Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to do work more efficiently?
One of the advantages of working in an office is that you are all adults (at least when it comes to age) sharing a common space and following office rules. You might have the occasional cigarette breaks and chats about weekend plans interrupting your work but in general, when you signal that you are busy and can’t talk, coworkers know that it is not a good time for a friendly chit-chat.
Working from home, on the other hand, is a completely different story, especially if you have children at home with you. Because of the pandemic, many of us had to shift from office life to work-from-home life. Unlike your adult coworkers, children are not that well-acquainted with the “I’m busy, can’t talk right now” signals. Nor do they care, for that matter.
They’ll jump around, sing, talk during your Skype meeting, play on your laptop, bang on your door, whine, sulk, and everything in between. After all, when you’re at home, you should give them, and only them, your undivided attention, not waste your time with some insignificant people like your boss or work colleagues.
So, what can you do to cope with interrupting kids and still get some things done for work? First, you need to understand how constant interruptions can affect your work performance and the reason they are so disruptive.
1. Why are interruptions so distracting?
Interruptions might not seem that bad, after all, it’s just five or ten minutes of a 9 to 5 work schedule. There’s nothing wrong with taking a few welcomed breaks and spending some time with your kids. True, spending time with your children is very important but when you constantly have to interrupt your work, you won’t be able to get things done properly.
When interrupted at the office, most people require less than 20 minutes to get back into work mode and complete their tasks on time. According to researchers, this is called “resumption lag”, a period of time an individual needs to collect their thoughts after an interruption and pick up their task where they left off.
Some people might need to reexamine, reread and even redo some of the things they did before they were interrupted. With 20 minutes of lost time per task, imagine how much time you can lose if you are constantly interrupted. Resumption lags are serious business when they add up.
Read more on the different ways our psyche is impacted here!
2. Why do children interrupt adults?
If someone interrupts you at the office, it generally has something to do with work. On the other hand, when children interrupt you at home, it has something to do with …anything relevant to them, really. Something you have to deal with right that very second, not in 5 or ten minutes. That’s just one part of the problem.
The other one is that kids are not particularly good at waiting to receive gratification. They want it and they want it now, on their own terms! No matter how inconsiderate they might seem, their behavior is quite normal for their age. That’s because children’s certain parts of the brain are not developed enough to be able to control their ability to wait or to think about others, among other things. Children are looking for attention, stability, and reassurance, and they can only get them from their parents…from you.
3. How to cope when children interrupt your work
Understanding how and why your children interrupt your work is half of the equation. The other half is making them do what you want them to do when you need them to do it, to prevent or minimize the adverse effects their interruptions might have on your work performance.
This might seem like the most difficult, sometimes impossible part, but it can be done. Here’s how.
4. Set boundaries and expectations
Firmly but lovingly inform your children about what they can and can’t expect from you when you are working, talking on the phone, or having a Skype meeting. Explain to them that they can sit quietly, play next to you, watch TV or do something else without disrupting your work.
If they do try to interrupt you, try to pay no attention to their antics until you finish your task. It might not work the first time, but if you explain it to them more than once, they will eventually understand.
Your children’s boundaries and expectations are not the only ones you need to manage. You also need to deal with your own set. You have to be realistic about the whole situation and understand that children won’t be able to stay quiet for long…they might do it for 30 minutes, a full hour if they’re older, but don’t expect them to be out of your hair for three or four solid hours.
5. Turn it into a team task
It’s important for kids to know you are on their side no matter what and that nothing is more important than them, not even your work. Reassure them that they’re your top priority and that you will support them with everything they need. At the same time, remind them you are all part of a team that needs to work together, so if you support them, they also need to support you.
For instance, if you aren’t able to answer their questions because you’re in an important live video meeting, as soon as the meeting is over, talk to them and do what they wanted you to do, no matter how silly it might seem. If you are a team player, children will follow your example.
6. Support your words with actions
It might be wearing you out…having to explain to your children, over and over again, what they can and cannot do. But the thing is children have short memories and they are still in the process of learning things.
Instead of allowing frustration and irritation to take over when you have to explain the rules to them for the millionth time, back up your words with visual signs. For instance, a red sign can let them know it’s not the right time to interrupt you and a green sign can tell them that you are “available” for interruptions on their part.
7. Schedule interruptions
Believe it or not, children need and actually like rules. It gives them a certain sense of order and makes them feel safer and more secure. Kids like to know what will come next and what they are expected to do to meet your approval. So, why not make the most of this particular trait and schedule their interruptions while you’re working from home?
For instance, if you are usually busier in the morning, tell your children they can play, watch TV, read or do whatever else they want until you take your break. Then, from 12 to 13, you’re all theirs to bombard with questions. When you schedule the interruptions, try to involve your kids in the process as well. It’s teamwork, after all. Try to coordinate your most important tasks with their schedule, so that you’re all busy at the same time.
8. Prepare others
At the end of the day, kids are just being kids and there’s only so much we can ask of them. They might succeed in being on their best behavior most of the time, but they might still interrupt you when you least expect it.
Therefore, if your work involves interacting with other people, inform your coworkers that you have children and that they might pop up sometime during your live meeting.
Similarly, inform your children that you’ll have a very important meeting and that they’ll need to keep a low profile. Prompt them to say if they need anything now, before you start your meeting, to prevent them from interrupting you later on.
Despite kids being a huge distraction sometimes, we all love them! Imagine being all alone and not knowing what to do! If you or someone you know is dealing with loneliness make sure you read on the topic so you know how to best manage it!