The COVID-19 outbreak is causing a huge uptick in work-from-home arrangements, and that's a challenge in its own right. But what if you're not only forced to work from home, but do so with kids?

As school closures are becoming more and more widespread, it's a reality many parents are facing. They can't take weeks off on end, but without child care, they have no choice but to juggle parenting and job-related responsibilities. If that's the scenario you're in, here are a few tips to maintain your productivity and sanity.

Woman at laptop balancing cell phone on ear while holding young child in lap


1. Set a schedule

When you're suddenly thrust into a work-from-home setup with kids, it can be difficult to know how to frame your days, which is why setting up a schedule is important. If your children are school-aged, they'll probably have some type of online learning platform or at-home study arrangement that can help keep them occupied during the day and ensure that they don't fall behind academically. See what's expected of them daily, and use that to guide your own days.

2. Plan your most difficult tasks strategically

Chances are, in the course of your workday, you'll be tasked with doing things that require lots of concentration, and others that are easier to handle, like responding to emails or following up with clients or vendors. The key here is to schedule your most pressing, difficult tasks when you know your kids will be occupied. For example, if your kids have a four-hour online school day, figure out when they'll be sitting down to do that work, and plan to power through your own priorities during that time. And if you have a younger child who naps, make the most of when he or she is sleeping.

3. Take breaks with your kids

If you think it's not easy being cooped up at home for hours on end, you can only imagine how your kids feel. That's why it's important to schedule breaks during your day -- breaks that allow your kids to stretch their legs, burn off energy, and enjoy your company. You might, for example, schedule a mid-morning break, a lunch break, and then a mid-afternoon break, during which time you play outdoors with your children or go for a walk around the neighborhood. Not only will that be good for your physical and mental health, but it'll likely buy you a reprieve on the child boredom front -- meaning, once those breaks are over, your kids will be more likely to self-entertain for a bit so you can get more done.

4. Give your children new things to learn and accomplish

It's easy to look at the current situation as a terrible, isolating experience. But you'll have an easier time getting through it -- and maintaining your work-related productivity -- if you get creative and help your kids identify ways to make the best of this time. Rather than leave them to sit around growing increasingly restless, encourage them to try new things. Sign your older child up for an online coding class, or download a learn-to-read program that your younger child can do independently (many companies, like Scholastic, are offering free access to online content during this time to help families with kids stuck at home). The more engaged your children are, the less they'll get in the way of your work.

5. Prepare to work at odd hours

You may not want to sit down from 8:00 to 9:00 at night to finish the work you didn't complete during the day, but that may end up being your reality. Try not to let it get you down. In fact, it may help you to plan on working early in the morning or after hours, as that might eliminate some stress for you during the day.

Working from home when you're not used to doing so can be tough. Throw kids into the mix, and that challenge gets elevated. But throughout it all, remember to cut yourself some slack and do your best. Most employers understand that these are unusual, trying times, and that parents with kids -- especially younger ones -- are grappling with certain constraints. The key, therefore, is to do your best to maintain a positive attitude -- one that your children pick up on throughout this ordeal.