Not all web workers are the hip, trendy, just-out-of college types — quite a few of us have rugrats running around, making noise, spilling juice and demanding attention at the same time as our email and IM demand that same attention. I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter […]

Not all web workers are the hip, trendy, just-out-of college types — quite a few of us have rugrats running around, making noise, spilling juice and demanding attention at the same time as our email and IM demand that same attention.

I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter who wants to use the computer to check her MySpace messages, a 1-year-old daughter who is extremely tiny and yet has the healthiest set of lungs in the house, and four kids in between who make the Tasmanian devil seem like a calm Zen Master. And yet, I manage. I write several articles a day on top of my day job, in addition to cleaning the house, doing errands, and making sure the bills are paid on time.

We’ve written before on how to manage kids in the home office. As a father of six kids, I have some additional tips based on my own experience.

1. Wake up early. I’ve trained myself to get up at 4:30 a.m. most days (sometimes I sleep in until 5:30 or 6:00 a.m.). Now, I’m not saying you have to get up that early, but getting up even half an hour or an hour earlier than the younguns can give you some time to do some uninterrupted work in the quiet of the predawn hours.

2. Team up with your spouse. It really helps to have a great, supportive spouse. My wife is a teacher, so she needs to do work herself, so we take turns working at the computer while the other keeps the kids at bay. Take the kids outside, or take them to a park, or read to them, while your spouse does some work. Then switch.

3. Stay up a little later. While my kids are going to bed, I jump on the computer and do some writing, clear out my email inbox, take care of a few other web tasks before bed. I can often get a good hour or so after the little ones are tucked away.

4. Teach them to play by themselves. My kids can keep themselves entertained for good stretches at a time. They play Legos or board games in the room, they play imaginary space alien characters (or Pokemon or Star Wars or whatever is popular), and yes, I let them play video games or watch a DVD sometimes. I let them go in their room and play for a little while so I can get a little work done. I check on them from time to time, of course, and don’t hole them up for too long.

5. Send them to grandmas. Sometimes they like to go to their grandparents or to an aunt’s house for a little while. I cram out the work when they’re gone.

6. Go to a coffee shop or library. Sometimes you just gotta get out of the house and find some peace and quiet. If you’ve got a laptop, go be among grownups and do some work at a coffee shop. If not, a library is a great place to work, with free Internet connections and a quiet environment. Just make sure it’s not kids’ read aloud hour.

7. Ask them to play quietly. I actually like having the kids play near me, but sometimes I tell them that it’s daddy’s work time, so they have to play quietly. This, surprisingly enough, can actually work. For a little while.

8. Tune them out. This is one of the modes I use most often. I let them do their thing around me while I go into a state of Flow, tuning out the world and focusing completely on my work. I can do this for a surprisingly long time. I think it must be conditioning or something.

9. Send them outside. I have a fairly big yard, set back a ways from the road, so I can send (most of) my kids outside to play while I do work. The run around like crazy people, scaring the neighbors, while I work in peace.

10. Turn off the computer and play with them. You can’t tune out your kids all the time. Web worker parents know that while work is important, the kids are more important, and productivity doesn’t hold a candle to spending quality time with them, having fun with them, and just loving them. Their childhoods only last for a flickering moment in time, so be sure not to miss it.

Have your own tips on being productive with kids in the house? Share them in the comments.

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  1. Certainly one of the more under-reported aspects of working from home – thanks for giving it some deserved attention :).

  2. Serge Lescouarnec Friday, August 3, 2007

    I can relate.

    My personal take on this is ‘Just over 50 and not dead yet’.

    I actually offered this as a panel theme for the next South by Southwest.

    As you say the web is not populated only by hip young singles.

    Bon week-end

    ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’

  3. I highly recommend having a healthy stock of playdoh around for younger kids (but those old enough not to risk eating it). I sit ours out at the dining room table while I work, and either give them the playdoh sets, or butter knives, cookie cutters, etc. to use. They will often play there (mostly) amicably together for hours.

  4. dude, 6 kids.

    Maybe the way to deal with this is more time working and less time “on the job”

  5. Pete Johnson Friday, August 3, 2007

    One thing that has been helpful at my house is communicating to my 5 year old a set of rules for when daddy is working. For example, if the office door is closed she knows she’s not allowed to burst in and start asking me questions but she can open the door to see if I’m busy. When the door is open, she can be as loud as she wants to be. If I’ve got my headset on but I’m not talking, I might be able to help her fix a broken toy, but if she hears me talking she knows she has to wait.

    #10 on the list is my favorite. She knows my day can be flexible and some times I can take 30 minutes to go play Pretty Pretty Princess and that’s completely worth making up that time after she’s asleep later. I found, with my daughter at least, giving her that time when I can helps her follow the rules better when I need her to.

    Pete Johnson
    HP.com Chief Architect
    Personal blog: http://nerdguru.net

  6. Tiffaney Watts Friday, August 3, 2007

    I brought my 2 year old and laptop like toy and a desk that sits beside my desk in my office. So that when she gets home from daycare (around 3:30) if I need to get some work done, she will sit beside me at her desk and draw and play on her computer. That keeps her quiet about 1-2 hours. She just loves doing the things that mommy does.

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  8. I work while my kids are taking their karate lessons. Yes, it’s loud as heck, but that’s what iPods are for. I either read, take notes, or listen to a podcast. I’ve seen other parents bring their laptops and work at the tables or in the bleachers. The city has free wifi at the moment, so I could work online if I chose to.

    I also work during my son’s speech therapy sessions. The office has a spare room with a desk.

    A suggestion is maybe asking your child’s dance/karate/sports facility to consider adding wireless in their building. Offer to set it up for them free if you know how.

  9. Stay At Home Dad, Geek Style Friday, August 3, 2007

    I completely agree about all of these. Often, when I am in serious “work mode”, I am able to sit there and bang it out, no matter what is going on. Alex (my 16 month old daughter) can be banging pots and pans or run around, as she normally does, and I find a way to keep an eye on here while still remaining focused. It’s amazing what you can handle once it becomes a part of your daily life.


  10. I find that we all get into “work mode” when we are in meetings solving issues and when working from home with the meeting on phone or Webex it brings that tension to the home. This makes handling children worse as they do not understand your sudden mode change with a call or email.

    My suggestion is to keep a place at work (office) or a corner to work and communicate to kids that when you are “working” they cannot disturb (works only for 4+ yr old and upwards ). Come out of this “office at home” periodically to interact and stretch – similar to your coffee breaks or hangout at the next cubicle which will get you off the stress to focus on the issues not people so you can solve it and move on.

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