Everybody with a child who has tried working at home even once knows this is a problem.
There is absolutely no way to focus on real, actual work that you must do and also care for your child during the day, and this applies in triplicate if your child is an infant or toddler. I don't think I'm blowing the covers off any vast secret by typing that (and any WAHMs or WAHDs who beg to differ — I am sorry, but a) no and b) if you can watch a child and work at the same time, what you are doing isn't work).
My job is one of those demanding types where I work 10-hours days — from home, mind you, so that doesn't include a commute; it is the literal (lowest possible estimated!) amount of time that I spend working on work things in front of my computer every day.
My kid is also at home during the day. So how does all this get accomplished? Here are my secrets.
- You need help. My husband watches the kid and he is awesome at it. He is here full-time; caring for our spawn is his one and only job in the world.
- Even with help, there will be times your kid insists on your attention. If you think this is unreasonable or untrue, then good luck with that mindset. However, if you are willing to believe and accept this, you can plan for it.
- Tell everyone when it is important not to interrupt you. I try to give the family a heads up when I am going into a meeting or have an important phone call that I do not want interrupted. It is not easy for my husband to be constantly policing the noise/distraction levels in the house, and this way he can pick his battles more wisely.
- Spend a few minutes giving your kid the attention he or she is craving. The easiest way to get your toddler to leave you alone? Take a quick break — you could probably use one anyway — and indulge the little fella. Then go back to work. Some quick things you can do: Read one short book, throw a ball back and forth a few times, play a game of tickle, have a dance party for one song, do a round of high fives (down low — too slow!).
- Keep distractions at your desk. My kid is almost three, so he leaves his favorite items strewn about the house, willy nilly. I have made a space at my desk for a handful of those items (his animal-shaped rubber bands, a rock he gave me that he likes to visit), and I'll hand him something like that when he's demanding attention and I'm disinclined to stop what I'm doing.
- Limit your participation. When my son would ask me to chase him, and I would tell him "no," it disappointed him and made me feel like an awful parent. Now, instead of declining, I'll tell him that he can chase me one, two or three times — depending on my schedule — and then we're done. Win/win.
- Enable carbon copies. Of course I'm not handing my beloved planner to my child to scribble on; I need that thing. (And I also need to be able to read and decipher it.) But I have about a trillion little notebooks, swag I picked up at conferences. He can have all of them and make his own planner.
- Make your kids part of your breaks. You need breaks during the day, too. Sit down for lunch at the table with your kid or take them with you when you walk to the post office. Spend some time at the park or running around outside. You'll be more focused on your work when you're finished, and your kid will feel like you put in some real quality time.
Bottom line: If you make a point to give your kid some quality, focused attention during the day while you are working — when you can; nobody is telling you to compromise your job — his or her desire to literally hang on your arm while you try with increasing futility to peck out an email will diminish noticeably.