How to be Productive at Home — Without Neglecting Your Kids

In addition to being a writer, a small business owner, and the logistical manager for our household, I’m also an unschooling mom. My son, Dru, is 12 years old, and we’ve unschooled him his entire life.

Unschooling is one of the most natural and easiest ways to school your kid at home, but it’s often hard to juggle giving him the attention and schooling he needs and making sure my business doesn’t suffer. It’s like having two very demanding babies, both of whom need my full attention at the same time – and I had to learn how to balance them so neither get too upset or hungry or bored.

I’m also lucky in that my kid is nearly a teenager (oh gods help me). His needs aren’t as demanding as would be a toddler or a younger child; Dru is fairly self-sufficient. He can make his own food, he can entertain himself if I have an urgent call, he can tell me if he sets his bathroom on fire (there is a trampoline in there, so one never knows what he’s up to). He can walk to a friends’ house and back – and even take himself to the neighborhood park – without my escort.

But he still needs my attention. He still needs time with me (and I need time with him). And finding time in a busy workday can be a challenge – and it can really hurt my productivity.

The number one thing I found that increases my productivity while maintaining such a balance is scheduling. I made out a schedule where my son gets my attention in the mornings and my business gets my attention in the afternoons. It’s never so cut and dry – for example, we go to an unschooling co-op that takes the entire day on Friday, 10 weeks in a row, every spring and autumn. Those weeks, I either make up that lost afternoon on the weekends or I just lose it. In general, though, the division of my attention keeps us all happy.

Establishing a routine has also been critical to my successful juggling act. I get up earlier than he does, so I get an hour in the mornings to write, go through my emails, and catch up on Twitter. Once he rises, we spend time together. We play games, we talk, we watch movies, we learn things together. In the afternoons, Pace comes home from her day job, and we all have lunch together. Then, Dru goes off to do his own thing and Pace and I get down to work.

I’m still available for the boy, though. If he has trouble with a game, if he has a question about something, if he needs help fixing his model of the Greek Parthenon, I stop what I’m doing and help him find glue or solutions or answers. And my productivity wanes.

A helpful trick is “Just a moment.” If he comes up and needs my help finding the perfect spot for his new dolphin sticker on his bed frame, I say, “Just a moment,” and get to a good stopping point. I often make a note in my notebook: where I am and what I’m doing in as much detail as possible, so that when I come back to it, I’m only lost for a brief moment before I can dive back in and make sense of what I’d been doing.

I also ask “How urgent is this?” We spent time working on a scale of urgency: 1 being “I can wait til tonight” and 10 being “I’ve set the bathroom on fire.” If I’m in the middle of something pressing, and I know I won’t be able to find the right spot to return to very easily, I’ll ask “How urgent is this?” and then, based on his number, I’ll either ask him to wait or call the fire department.

In addition to that, we’ve developed a wait-time scale that corresponds to the urgency scale. If his urgency number is 6, I’ll give him a 5-10 minute wait, for example. If it’s 3, I’ll come back to him when I finish what I’m working on. If it’s 8, I’ll stop what I’m doing, make my notes, and help him out.

We’ve had these scales since he was 6, so it’s something that works with younger kids, too. All they need is a good sense of various urgencies and a bit of self-awareness – and we made the urgency scale by using really obvious examples to make it easier for him to get. (For example, 1 would be something like, “I would like you to put this book up for me.” and 5 would be “I need help solving this puzzle in this timed game.” and 10 involves fire, flood, or blood.)

Finding the right balance between my two biggest priorities has been challenging. It’s not easy to unschool my son full-time and work on my business full-time. But I’m passionate about both, so finding tips and tricks to make it work has been well worth my while.

Kyeli Smith is co-leader of the Connection Revolution; teaching people to change the world through connection. She writes, blogs, and teaches workshops to foster understanding, tolerance, healing, authentic communication, and personal growth. She’s happily married to Pace, her partner in life and in business. She’s a Witch, a lesbian, an unschooling mom, a storyteller, and an edgewalker. She also sings in the shower and believes in faeries.

Image by Flickr user Mike Baird

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4 Responses to “ How to be Productive at Home — Without Neglecting Your Kids ”

  1. Ellie Di says:

    What a great set of guidelines! I’m totally making notes on your system for my eventual mommyhood. I’d like to unschool, too, and this seems like a sweet solution to the “I’m busy” issue.

  2. Bailey says:

    Terrific post, Kyeli! Being a parent and working from home is a hard balance to find. It sounds like you and Dru have found some great ways to make it work for you. I love the prioritization scales!

  3. Ali Luke says:

    I really like the urgency scale idea too! Having kids is still a bit of way off for me, but it’s definitely something Paul and I are both keen to do :-D and we’ve also talked a lot about unschooling, and feel that’s the right route for us.

    It’s really good to read about how you manage business along with unschooling, too; that’s something that has me feeling a bit daunted.

  4. Beatriz says:

    I agree with those who posted earlier. Excellent tips! I currently work one day a week out of the house, but hope to work more at home after this summer. This gives me hope that it can be accomplished while still unschooling my own 2 children. :)

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