You’re working hard when your child bursts into the room shouting, “Hey Mom! Did you know that giraffes eat 75 pounds of food every day!?”
You’re in the middle of working from home and now you have a choice to make.
While you love your child’s enthusiasm, you really need to get work done. And giraffes? This seems like a good dinner-time conversation, not an “interrupt mom at work” conversation.
However, for your child, the important point is not giraffes. The important point is your attention.
But we can’t always give our attention, right? Sometimes we need to get work done.
About the Author: Andrea
Dr. Andrea Towers Scott is an author and speaker. She’s been married 28 years and has two teen sons. Her mission is to equip families with the skills they need to thrive. She loves to encourage others in their family relationships. You can find her at www.DrAndreaTowersScott.com.
Work-life balance has always been a struggle but it’s even worse since Covid.
Research published in the Journal of Corporate Real Estate reports that Covid made working from home more chaotic than pre–pandemic because everyone was home.
Kids became accustomed to interrupting for school needs so behaviors became normal that didn’t exist before.
We all discovered what other researchers reported – working from home often leaves both work and home tasks incomplete.
When we factor in kids that want to talk about giraffes or any other myriad topics, we are even less likely to feel productive.
And knowing we may not be as productive makes it even more difficult to interrupt ourselves to talk about giraffes (or whatever else our children want to discuss).
These distractions at home can be very challenging.
To help you develop a good strategy for managing interruptions, here are a few questions to ask yourself, then a few solutions.
Questions to ask when work interruptions happen:
1. What question is your child asking?
If it’s a time-sensitive question (when did the dog last go out?), then addressing it right away is probably important.
On the opposite end, if it’s not time-sensitive (think giraffes), it could potentially wait. I’ll talk more about postponing questions in just a moment.
2. Where are you at in your work?
Are you just getting started? Do you have a good outline for what needs to be done? Are you near a stopping point? Are you almost done?
Use those questions to guide whether or not you can take a break at that moment.
If you have a good outline, maybe you can stop and give your child some attention.
Or, if you are near a stopping point or nearly done, maybe you can postpone the discussion for just a bit.
If you’re at the beginning and have no idea where you are going with the content, you may need a longer time to postpone the discussion.
3. How long do you need?
The two questions above feed right into this item.
But, depending on the family member, different amounts of time may be appropriate.
There may be times you can stop what you’re doing right away. If so, turn in your chair, mute your screen, and fully engage.
Your daughter may need you to talk about boys and she really needs your full attention. Your son may need someone to listen to him talk about what’s important to him for a few minutes.
Decide how much time you need to get to a stopping point, then do this next important step:
4. Set a timer
If you’ve asked your child to wait 10 minutes, set a timer. Be sure to stop in 10 minutes and give them your full attention (leave your work or turn away from it with the screen muted). Your loved one had to wait a bit, now let work wait a bit.
Setting the timer is key to really honoring your loved ones.
Considerations for interrupting yourself and your work:
1. How old is the child?
Older children can wait longer than younger children.
Younger children may be more unfocused so their interruptions may take a while.
On the other hand, older children tend to have more complex needs so their interruptions can be intense, and therefore time-consuming.
2. Is this a new technique?
New techniques are more difficult to learn, so give it time.
If this is new, find stopping points sooner (don’t make them wait as long).
If you’ve tried this before, you can take longer to wrap up what you’re working on (or come to a stopping point).
3. How important is your work at this moment?
My work generally feels important all the time, as yours does for you, I’m sure.
Some work can wait, though. It depends on what work we’re doing.
If I’m grading papers, it’s tough to stop mid-paper. But if I’m working on a blog post that has an outline, I can easily take a break and come back to it.
Decide the nature of your work and plan accordingly.
You may need to make a few notes and end at a time that isn’t convenient.
Is their topic one that can wait until a better time? If so, ask them to remember it so you can discuss it with the whole family at dinner or talk about it before bed. Make a note of it, though, so you don’t forget.
The Value of Waiting
Work interruptions happen. The good news is that our kids need to learn to wait a bit. They don’t need our instant attention every time they want it.
Waiting is a good life skill.
In fact, encouraging this self-regulation in kids can help them to connect socially with others and make them more in tune with their environment (see here for more about that).
When we can make a strategic decision about our work interruptions, we are teaching our kids self-regulation, work-life balance, and the importance of communicating intentionally.
When they interrupt, they really want our attention. We do them a disservice to just nod and absently say “Uh huh” while not really listening.
By asking them to wait until we can give them our full attention we are showing them we care about them enough to stop what we are doing at an appropriate place and really talk with them about what’s important to them. And that builds a strong relationship for years to come.
What’s the hardest part of managing interruptions at work? How can these tips help you?
3 thoughts on ““Mom, did you know…?” Managing Work Interruptions at Home”
This is enlightening and encouraging! “Mom, did you know…” I miss those interruptions because I’m an emptynester – now it’s “Honey, did you know…” from SAHH (stay at home hubby)! This article will help!
So true, interruptions from your spouse can be just as challenging to deal with sometimes! Thanks for reading and commenting!
Such great suggestions!