a dent in the walls or floors. 

parents working from home

Just like with our physics lesson, through thoughtfulness and care you will also be able to create an environment that makes working at home effective for everyone.

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