Managing To-Do's

5 Practical Tips for Successfully Working from Home with Your Toddler

March 15, 2020

I’m Kelly Nolan.
I'm an attorney who'd been decently organized through law school but got quickly overwhelmed as a actual attorney. After nothing else worked for me, I created this system – and kept on practicing law. Years later, I found out others were interested in learning it, so that's what I do now! Let's get this realistic system in your hands so you can start living a life that feels more calm, doable, and that lights you up.
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On Friday night around 10pm, I got the dreaded-but-expected email announcing my two-year-old’s daycare was closing through early April. Or later.

You, too? So, now what?

How do we effectively work at home with a toddler without collectively losing our minds?

The below outlines what I’m doing to work from home with my two-year-old toddler. I’d love to know your tips, too, so comment below with them!

Work from Home Tip 1: Get Clear On When You Can Actually Work

Unless you have a unicorn toddler who sits in a corner and reads on his own all day, your time to work is severely limited now.

It just is what it is. While frustrating, coming to terms with that now will help you keep your sanity in the long run.

Getting clear on when you have pockets of time to work will help you create a realistic game plan of what you can get done in those pockets of time.

Having a realistic game plan will help you feel more in control, accomplished at the end of the day, and allow you to actually enjoy the time with your toddler when you can’t work. This is way better than the defeat and constant frustration you’d feel if you had an unrealistic to-do list every day.

Knowing that, let’s get clear on when you can work. My guess is:

·      In the morning before your toddler wakes up

·      During naptime

·      In the evening after s/he goes to bed and before your bedtime

·      When someone else is in charge of the toddler

Pull up your calendar to get clear on those windows and how long they typically last in your life. If you use Google Calendar (my recommended calendar), calendar those windows on a recurring basis at least for the next three weeks.

Be realistic. For example, if your toddler naps for 1.5-2 hours, calendar 1.5 hours and get pleasantly surprised if you get bonus time (instead of planning for 2 hours and getting disappointed half the time when they wake up early). Make sense?

Work from Home Tip 2: Plan Out Exactly What You’ll Do During Those Pockets of Time

Once you’ve set up your typical “available” windows, layer over them what you’ll do during those windows of time. Block windows of time for each task.

Start with the non-work things you have to do, like showering, cooking and relaxing.

Then, start plugging in time to accomplish your work tasks. If you need to research a legal issue, call patients, or draft up a new lead magnet, block time (or multiple blocks of time) to do those things.

Title those blocks of time as specifically as you can so you know exactly what to do when you sit down. Hint: Using an action verb to start the title will help you get specific.

Don’t expect this to go exactly to plan (I mean, #toddlerlife), but the combination of being realistic about your typical windows of free time and about how long things will take to accomplish help your life go to plan more often than you’d expect.

Plus, having this plan in place helps you make the most of those limited pockets of work time. Once you have a plan, when that window rolls around, you can sit down and know exactly what to do. That’s way better than sitting down and wasting 10 minutes trying to figure out what you should do, getting overwhelmed by a bursting-at-the-seams to-do list, and feeling like the time is up before you got anything done.

In addition, perhaps my favorite perk of this approach, having a realistic game plan helps you enjoy the time when you’re not working and lets you focus on your little one without feeling overwhelmed by what you’re not working on.

Work from Home Tip 3: Get Creative to Find More Pockets of Free/Work Time

Obviously, the more windows of time you can free up from being the primary caregiver of your toddler, the more time you’ll have to work or get the rest of life done.

If your partner is in the mix, split days with him or her instead of both of you hanging out with the kids all the time. Use your calendar to be clear on the schedule. For example, this morning, I was in charge of my daughter from when she woke up to 9:30am. Then my husband took over from 9:30am to nap time. This is clear in our Google Calendars so we’re on the same page.

Once the windows of time are established, I layer over what I’ll do during my kid-free window of time (this morning, writing this post and showering).

Similarly, if you know of babysitters and nannies, reach out to them. While many are likely busy with their own kids and/or existing nannying obligations, many have had their own schedules shift and may be able to help out with extra hours. Additionally, see if they’d want to pick up Saturday hours or even weekday afternoons/evenings. Given that we’re trying to contain this virus, it’s best to reduce the number of people coming in and out of your house – and be clear on where they may be allowed to take your kid (e.g., yes to walks, no to playgrounds).

In addition, I’ve been amazed by how many moms of older kids in our neighborhood have offered to have their 8-12-year-olds come over to play with H. While I may not take them up on this because my husband works in the ER and I don’t want to expose kids to our ER-germy-y house, it may be a great option for you.

Work from Home Tip 4: (Unfortunately) Limit Your Drinking & Up Your Sleep

If you’re like me, storms and office closures in my twenties meant, “stock up on wine and watch dumb movies with friends!”

Now, I live in fear of getting a bad illness and being the only one at home with my daughter.

So, I’m limiting my drinking. Don’t get me wrong – the last two nights I had preexisting small plans, so I did drink. But the two nights before that, I didn’t, and I don’t plan to for the next couple of days.

I loooove my wine. But I’m trying to keep my body healthy so I don’t go down and still have to take care of a toddler.

Plus, not drinking gives me more free and/or work time in the evenings and mornings, so that’s an added benefit.

Also, prioritize sleep. It’s the #1 thing that keeps us healthy, so try not to stay up too late reading about the virus or binging on Love is Blind (ugh, I’ve been a little guilty of the latter lately – working on it!).

Work from Home Tip 5: Save Screen Time for Work Emergencies & Plan Out Fun Indoor Activities

I have no problem with screens when it comes to times like these. But if your toddler is like mine, she’s only interested for a short while. So, my advice: don’t fritter screen time away when you don’t really need it. A work curveball may require you to jump on a call or draft up an email in the middle of a window when you’re alone with your toddler. Save that Hail Mary card for when you need it!

Instead, think up 1-3 activities a day that’ll help you enjoy the extra time with your kids and avoid the drag that comes from being stuck inside with kids for days on end. Plot out the activities in your calendar so you have a fun little game plan.

I highly recommend checking out this blog post by BusyToddler.com and the resources my friend, Dr. Katie Spencer, founder and CEO of Northbound Consulting, collected here.

In addition, I made a big Amazon purchase for a kid’s kitchen, which I’ve been holding off buying until now because my tiny San Diego house has no room for it. But desperate times…

While I’ll likely not going to be able to work while she plays with it, it will at least free up time from her wanting me to carry her around or be her personal jungle gym – so I’ll take it.

Conclusion

That’s it. If you take one thing away, take this one: get realistic. We’re naturally tempted to try to squeeze as much as possible in, but getting realistic about your available time for work will help you prioritize, get the important work stuff done first, and set yourself up to feel great at the end of the day – versus defeated and frustrated by an unrealistic to-do list.

Okay – your turn! I’m only two years into having a kid, so I’d love your tips for working from home and enjoying the time with kiddos. Comment below!

In addition, if you especially like the tips about using your calendar to come up with a realistic game plan, I help women do this in normal life, too. Check out my Bright Method program here.

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  1. These are all great suggestions, especially the schedule blocking! A rice sensory bin works wonders in our house. It will buy me a solid 30-45 minutes, which is an eternity in toddler time. We put her on a blanket and keep a handheld vacuum close by so cleanup isn’t too much of a headache.

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