How to Stay Productive With Kids, Pets, and a Spouse in the House

staying productive

Let’s not mince our words: Work from home jobs are the bomb. You can ditch the commute, stay at home with your family,  or travel the world if you want to.

But you know what they say about great power. With great power… comes a house full of people to distract you from your to-do list. (That’s the phrase, right, guys?)

On a given weekday, I have one or two podcast recordings, at least one internal meeting, and half a dozen projects to work on for clients. But I also have a 10-month old baby at home, a husband who is a part-time stay at home dad/part-time teacher, a comically needy dog, and neighbors who genuinely don’t seem to understand that I’m not just chillin’ in the house all day snacking on Doritos waiting for visitors to drop in.

People often ask if it’s lonely to work from home. And I just laugh and laugh and laugh.

Over the years, I’ve created a master plan for how to stay on task as a remote worker with a busy home life. And, ’cause I’m cool like that, I’m going to share it with you, my fellow work-from-home pals.

Here’s how to stay productive with kids, pets, and a spouse in the house.

1. Wake Up On the Right Side of the Bed.

When I first started working from home (pre-baby, pre-marriage, pre-dog), it was easy to roll out of bed and stumble over to my computer at a leisurely pace. But when our dog Brillo came into our lives, I suddenly had to factor in her schedule, too. We lived in New York at the time (read: no yard). Before I could do anything for myself, I needed to get the dog outside for her first walk of the day.

And I don’t need to tell any fellow parents how that necessity has only compounded now that we’ve added a baby to the mix. I get up with the baby, make sure he’s got a fresh diaper and has been fed, let the dog out and feed her, then settle in for work with my breakfast and coffee beside me. On a really productive day, my husband and I go for a jog before work, too.

Not surprisingly, when I’ve put all those personal pieces in place first, I have a better, more productive day at work.

Whatever your “thing” is, whether it’s a shower, a run, meditation, or Starbucks, give yourself enough time in the morning to wake up and get your act together. Beginning your work day bleary-eyed or frazzled is an instant productivity killer. You’ll start by sort of wandering around on social media and half-heartedly checking email, and before you know it, an hour or two has passed, but you haven’t accomplished a thing.

But if you start the day energized and organized, you’ll be in the right headspace to burn your task list to the ground.

2. Create a Dedicated Office Space.

I LOVE my job, but when I’m trying to write a blog post about predictive analytics and my son is taking his first steps right next to me, you better believe I’m going to drop everything to cheer him on. Babies are the ultimate (awesome) distraction.

When you’ve got a full house, working out in the open is a challenge for a lot of reasons. Not only are your people and pets constantly catching your eye, door-to-door salespeople and nosy neighbors are constantly at the door. Add some background noise from the TV and a pile of dishes haunting you from the sink, and you’ve got a recipe for a productivity disaster.

Find a quiet space where you can shut yourself away to get shit done. Turn off the signal that tells your mind and body you’re at home. A desk with some cool decor and a few potted plants might be the only thing you need to rewire your brain.

Mischief managed.

3. Set Expectations.

In addition to a dedicated workspace, it’s important to communicate with the other breathing beings (be it cat, girlfriend, or nanny) in your home when you are available for interruptions and when you need to be off the family’s grid.

You should have a signal with whoever else is home to let them know when you’re “at work” and when you’re not. I recently read about one parent who has red, yellow, and green door signs on her office door. If the red one is hanging, she’s on a tight deadline or in an important meeting—no one can enter her office unless there is blood or a fire. Yellow means the family can pop in with questions or concerns, but otherwise, they should keep noise at a minimum. Green means they are invited to pop in for hugs, snuggles, or to set up their toys on the office floor while she wraps up.

You might not need that involved of a system, but it’s always nice to make it clear to others that “If I’ve got my headphones in, I’m really busy,” or, “I have meetings at 11 and 2 today, so I can’t be bothered during those times.”

And if you’re having house guests, bless you. remind everyone what your job entails, so they aren’t trying to strike up a conversation in the middle of your busy day. When you say you work from home, they might assume you have a completely flexible schedule and pressure you to go to the movies right before your 2 o’clock call. But if you’re clear with them about what a typical day looks like for you, they’ll (hopefully) be respectful and leave you alone.

4. Shut Down Your Computer for Lunch.

Lunch time is chaos in a full house. Embrace it. Keep a window blocked on your calendar every day to eat with your crowd, and take that time to close your laptop and give them your full attention. Help make the meal, sit down and eat together, then take some time to play with the cat or cuddle the baby before you dive back in.

After some undivided attention, most people and pets will happily leave you alone for awhile to work in the afternoon. Bonus: you’ll dive in refreshed and ready to work, too.

5. Let Your Tribe Motivate You.

Working at home with your family can be a little heartbreaking. Whether your nanny can’t get the baby down for his nap or the dog keeps doing something hilarious you don’t want to miss, it’s a constant reminder of the ways you are needed and wanted elsewhere. Of course, staying home with your whole gang is a blessing; but blessings don’t always come easy.

Studies show that remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts, and I have a theory why. All these distractions come with a silver lining: motivation. It’s easy to keep your eye on the prize when the prize is only one room away. If—let’s be honest, when—you find yourself scrolling through Facebook, remember that’s time you could be spending with your tribe if you stay on track and finish up your work. 

6. Be Ruthless About Your Schedule.

Choose a time to start work, choose a time to take breaks, and—even if you ignore the rest of the advice in this post—choose a time to end your work day. The scope creep is REAL when you work from home, and it’s easy to think you’ll sign off at five only to find yourself still sitting on your computer at 6:30.

Commit to a time to shut down your computer. Then walk away and stay away. (I suggest turning off email notifications on your phone, too. It’s too easy to get sucked back in!)

When In Doubt, Just Get Out.

Is working in the house not… well… working?

Leave ’em all behind, and head to a coffee shop or library to work. With the sweet relief of caffeine in your veins, your headphones in your ears, and the absence of sticky fingers and dog breath all over you, you’ll get back to getting shit done in no time.

How do you stay productive with a jam-packed house? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for staying on task as a remote worker. And, hey, if this sounds like your perfect life, contact Don’t Panic about how to join our bad ass team of virtual assistants.

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