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Top coronavirus tips for being productive at home


Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children Tom Breen (5) and Finn Breen (22 months)

Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children Tom Breen (5) and Finn Breen (22 months)

Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children

Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children

Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children

Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children

Chrissie Russell working from home with her two children Tom Breen (5) and Finn Breen (22 months)

Just a week ago you used to work at a desk in a nice office where the only one making demands of you was your boss.

Now you've got two tiny bosses with sticky hands, endlessly demanding you feed them snacks or entertain them all while you're trying your best to work at a laptop on the kitchen table.

Thanks to the news that Northern Ireland's schools have closed due to the threat of Covid-19 - and the government's demand to work from home where possible - thousands of parents have now found themselves flung into the manic world of being a stay-at-home/work-from-home mum or dad. It's not an easy world but it's one I know pretty well, having been in it for the past five years, trying to maintain my career as a freelance journalist while also minding my five-year-old and one-year-old sons.

I don't claim to have mastered the set-up (and I'll not lie, I'm seriously missing the kids' grandparents who are currently self-isolating) but, in the hopes of reassuring other parents out there that it can be done, here are a few tips I've picked up over the years...

Don't pretend you're still in the office

The advice often trotted out for working at home folk is to 'dress like you would for an office and keep nine to five hours'.

I'm telling you now, this is nonsense. If you've kids at home, you need to wear what you're comfortable in and be prepared to work wherever and whenever you can. And yes, sometimes that means in bed at 6am.

Triage tasks

Again, this depends on your form of work but I operate a tier system - things that need my total concentration get done when the kids are asleep or being looked after by someone else, lesser tasks can take place at the kitchen table while they play nearby.

Don't try and have an office

Unless your children are old enough to understand the concept, operating a home office is futile. Aim for an area where you can keep an eye on them while they play but still out-of-reach. I find our kitchen island is a life-saver.

Have a hoard of tasks that take up their time, but not yours.

Sorting things into colours, colouring in stones, ice-excavation (where you freeze something like lego in a basin of water and they've to chip away at it with a blunt instrument to 'free' it) photo scavenger hunts (where you take close-up pictures on your mobile around the house then hand over the phone for them to find them) - all favourites in our house.

If all else fails bring out a big cardboard box. Whether it's pretending it's a boat, a house or turning it into a target game, nothing seems to fascinate kids more than a big box.

...Except the TV

Now is not the time for beating yourself up about screen time. If you need them entertained while you work then do what you need to do and release the CBeebies.

Have a stash of 'new' toys

Don't have to be new-new, but have toys in a rotation pattern or build up a box of pre-loved buys from charity shops/online/friends to release when you need to buy a bit of time and they're fed up with whatever they've been playing with.

Work weird hours

If the night-shift is the only time you can get a solid run at work then it has to be done. Decide what you can sleep-walk through and what you can't. And if your partner is also working from home try and get a shift system running.

Embrace hands-free and clever tech

When mine were small a sling was a life-saver where I could 'hold' them but still type. Use ear-buds for phones, wireless headphones and airpods.

If you're on a video call the blur button can mask the mayhem behind you and the mute button is a handy one for covering up the howls of kids in the background.

Be honest with yourself and your employer

This is a hard time for a lot of people but it's also bringing out the best in many. If you're struggling - say.

I've had to ask for deadlines to be changed and cut interviews short because a baby has woken unexpectedly and people have always been empathic and kind. Don't struggle in silence.

Get online

Especially now, the internet is full of great ideas for keeping kids entertained, check out sites like The Best Ideas For Kids and Five Minute Mum for activity ideas for small children.

School-wise sites like Twinkl and Amazing Educational Resources are must-haves while Mensa and Nasa are offering up special online tutorials in response to school closures.

Don't try too hard

You cannot replace your kid's teacher so don't try. Everyone is in the same position. Now is not the time to try and push them in quantum physics and advanced language classes.

Try to work in a few learning activities a day. We're keeping a diary where our son writes just a few lines on what he did that day and that's his writing practice.

Try and see it as an opportunity

Life usually moves pretty fast. It isn't ideal but many of us now have more time on our hands with our kids than we had before, so maybe see it as a chance to do things you wouldn't normally have had the time to do.

My five-year-old and I made bread this week for the first time because we can't go to the shop and it actually ended up being a nice activity.

Remember it's quality of time not quantity

Try and set a solid period of time where you're totally focused on doing something with the kids (not keeping one eye on them and one eye on work). Experts say children don't need to be entertained all day (thank God!) but that 15 minutes of mindful playtime with a parent can make a huge difference to them feeling engaged and secure.

Get outside

Even if it's just to the end of the road and back, stave off cabin fever with a bit of fresh air. Set up circuits in the garden where each family member has to come up with an exercise or turn walks into a scavenger hunt where kids have to find 'something spotty', 'something red' etc.

Also take advantage of things like the National Trust's announcement that its opening some of its estates to the public for free during the pandemic.

Be flexible

I'm seeing a lot of people wanting to draw up charts for each moment of the day - don't. Yes, it's good to have some idea of routine. But if it's a nice day (and if your own work can wait) then head for shell hunting on the beach rather than rigidly sticking to your chart that says you should be doing phonics. For a brief moment in time we're not stuck in a 9-5 schedule, take advantage.

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