If you are used to working from home with a toddler, you probably—no, you definitely—have had your share of interrupted meetings and tasks.
If you’re NEW to working from home with toddlers or babies (as many suddenly find themselves these days), you might be feeling (extremely) frustrated. (Um, and googling, “how to get work done with a toddler at home”. lol)
Working from home with toddlers or babies is not easy by any means, but I am deeply committed to the idea that it is WORTH IT. Being at home with my kids was my single solitary reason for creating my own stay at home mom job.
As a work at home mom who has a toddler and a baby, I totally get the frustration of trying to accomplish real work while also answering to the never-ending demands of mom-hood.
And so I’m here to share my best tips with you for getting work done with little kids at home, and staying sane.
I’ve worked at home since the day my first child was born – my last day at a “real” (outside the house?) job was the day before I went into labor.
To say I was unprepared for how difficult it would be to actually get work done is an understatement.
I do get to learn and grow with my kids, yes, but it seems that in the toddler years, you just get one challenge solved and another emerges. (Finally have them going down at a decent time at night so you can work? Yay! Now – prepare yourself for… CLIMBING! hahaha. They’re no longer happy – or safe – confined to the playpen! Sigh.)
I’ve had to become quite creative when it comes to keeping my toddlers entertained (especially my toddler who is eager to explore and get into everything currently).
I know LOTS of moms who work from home with a toddler and we all share the common struggle — we work from home because we want to be with our kids… but at the same time, we have to actually get work done somehow too.
With four years of experience successfully running my own business from home with small kids, here’s what I’ve learned. These are my MOST helpful tips and tricks for “doing it all” in this season of my life and I hope you can find some of this helpful right now regardless of if you’re working from home out of necessity – or by choice.
15 Tips for Working at Home with a Toddler (or Baby, or multiple toddlers/babies)
These helpful tips will help you squeeze more work time into your day while also keeping your little one happy and entertained. (They’ll also work if you just want to carve out an hour to work on your favorite hobby.)
While these tips may not be able to give you an interruption-free eight hours in a row (can you even IMAGINE?!), they can certainly help you find more time than you do right now in your workday.
(If you figure out a secret to 8 straight hours without interruption while working from home with a toddler, please, share it with me.)
So let’s start with the most important central idea that I use to keep my sanity AND get my work done:
1) Get dressed for work
I have joked about working from my couch in my PJs more times than I can count (isn’t that what all bloggers do?)… but the truth of the matter is that I put on real clothes and I even (most days) try to wash my hair.
I find that I am way more productive in my jeans than my sweats, and I am so. over. hating the way I look in video calls.
You’re still going to work, act like it.
2) Set realistic expectations for your workday
Are you going to do 8 hours of work today?
Probably not. (Unless you and your spouse are legit going to trade 8 hours blocks and I think for most families that is not realistic.)
For myself, 5-6 hours of work is a very realistic target. You’ll figure out what your own realistic target is after a week or so of attempting to get into somewhat of a routine.
If you tell yourself every morning that you’re going to get in an 8-hour workday, I can almost promise you, you WILL finish the day feeling defeated and frustrated – when you’re working at home with a toddler. (8 hours is slightly more possible if you’re working at home with a single baby, because babies do sleep more! I often got in 8 hours when my first was a baby.)
When you have a shortened workday, this means that smaller less important projects might have to be set aside or put on hold.
3) Be strategic with your work time
To make the most of your workday, accept that you WILL work in increments – and especially during nap-time.
Embrace the idea of doing half an hour to one hour of work at a time.
You likely need to work untraditional hours — early in the morning when your child is asleep, or in the evening after they have gone to bed.
Knowing ahead of time that you won’t be watching survivor tonight can help you skip the crushing disappointment when you realize that nighttime working IS your reality, and it can also help you relax and enjoy the day, rather than feeling antsy that you aren’t working.
Because – it’s ok! You’re not supposed to be working right now. You’re going to work tonight.
However, if the baby or toddler is napping, YOU SHOULD BE WORKING.
There are a handful of other strategic ways to create “work time”, such as giving them a snack in a high chair.
Here are 7 ways that I create one hour blocks of time to work while I’m at home with small kids.
When you are working with limited hours, it’s very important that you:
4) Tackle the crucial tasks first
Knowing that you might NOT check off every task on your to-do list today, it’s essential that you prioritize and focus on the highest ROI tasks (if you work for yourself) or the tasks with the most imminent deadlines (if you’re working remotely for someone else).
Make a list of tasks to complete in the order they need to be completed – and re-evaluate it regularly.
This means that we:
5) Plan ahead
The most important thing you can do to make more time as a working mom is to be ultra-prepared.
This means you know exactly what task you are going to work on and have everything you need to work on that task the next time you have 10 minutes free.
Before you go to bed at night, line up what you need to get that first project DONE in the first half-hour time block you have tomorrow.
6) Keep a routine
You need a work from home mom schedule.
You will actually carve out MORE time to work when you (and your kids) know what’s happening next.
Now, I am the farthest thing from type A you’ll ever meet and I can hardly list.
But even I know that we wake up, have breakfast, the sitter comes, I work for three hours, she leaves, I put the kids down, I work for 1.5 hours, the kids wake up and we play.
If you don’t already have a daily routine, it is time to create one.
Make sure you are consistent with the routine—toddlers need and thrive on one. You can cut out the dreaded battle of the wills (well, okay cut down on them at least!) if your toddler knows what to expect throughout the day.
IF you don’t have the luxury of a sitter, even small kids will be more likely to leave you alone for half-hour at a time if that happens at a set time each day.
Try setting the timer for half-hour, and for that half-hour they get your undivided attention. THEN, set it AGAIN and explain that this time, mom works and they play alone until the timer goes off.
If they can wait to interrupt you until the timer goes off, they can have some sort of favorite treat.
If you do this regularly, your kids – even your small kids – will come to EXPECT this as part of their daily routine.
7) Rotate toys
Don’t let your child have access to every toy every day.
It’s important – of you’re a work at home mom of a toddler – that your children WILL learn to entertain themselves, at least to some degree during the day.
Having all the toys they own available to them all the time is a recipe for disaster (and boredom)!
Instead, place toys in different bins, and choose which set of toys your toddler is able to play with that day.
This will help him or her be entertained for longer periods of time as they don’t see every toy every day.
8) Utilize the highchair
One of my favorite work at home mom hacks is a secret weapon that keeps my child happy and safe in the highchair for 20-30 minutes at a time (which is magical for a toddler!).
It’s also inexpensive and fun…non-toxic super washable crayons!
I keep a pad of paper and a few toddler-safe crayons in the kitchen cabinet and my toddler absolutely goes nuts for it.
Just make sure to get the kind that easily scrubs off the highchair.
9) Use screens sparingly
Every work at home mom with a toddler has to use a cartoon at some point.
However, not only is too much screen time not good for toddlers, but the distraction will be much less effective.
Save devices for absolutely necessary times, such as meetings, so that your toddler doesn’t get bored with them.
10) Take it outside
If your toddler is anything like mine, they love to be outside! If you have a fenced-in backyard, grab your laptop or phone to work from and head outside to let them play and explore while you work. Pro tip: a bubble machine is an excellent tool to get 10 minutes to yourself!
11) Create a playroom (or play area)
If you don’t already have one, having an enclosed space for your toddler to play in is essential.
For a toddler, a pack and play is probably not going to cut it anymore, but you can gate in a room or a section of your home and keep their toys there. (A pressure gate is FANTASTIC for this, as you can move it from room to room without doing any “construction” – or even having to get out a screwdriver. I have one of these across my office door.)
Set up your workstation within eyesight of the play area so you can both see each other.
12) accept. the. mess.
Let me say this again.
ACCEPT. THE. MESS.
You can not do all the things.
You can not keep the kitchen spotless or prevent the baby from drawing all over her tummy or keep every toy contained to the playroom AND meet every deadline and answer every email.
Well, I mean, maybe YOU can, but I sure can’t. (I know, because I’ve tried.)
My life because 10x easier the day I finally just let my curious toddler pull all the tupperware out of the drawer and scatter it around the kitchen while I was on a call.
I’ve never looked back. (I do, however, still tidy the entire main living area of the house before I go to bed – which is one of my most important secrets to keeping the house clean with toddlers.)
13) Make the most of the weekends
At least one day each weekend, set aside a few hours to plan out the rest of your week.
This looks different for everyone—some people like to do grocery shopping and meal prep, others do deep cleaning and laundry. The goal of this time is to do errands or tasks while kids are with your spouse to take stress and anxiety away from each weekday.
For our family, we make the most of weekends by giving MOM a solid block of work time – and Dad gets some quality time with the kids.
14) Hire childcare
Even one to two half-days per week makes a huge difference. (My baby sitter comes 2-3 times per week for three hours each time.)
You can really keep the cost down by finding a younger student who comes after school – you are still IN the house for emergencies.
Hire a babysitter or ask a friend or family member to come over. Use that precious time to dig in and work on the hardest projects so that you can fully focus on them.
15) Be realistic and kind to yourself
Being a work at home mom with a toddler is tough.
You’re expected to do all the things a stay at home mom does, while also earning an income.
Be kind to yourself and be realistic—you may not have a sparkling kitchen but your kid is fed and you’re making the money you need to make.
Working from home as a mom is actually a blessing – if you find yourself being forced to work from home right now, remember, this is something many women YEARN for – it’s something I wanted so badly that I gave this little blog all I had in hopes I COULD work from home while my kids were little… so they could be WITH me.
For all it’s downsides, it has just as many (if not more) upsides, I promise – if you look for them, you will find them too.
Do you have any other great tips on how to get work done with a toddler at home?