You ordered storage systems from The Container Store. You perused the IKEA catalog for desks and chairs. You purchased files and folders and notebooks at the office supply store. Your workspace and school space are completely organized and ready.
Now that your space is ready, how can you organize your life to fit the new schedule? What can parents do to balance work while also helping children with their virtual school work?
“That’s the million-dollar question!” said Molly Boren, a certified professional organizer with Simplicity Works. Boren has dealt with this issue herself as she transitioned her work to home while her son, Sam, 8, began virtual school during the pandemic.
“There is no silver bullet, but there are some ideas that have helped me and my clients,” Boren said.
Home Office Strategies
For starters, Boren suggests preparing the night before for the day ahead. She makes a point of charging all devices nightly so that they are fully powered for the next day’s work.
“If possible, go to bed earlier than you otherwise would. Wake up before the kids, so you’ve got some quiet time to lay a good foundation for the day. I use Focusmate’s ‘Virtual Coworking’ appointments to help me do this since I’m not a natural morning person.”
Boren also uses her phone to keep track of meetings.
“Set phone alarms for 30, 15, and 5 minutes before appointments. It’s so easy to lose track of time these days,” she said.
Boren tries to use her working hours wisely.
“Be intentional about what tasks you’ll tackle when the kids are completely occupied — by a grandparent on Zoom, by a teacher, video game, nap, et cetera — so it’s something that requires that focused time. Avoid having lunch or doing housework then, as that is something you can do with partial attention.”
When craving a little alone time, Boren suggests reaching out to others.
“If there’s a family you’re comfortable having masked, outdoor playdates with, try to set up a rotation so you can both plan on some relief,” she suggested.
Sam Boren’s family adopted puppy Obee for a happy distraction during the pandemic. Image courtesy of Molly Boren.
How can parents foster a positive learning experience during this challenging school-at-home situation? It all starts with creating a calm and focused learning environment.
“Talk with everyone in the home about the need for quiet time to help students and parents focus on work,” Boren said. “If someone else wants to watch or listen to media, use headphones. Students don’t always respond best to complete silence, but any distractions, such as background music, should be thoughtfully chosen.”
Boren notes the challenge of avoiding distractions for students. She recommends that students clear their work surface and put all items away as a prerequisite to screen time.
“Talk with your kids about your own struggles with avoiding distraction and accomplishing the important tasks of the day, and paring down your ‘To Do’ list down to the true essentials. It’s often helpful for them to know this is a human challenge, not just theirs.”
Find Your Team
Holly Southerland, a certified professional organizer with Ann Arbor Home Organizers, takes a team approach when helping families with the work and school balance.
“When working from home, knowing your ‘team’ is key,” she said. “Who do you have lined up to take care of your children while you’re in task mode? This might be a partner, spouse, nanny, household helper or friend.”
With a little preparation, Southerland feels that work-at-home parents can feel more productive while putting their minds at ease. She suggests weekly planning meetings so that the entire family can plot out the days ahead.
“The more time you spend on the front end working out some scheduling kinks, the more at ease you’ll be when the time comes to get work done because you know your little ones are being cared for and not ignored, which produces a guilt like no other!”
Southerland suggests hiring help, if necessary.
“Invest in your peace of mind and connection with your children by setting aside both time to think this through and plan this out, even if it requires a sacrifice somewhere in the family budget to hire a helper,” she said. “Even a few hours a week can work wonders!”
Molly Boren and her family are creating happy memories during these stressful times with backyard tent camping. Image courtesy of Molly Boren.
Schedule the Fun
Molly Boren reminds parents and families to stay positive during these challenging days.
“Plan fun things to do together, if possible, like biking for ice cream, visiting a Metropark, or watching a movie. This creates some structure and also takes advantage of the silver lining of this situation: more time together.”