Work-at-home parent? 6 ways to better manage interruptions
So, this happened the other day, going viral and making folks chuckle:
As a self-employed, work-at-home parent, I can relate.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stressed over the idea of the kids bursting in in the middle of an important conference call with clients—or a Skype meeting with a reporter. Ugh… Has it happened? Being completely transparent, yes, it has happened a time or two to me over the years.
As a mompreneur, there are definite trade-offs when it comes to working from home. I used to worry more about this than I do these days, as so many now work from home and have kids. I no longer have to keep the fact that I’m a parent a secret. Most people understand. They get it because they, too, have faced the wayward toddler wandering into their domain at just the wrong moment.
For example, once, I was on a call with my brand spanking new client, strategizing a launch for a new product. I’d set myself up in what I thought would be a quiet room and securely shut the door, having forewarned my kids that I had an important conference call and would need quiet. They were both busily engaged in their video games, so all was well. Or so I thought.
About 10 minutes into the call, I began to hear it—commotion coming from the family room. It was getting louder. And louder. I started to panic.
Not long after it began, here they came, bursting through the door, squabbling loudly. What could I do? My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to quiet the kids while not completely blowing it with this client. I decided that all I could do was to apologize to my clients, put them on hold for a moment while I played referee with the kids—and then go on.
Thankfully, my client contacts were very understanding—and I think I may have even heard them chuckle at the predicament I was in.
While this story had a happy ending, you wouldn’t want it happening ALL the time.
When you work from home as a parent, what are some ways to handle these interruptions—or avoid them all together? Here, I’ve compiled some of the tips I’ve learned over the years:
1. Set work hours—and make sure your kids understand them
When you work at home, it’s only fair to schedule regular work hours—and make sure everyone knows and respects them. I explain it this way: “Mom works at home, which means you don’t have to go to daycare or have a sitter—but it also means that you need to respect my work hours by keeping interruptions to a minimum.”
Granted, my kids are now a bit older and don’t need constant supervision. If you have young children, you may need to bring in a sitter or figure out another arrangement.
2. Give guidelines on how kids (and spouses, visitors and others!) should get your attention, if they need something during your work hours:
So, say the kids understand your work hours, but they really do need your help. Set up a way for them to get your attention. Maybe they come to the door and stick their head in. Or they knock, if the door is closed. If you’re on the phone or appear to be concentrating, maybe they hand you a note.
They should understand that they may have to be patient and wait a moment while you get to a stopping point. Remember, there’s no need for instant gratification in most situations, so take the time to finish your thought before responding.
For example, because I do a lot of writing, my kids know to ask me if I’m in the middle of something before launching into a lengthy explanation of why they absolutely must have my help at this very moment to open the new box of Girl Scout cookies.
3. Be strategic about how you use your work hours:
Make sure to do your most thought-intensive work at an optimal time of day. For example, I find it works better when I try to get my writing done while the kids are asleep or out of the house. I save the less taxing tasks for hours when the kids are around—administrative tasks, replying to email and other non-urgent items. That way, if I do happen to be interrupted, it’s not a big deal.
4. Make sure to forewarn them when you truly can’t be interrupted:
There are those rare times when I honestly can’t be interrupted when I’m talking to a client or a journalist. In those situations, I make it clear beforehand that unless the house is burning down, you may not interrupt me for the next 30 minutes. Because these occasions don’t happen every day, they tend to respect that.
5. Take it in stride:
What’s the worst that can happen? The client finds out you have kids—and they fight. Oh, well—as long as the work isn’t impacted, it usually isn’t the end of the world, even if in the moment, you wish the floor would open up and swallow you. Just make sure you know where that “mute” button is on your phone.
6. Plan for the worst-case scenario:
Does all of this planning and scheduling always work? No. So, plan for the worst case scenario. Much like crisis communications planning, plan in advance what you’ll do IF the worst happens—and your kids barge in during your on-air interview on national television. Think through the scenario and prepare (at least in your mind) what you might say or do should things not go as planned.
And, remember, if all else fails, just grin and make the best of it. After all, merging the best of both worlds requires some creative juggling even on our best days.
Michelle Messenger Garrett has been a work-from-home parent for the past 14+ years. While it isn’t always easy — it is always worth it. For more from Michelle, head on over to read her blog. Or sign up for her free monthly newsletter.