Working from home isn’t necessarily an introvert’s dream when you’re constantly surrounded by other people.
I’ve been working from home as a freelancer for four years now. It’s been a great solution for me as an introvert, since spending a whole day with the same colleagues and not being able to feel at ease that entire time was not my cup of tea.
The downside of working from home full time, however, is that I have no colleagues at all. My toddler knows nothing about dealing with tough clients, and it’s a little harder to be motivated to work when there’s no risk that someone will catch you scrolling through Facebook all afternoon.
So I’ve had to come up with some strategies to work efficiently and not lose my mind, while also taking care of my toddler. Now that many of us are working at home in some capacity due to the ongoing quarantine, I thought they might come in handy for the newbie parents whose work life has shifted.
8 Tips to Make Working at Home Easier as Introvert Parents
1. Develop and stick to a morning routine.
One of the perks of working from home is the relaxed atmosphere. You can (usually) lounge in your pajamas all day, snack whenever you want to, and work on your sofa. The introvert’s dream, right? Until you notice that your concentration, motivation, energy levels, and overall mental health are getting a little “blergh.”
You’ve probably heard this before, but to be successful during the day, you need a good start. Get up on time, get washed and dressed, have a (preferably) healthy breakfast and limit the snacking. Sorry, I know it sounds awful, but it really does work.
2. Set reasonable expectations.
Many employees seem to think that freelancers can go for groceries during the day, do a few loads of laundry, have lunch with friends, have their in-laws pick up some things they want to borrow, have their kids at home all day, and still get their work done.
In reality, if we prioritized those things, we wouldn’t get any work done because we’d be too overwhelmed and distracted. No employee — in the office or at home — actually focuses all eight hours of the day, every day. If they did, they would be superhuman.
You can get a lot done in a few hours if you have fewer phone calls, colleagues, clients, managers, and coffee breaks to disrupt you. (Not to mention the time you spend mentally preparing for those phone calls, worrying why your colleague seemed annoyed at you, or wondering which evil mind invented open offices.) You might get the same amount of work done at home in two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon as you would on a normal day at the office. So find out what works for you, and set reasonable expectations.
3. Set boundaries with kids and partners.
Welcome to the home version of the open office workplace, which can be rough on introverts. Telling your kids they can’t disturb you for hours on end is not reasonable. Heck, even my husband can’t let me work in peace when he’s home. So you’ll have to adapt your working hours to when you’re best able to stay focused, and to the time and moments you can reasonably expect your kids to let you work.
Naps are obviously a good time to work (if applicable), and for older children, you can alternate between spending time together (for real, so no screen time for you too) and work time. For kids, “work time” could be screen time, homework, quiet playing, or little assignments you give them. They might be special “healthcare assistants” who write cards to the elderly, the neighbors, people in special needs homes, their friends… you get the idea.
Just keep your expectations realistic. You’d probably rather work peacefully for 30 minutes each time than struggle to write one email for an hour.
4. Cultive a workplace.
Ideally, we’d all have a dedicated office space at home, away from noise, distractions, and curious little eyes. Your kids could have the “work time” I mentioned above in that space, learning how to cultivate quiet moments of focus, but playtime would be anywhere else. This makes it very clear for everyone in the house that the office is the time and place to work quietly, and the rest of the house is for everything else.
If you’re working at the kitchen table, the mess around you — the dishes, your kids, and maybe even your partner — will all start calling out to you, and it’ll be harder to get work done. But of course not everyone has the luxury of having a separate room they can use as a home office.
In that case, I strongly advise making a dedicated space for work. Even temporarily. If it has to be the kitchen table, then put a special lamp on the table that you turn on when it’s “work time,” or invest in a room divider between you and the dishes, or put on headphones. Introverts need quiet, reflective spaces to do their best work, so do everything you need to make it a separate zone (physically and mentally) for yourself and your housemates.
5. Divide and conquer.
If you have a partner, sit down together and make a daily schedule for weekdays so you know what to expect from each other. Work at different times so each of you can entertain the kids when the other is working, and so you know there’s a dedicated time when you can work in peace.
If your partner is working away from home, discuss how you can divide the evenings. It may seem like a logical solution to “dump” the kids on your partner once they come home (or a necessity, for everyone’s safety), but it might be a better idea to all have some family time first, talk about your day, relax a bit, check in with each other’s feelings, and only then divide and conquer.
The world is a confusing place right now, so you have to team up with your quarantine buddies.
6. Don’t forget about people.
Staying home and keeping away from other people is usually not a huge problem for introverts because we crave those moments of solitude to reconnect with ourselves. But being stuck at home with one or more extroverts can definitely be a problem — no matter how much you love them. And even if things are going well, even introverts need people in their lives from time to time.
So be creative. Have FaceTime brunches, send your extended family fun challenges to complete long distance, meet with a friend for a walk (if that is allowed in your area), play outside games inside, write letters with your kids. Stay active and find creative ways to connect with people.
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7. Me-time is not selfish.
Working from home — even if you’re completely alone — is NOT the same as having me-time. We know that, but our (extroverted) partners or children might not realize it. So be sure to get some necessary me-time. The closer you’re living with other people, the more you need it as an introvert.
Know yourself and talk about it beforehand with your family. Talk about everyone’s needs, plan me-time into the daily schedules, if necessary, and respect each other’s wishes. Even your extroverted partner and clingy kids need their me-time. Talk about it openly, agree on a non-verbal sign if necessary, and prevent unnecessary conflicts.
8. Remember, it’s hard for everyone.
Working from home is not easy. Working from home with kids is not easy. Being in home isolation is not easy. Worrying about your family and friends and, honestly, the entire world, is not easy. And the whole situation is no fun either. Let’s acknowledge that.
It’s no fun canceling everything and not seeing our friends, even for us introverts. Pretending you’re perfectly okay with what’s happening doesn’t teach your kids a thing. Be honest with one another and yourself. And use it as a learning opportunity, for your kids and yourself. Ask yourself what is really important: using every minute to work and having your kids only do “useful” things while stressing everyone out, or using this time to connect, to build emotionally and socially strong humans and relationships, and be happy?
As someone who has worked from home long before it ever became necessary, I’ve relied on these eight tips to help me cultivate a better workspace at home, build boundaries with my family, and ensure everyone’s mental health. To all the working-from-home parents out there, good luck!