Or, What I’ve Learned in 2 Years of Being a Work-at-Home Mom.
I’ve worked from home in some capacity for five years and quit my day job two years ago this month.
I’m working less and earning more than I did in that day job, plus I don’t have to leave the house when it’s 19 degrees out! Score.
Here’s what I’ve learned about working from home when you have a spouse and kids:
Child care is essential.
It took me a few years to accept this, as I resisted spending the money on childcare. But dedicated time is essential. Do not try to mix work and child care.
Even now, I have dedicated work days and dedicated child care/house days and trying to do both at the same time inevitably leaves me frazzled and ineffective in both roles. It makes me a distracted parent and wastes my time with work since I end up reading the same email four times and not even responding.
Child care solutions can vary. Before Mike’s new job, I sent Gabe to preschool for two full days and then last year hired a babysitter to watch Theo 3-4 half days a week. Now, Mike has Mondays and Fridays off, so I work those full days and a half day Wednesday.
Working at home doesn’t have to be at home.
Before we moved, I left when I worked because a babysitter came to watch my child(ren) and our apartment was just too small to be there at the same time. I worked from a coffee shop and a library three times a week for a year and it was great.
Now, I work at a coffee shop at least one morning a week to break things up and jumpstart my focus for the day.
Find a task list method that works for you and stick with it.
You can lose precious time and energy by not deciding ahead of time what you’ll do or how you’ll keep track of what you need to do. I say this as someone who’s tried out about three dozen different apps and systems and planners. Just pick one and stick with it! Otherwise, it’s procrastination.
Planning a week at a time is essential for me: I plan out my week according to which days/times I will have work time and what my task list for the week is, then make my very specific to do list for the day by first checking any deadlines that I have, then scanning any emails that are urgent and important.
Use apps as needed to minimize distractions.
When you’re working for yourself, no one is telling you what to do and what to prioritize. It’s up to you to actually get the work done instead of wasting time online.
For a long time, I worked for no more than 3 hours at a time, so I had to be super focused. I found that apps were the key to better working. Maybe you have better self-control than me (it wouldn’t take much) and don’t need these.
Here are some of my favorites:
Freedom ($9.99, for computer) – This is by far the most effective way I can start a work time – by essentially disabling my internet for a set period of time and writing or designing without the ability to get distracted. (Other wise, many work sessions I start and *just* want to check social media for a few minutes. 45 minutes later…)
Isolator (free, for Mac) – This darkens everything else on the screen except the current program you are using.
Forest (99 cents, phone) – My phone can be a way I procrastinate. Maybe just pick it up and scroll through Instagram or text someone. Or hey, what’s the weather? Forest allows me to decide how long I don’t want to touch my phone and the incentive is that I grow trees for my forest. It’s unexpected, but surprisingly effective. It’s also fun.
Strict Workflow (free, Chrome) – Strict Workflow works well with the pomodoro method as it blocks distracting websites for 25 minutes chunks.
StayFocused (free, Chrome) – I use this for two different purposes: only allowing myself on Facebook and Twitter for 20 minutes a day and for blocking out all websites except whitelisted ones for a set period of time. Again, this second purpose works well with the pomodoro method.
Work in a designated place and times.
Your body will catch on to the “it’s time to work” cues and it makes getting in the zone way easier. Less transition time is needed if it’s part of your rhythm. You can also have cues through rituals always making a cup of tea before heading up to your home office (or corner of the living room).
Headphones are your best friend for working at home or from a coffee shop.
That is all.
Pomodoro Method + Movement = Focus.
The Pomodoro Method means you work for 25 minutes, then rest for 5 minutes and repeat. It’s a great way to get things done and to stay focused because it breaks up work time and forces a daunting to do list into action.
It also requires me to be realistic about my work time when I have to figure out how much time I have and estimate how much time my tasks will take. I’ve learned that spending the 5 minutes getting up and moving instead of taking the 5 minutes to browse Twitter or Facebook does wonders for my productivity.
Cleaning up my office, making tea, or doing some stretching or crunches gets me away from my desk for a bit and keeps me focused.
It’s up to you to defend your work time.
Your family might not understand that working from home is truly working. It’s up to you to teach them how to respect that time.
If you spend that time prepping dinner or doing laundry or cleaning your bathroom or tend to skip your work time a lot, saying, “Let’s skip my work day and go outside!”, that will become the norm. Honor your work time and don’t let other commitments creep into it. This is where the dedicated work time is essential. I can tell my friends, “I work all day Monday and Friday, so I will never hang out those days,” which means I won’t be tempted to!
But, hey, if you really need a day of going to the park and getting ice cream instead of working, do it! Flexibility, freedom, and autonomy are huge perks of working from home, so sometimes I have take advantage of that.