Whether you work from home regularly, have kids on a school break or are on sick duty, balancing deadlines and child care is a necessary superpower. Here are eight smart time hacks parents use to meet deliverables while working from home with kids — so you can check off your to-dos and get back to snuggling.
START A SITTER SWAP
Swap kids with a friend or another parent you trust, suggests mom-of-two Kari O'Driscoll, 46, founder of mindful parenting website The SELF Project. “I used to swap with my girlfriend at least once a week — she'd watch my kids for half a day while I got stuff done, and then I'd do the same for her another day," she says. Free child care and the opportunity for your kid to socialize make this one a win-win.
FIND YOUR FOCUS TIME
Batch tasks so you can get more done: Run any errands you have in one batch of time, tackle emails in another and schedule an hour or two you can dedicate to tasks that need more mental energy, like writing or creating a presentation, in another block. Many get up an hour earlier than their kids so they can tackle intense to-dos first thing without distraction.
WORK IN MICRO-BLOCKS
If it’s hard to fit in large blocks of focused work time, get creative with the small pockets of time throughout your day. That’s what Rachele Alpine, 39, a young adult author with a 3-year-old and a baby on the way, did.
"When my son was really young and I had to write a book, I made it a game to 'steal' writing time," she explains. "It sounds so silly, but I'd slip away for a moment when my husband was home, and I'd write for five minutes. I used to give myself a little tally mark for stolen time and found it adding up." Even now, Alpine still carries around a notebook so she can keep stealing those productive minutes.
You might also learn to squeeze in work on-the-go. Kids tend to fall asleep in the car. Bring your (charged!) laptop with you when you leave the house, and park outside a coffeeshop.
"I've been known to use the Starbucks WiFi in my car while my little one sleeps, before picking up my oldest," says writer Cindy Marie Jenkins, 39, whose kids are 4 and nearly 2. Afternoon coffee fix with a side of productivity? Genius.
TAKE WALKING MEETINGS
For those with babies who nap in strollers or carriers, use your walking time to not only get fresh air and exercise, but also to catch up on emails, brainstorm, write to-do lists and even make work calls (if your child will sleep through them). This way, you're not slogging through the day's emails after your child goes to bed and you're exhausted. While these tasks may take longer to complete on your phone, it can be more efficient to use walking time wisely and save precious minutes for relaxing later.
SET UP INDEPENDENT PLAY
This hack takes a bit of prep, but it's worthwhile if you need to work while your kids are awake. O'Driscoll, whose kids are now 15 and 18, says she used to make scavenger hunt lists to keep her children entertained. "I'd have them show me the results when they were done — find something red, something smaller than your thumb, something that rattles, something soft and fuzzy, something that starts with the letter B, and so on," she says.
Art projects are another big win, says Mariah McCourt, 39, whose daughter is 3. "I do a ton of prep work at the beginning of each week, cutting out paper shapes, coming up with project ideas and setting up activity stations," she says. "I made my daughter a felt garden that she can 'plant,' and the arts and crafts table is always full of stuff to do."
HIT THE GYM
Find a fitness facility in your area that also offers child care, and you'll sweat and work at the same time. (Or, even just sit somewhere and work.) "I get reading done while exercising and have even done phone interviews there," says mom-of-two and travel writer and photographer, Katherine Martinelli, 34.
DEPLOY SCREEN TIME
Kids and TV can be a fraught topic, but for those of us balancing work and child care, it's often a necessity. Putting on a beloved movie or educational show (hello, Sesame Street!) so you can meet a deadline, get some space to think through a critical work problem or answer a pressing email, isn't something to feel bad about. When you need to, grab the remote and get whatever it is that needs to be done, done.
MAKE THE MOST OF NAPTIME
Choose either side of the spectrum — either sleep when the baby sleeps, or if you can’t doze, get meaningful work done instead of scrolling through Instagram. "I keep naptime sacred for pulling out the computer and doing the work tasks that have been piling up all day," says author Carly Gelsinger, 31, whose kids are 5 and almost 2. "I don’t do chores during this time,” she says. She saves household to-dos for when the kids can pitch in or entertain themselves.