Self-employed parents: advice about home office

do not disturb

Self-employed parents: Do you have a home office? How have you been avoiding interruptions from your kids?

For years I’ve had a home office and for years my kids have kept coming in and interrupting my work and phone/skype calls despite continual attempts at training them to not do that. The same happens for my wife too who also works at home. It’s not so bad when they are at school but in school vacations like Spring Break my wife and I often have to keep on working (for financial reasons and due to obligations to third parties) and so we attempt to tag team spending time with the kids so the other one can work. Interruptions aren’t so bad if I’m doing some mindless admin, but most of the time I’m doing something mentally taxing and my train of thought gets shattered. I’ve ended up shifting my schedule to working in the middle of the night, which naturally creates other problems.

I know some people prefer to have an office in a remote location, but we can’t currently afford to do that and also then there’s travel time and having to buy another computer and furniture, plus the fact that I’d be out of the house all day which defeats the point of being an indie game developer and working at home so I can see my family a bit more than the average 9am-6pm worker. Ideally I’d have a home office that is separated from the main house, but that will have to stay on my wishlist for the moment.

I know it seems like I want to have the best of both worlds of working at home and being able to do that in peace, and perhaps it’s not possible, but still I’d like to aim for that. And thus I am seeking advice from others who are doing this too.

If you have had experience in working at home with kids, please post a comment. Thanks!

10 Responses to “Self-employed parents: advice about home office”

  1. Troy Says:

    I have a similar issue having been working from home on and off for several years. I have opted to save the massive overhead of a office space to endure the distractions of working from home. But lately it is not conducive with a productive environment. And it is not juts kids but the fact is it’s easy to get caught up with daily domestic duties. I have found I am giving minimal focus on my family duties and my work efforts alike and nothing is getting completely done. To remedy this I pay for a shared space, $100 a month, that I work from when I need to focus. Its a great space that has a lot of indie game devs sharing it. The space is called Miso Bento in Toronto and is not a Desk but a shared work environment that is an amazing concept. Hope this helps!

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks Troy. Yeah I think there are some places like that and I could try it out. My main issue with working in any temporary locations like a coffee shop on my laptop is that really my main PC is where I’m most productive as it is really fast and has all the tools I need whereas my laptop is only good for doing google docs. I could code on it if I was making my own game, but the project I’m working on with a team at the moment requires a different toolset/SVN and all that stuff.

    Other things I’ve tried in the past are having an upstairs office (thinking of moving things around and trying that again) and having a lock on the door. Previously though when I had a lock my kids would just bash on the door and yell instead. Just today I’ve printed up a “do not disturb” sign as a visual reminder that they shouldn’t come in unless it’s super urgent.

    Of course other interruptions occur when you hear your kids fighting or yelling and you have to exit your office to deal with it. Short of having a nanny or only one parent working at once (which is very tough financially) or sending your kids to after school clubs there’s not a decent solution to this. Games and TV can keep them entertained but we prefer them to not be completely using electronics 100% of the time.

  3. Sue Moseley Says:

    Hi Jake, we used a few different strategies when the kids were younger. A lock on the door is really useful for times when you absolutely have to focus, but the rest of the time we allowed them to interrupt for a chat and a cuddle, then they would be happy to go off and occupy themselves for a while. We had an office separate from the house for a few years (just across the road) but to be honest, it made it harder to juggle family life and work; when we had a huge project with tight deadlines my daughter ended up having to sleep on a settee in the office as we worked all hours and my son was left to his own devices far too much (he was a teenager by this time, and we were only a stones throw away – but I do regret not being in the house). I miss the space the office gave us, but if I had that time over again, I would rather move to a house with more office space, than have a separate office. When I was doing my dissertation for an MSc I ended up working through the night a couple of times a week, which was great for the peace to concentrate, but not ideal for my health. Sometimes we’ve worked in shifts, so one can look after the kids while the other concentrates, mostly it was just a case of muddling through. I would still rather it was like this though than having to go and work for someone else and leave the kids with childminders. Both kids are grown now, with my son living in his own place and my daughter still at home and growing her own business (I can interrupt her now), but we have a German shepherd who has taken over the role of interrupter – she jumps up on me, forcing herself between me and the monitors and then proceeds to take my glass off. If that doesn’t work, she grabs my sleeve and literally pulls me off the chair until I go and play with her – sometimes you just have to go with the flow and enjoy the interruptions.

  4. Scott Brodie Says:

    I’ve had similar troubles with interruptions when working at home, and I don’t think there is a an easy way to completely avoid them. That said, here are a few things you could try that might give you more uninterrupted work time:

    1. Shift your work hours around slightly. Not sure what your kid’s schedule is like, but if you could afford work during later hours when your kids are asleep, it might be worth it. I had a long stretch where I cut my work day short, and then picked up for 3-4 hours of work after 9pm or so when there were no distractions. It worked well for me, but you have to really turn it into a routine, otherwise you’ll be too tired to get a lot of work done at those hours.

    2. Get a powerful laptop + cloud storage or portable HD. I use a laptop as my primary work device, and it has allowed me to more easily work out of coffee shops and co-development space offered generously by local studios. I do flash development, so my hardware requirements are admittedly lower than most. When I’m at home, I have another monitor, keyboard, and mouse I hook up to, and small stand for the laptop so that I can use it as a second monitor.

    3. As I mentioned, see if you can find a quiet space to get out of the house at least one day a week. See if any of the local studios you are friendly with have space to squat at for free or a small fee. The cost becomes more manageable when you don’t have a full-time financial commitment to additional office space.

    As far as managing your kids, I have no clue, I’m only 2 weeks into this thing 🙂

    Best of luck.

  5. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Hi Sue, this is great advice thanks. Yes you are right, sometimes the interruptions are totally fine and in fact most welcome. When it’s a problem is when the pressure is piling on due to some deadline or another. Of course ideally there would be no such deadlines but that’s quite hard to achieve if you are working with other people. Interesting to hear how your separate office didn’t work out so well as it’s kind of a fantasy of mine to have one – I even imagine how I’d sometimes sleep in there after a very late night so as not to get woken up too early by the kids. I do regret some things about the way my work and home life has been set up since my kids were born, but I guess all I can do is try to make it better going forward.

  6. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks Scott. I still have no clue about managing kids despite having almost 19 years of combined experienced (boys aged 8 and nearly 11)!

    I have indeed been doing that shifted working schedule thing and working very late into the night (4am ish). The only issue with this is when you are part of a team that is working normal hours and they expect responses. Plus eventually someone asks for a really early meeting that I have to wake up for and it totally messes up my day – although most of the time I try to put people off until the afternoon 🙂

    Perhaps if I really put my mind to it I could get a better laptop + mouse setup and use a shared office after all. I’ll have to think about that.

  7. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thought I’d mention that an issue that can crop of with tag-teaming the parenting is when one of you is ill or has to go out or something and the other one still has to work due to some deadline. That seems to happen a lot with us. Ideally we’d have no such deadlines so didn’t have to work in such situations but inevitably we do.

    Also we had after-school care in the UK and it was somewhere other than our house. We definitely got good work done but it does feel strange having your kids looked after by someone else for 3 hours each day. Plus we got a really got rate. We tried in-house child care here for a while but it wasn’t as good (still suffered interruptions) unless it was the summer and the kids were taken outside. When my wife looked at her income for the year a huge chunk of it was taken up by child care and we were wondering if it was really worth it. Still, could be worth a try again.

  8. Sue Moseley Says:

    Hi Jake, I have had another thought in relation to your answer to Troy. We have a cottage in Wales and my husband spends time over there climbing mountains whenever he can. When there he uses LogMeIn (, so he can work remotely still using his PC at home, which we keep switched on. Since you would still be using your computer at home, you would have access to all the software, tools and computing power of your machine at home. That would enable you to use the shared work space Troy mentioned when you need to be uninterrupted.

  9. Jake Birkett Says:

    That’s interesting Sue, thanks for the heads up.

  10. Mims H. Wright Says:

    My wife and I are hoping to start a family and this is definitely a big concern of mine. We’re looking into the possibility of converting our garage into an office. I have also experimented with using a co-working / shared space and that works great for me. Also, I agree with Scott that if possible, get yourself a great laptop and make it your primary machine!

    I’m going to be keeping an eye on this post for more tips!