A couple of weeks into being home-based things were rosy, but what a different story last week was. Working from home and trying to look after (and home school) a 7 and an 8-year-old, solo, is no easy task. With my husband away for a couple of weeks, I knew it was going to be difficult but was ready to give it my best shot.

I already had a packed working week planned out (pre this situation) with meetings and workshops filling about 70% of my days. So on Sunday night, I got prepared. I created a timetable with 30 – 60 minute tasks and pulled together a supporting pack for each child for Monday, and this took ages! The kids prepared overnight oats, so their breakfast was ready when morning came. When it came to lunch, I had created packed lunch boxes for them so they could just lift them out the fridge. We had a sit down to talk about how things were going to run. They were happy and on board.

So, how did the grand plan work out? Well, day 1 was stressful, and I felt guilty for not being around them more to help, but it went well. I then started on the lengthy prep that evening for the following day. Now it’s day 2, which was more difficult, but we got there in the end. However, by 9:05 am on day 3, it was obvious things were spiralling into free fall – on just my second work check-in call of the day, I’d already had five interruptions, with tantrums, along with one serious fight to attend to.

The conclusion of working from home with kids on your own? The kids couldn’t be left to manage themselves for such long periods for days in a row. It’s just too much to expect of them. This programme I’d come up with wasn’t sustainable for days, never mind weeks on end. Things had to change.

Everyone’s employer and colleagues need to be empathetic to the situation working parents find themselves in right now. Embracing more flexible working, in terms of what time of day work gets done is crucial during this time, and upfront honesty about what times work and what times don’t is key. But this isn’t going to be a fix for everything. For example, I couldn’t organise team meetings for 9pm when my kids were finally in bed.

You also need to focus on what matters, cutting out all the noise and prioritising non-urgent and non-important activities. Completing a few meaningful tasks well delivers more impact.

After day 3, I rearranged everything in my calendar to focus on critical activity and took half-day holidays for the next week and a half. Things immediately felt better, more relaxed.

There are some elements of my initial ‘regime’ that I think is still important to stick with. I recommend retaining a structured routine and rhythm – set your alarm, get up and ready, make sure you have a clear distinction between what is work and school time versus free time. It also really helps to create separates spaces or zones, or if you’re lucky, rooms for work and school. Have just 2 or 3 education related things prepared for the children to do.

Let them fill the rest of their time doing what makes them happy. Just accept that there is going to be more Netflix, Minecraft and sweets than in a typical week. Be prepared to be interrupted, for things to go off-plan. Kids are kids, and they’ll need you. Try to enjoy what you can from this unusual time with your little ones where you can. And coffee and wine, you need good coffee and wine.