In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, cubicles and classrooms are being replaced by coffee tables and kitchen islands. With schools and most workplaces closed, many parents are tasked with the dual challenge of working at home and managing distance learning for their children. If you find yourself struggling to balance the two, all you have to do is turn to the world of social media memes (Funny Posts from Parents Working at Home with Kids) to see that you’re not alone.

But aside from having a laugh at your own expense, there are some things you can do to make a difficult situation feel a little less overwhelming.

Here are our 6 sanity-saving tips to make working at home and distance learning during COVID-19 go a little more smoothly for you and your kids.

  1. Create a schedule for all of you.

This is not a snow day. To create a sense of normalcy in this ongoing situation, it helps to establish a daily schedule. (We can link to our own daily schedule blog once it’s published.) This will give you an idea of when you can be most productive, good times to schedule calls, and so on. Plus, the benefits of routine for children (It’s Science: Having a Routine Helps Your Family Be Happier) are well established.

Keep in mind that even with a schedule in place, it’s okay to be flexible. When it’s a beautiful day and you finish a conference call early, take an unplanned break for a family walk. Routine is great, but so are fresh air and sunshine!

Bonus tip: Try a timer to help with transitions. Ideally use a timer that your kids can see while they work, so they are more aware of the time passing. (I bought this timer after hearing this advice on a podcast and it really works. We could link to it if think it makes sense.)

  1. Think outside the typical hours of school and work.

Depending on the ages and independence of your children, it may not be possible to accomplish both your work and theirs within the boundaries of a normal work or school schedule. (How These Parents Work and Homeschool Too) If necessary, consider adding in a block of time to work before your kids get up or after bedtime. Or, if you need to be available during set working hours, save some of your kids’ work for after you sign off in the evening.

Some schools are also being flexible with when assignments need to be submitted, giving you extra time to catch up with unfinished work on the weekends. It’s not ideal – none of this is – but getting a little creative with your days may work better for your family than you think!

  1. Communicate about your day.

As with most things, communication is key! At the start of the day or the night before, take a few minutes to discuss your schedules (How to Work from Home with Your Kids During Coronavirus) for that day. Let your family know about conference calls you have scheduled, and make sure you have a plan for keeping the kids occupied at those times. Involve kids in the discussion. They’ll feel like part of the team and be more likely to help out (and pipe down) when the time comes.

  1. Create designated workspaces.

When we commute to work and school, it’s much easier to transition out of home life and into our daily routine. When your commute is from the bedroom to the living room, the lines can easily get blurred. That’s why it’s so important to designate spaces in your home where each member of the family can get down to business.

This does not mean you need to recreate a classroom (Yes, You Can Homeschool without a Homeschool Room) or a corner office in your home. Get creative and be flexible, but consistent. Notice the areas of the home that naturally lend themselves to productivity and start there. Once you’ve designated your spaces for work and school, stick with them. Soon you’ll find that your mind turns on more easily when you show up to “work” at your usual spot. Even that spot is the kitchen table.

Bonus tip: At times when you really need to focus – like taking conference calls and completing urgent tasks – use a visual cue that lets everyone know you’re in full-on work mode. This could be as simple as wearing headphones or closing the door, if you’re lucky enough to have a separate room.

  1. Work when they work.

To the extent that you can, set your child up with a task for their own schoolwork, and then get to work yourself. (Tips for Schooling and Working at Home) If you have children of varying ages, this may be easier said than done! For younger children, try setting them up with an age-appropriate activity that’s similar to what their bigger siblings are doing. You could even let them follow along with your older child’s science video or math game.

6. Be smart with screen time.

There will be times when your work schedule and your kids’ virtual learning just don’t match up as well. This is when screen time can be your best friend. Reward them with a favorite show, or set them up one of the many great online learning resources, and get to work. You could even have a grandparent read them a story over Facetime while you take that important call or finish a project.

Screen time may happen more than normal (Working and Learning from Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak) during this time, especially when it’s integral to virtual learning. That’s okay. What’s being asked of you is not normal. If an extra hour of screen time saves your sanity: It. Is. Worth it.

On the days when no amount of scheduling or screen time seem to help, know that you are doing great. Working from home while walking kids through distance learning is a tightrope act that none of us signed up for. All we can do is our best, whatever that looks like each day. And that is absolutely enough.