When I started on my journey as a Work at Home Mom a year ago, I felt as if I was jumping off a cliff. I came across a few blog posts here and there claiming to describe “The Day In the Life of a WAHM.” But after poring over the (highly edited) schedules of 30-something CEO’s with full-time nannies and flexible incomes, I felt even more clueless than before.
Not only did I not have a clear idea what the “work” part of “work-at-home” would look like, but I was brand new to being a mom as well. It took time to adjust myself to the “routine” (I use that term v-e-e-e-e-r-r–r-y loosely…) of WAHM life, but after an entire year of working out what my new role looked like, I’ve been able to nail down some tried and true pointers for other mamas looking to find a better work – life balance by moving their careers to their homes.
The biggest key to productivity is getting off to a good start. Set your alarm to get up a bit early and knock out any morning chores, feed yourself a nutritious breakfast, and set aside a few minutes to set your intention for the day.
I like to end each evening by writing out the next day’s To-Do list. It not only allows me to get started on my work right away (because I already know what needs to be done) but it actually helps me sleep easier because I’m not lying in bed going over the next day’s tasks. When I take the time to plan my day (and my week) on paper, I find that it’s much easier to stay focused because I’ve set proper expectations with myself.
At the beginning of each week, I create a schedule for each day that aligns with my task list. I estimate the amount of time I need to spend on each of my projects, and that way I know exactly what my work week will look like. Then I can plan around my week to work in things like laundry, grocery shopping and other errands. One of the trickiest battles of working from home is not letting yourself get distracted. Give yourself specific hours each day to focus only on work, and don’t let housework or other distractions weed their way into your schedule.
This is crucial for success in any job, but when you’re working from home it can be particularly easy to loose sight of what you want to accomplish. Keep your focus by giving yourself constant reminders about what you are doing. Why did you decide to work from home? More time with the kids? More freedom to pursue your ideal career? Whatever the reason, make sure you have a good understanding of what “success” would look like.
If you’re working from home, chances are that you are looking for more flexibility to spend time with your family. The ironic thing about working from home, though, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to separate your work life from your family life. When you work outside the home, it is usually much easier to leave work at the office. But when you work at home, your work is always there. You really don’t ever leave the office.
If you’re able to, set up your home office in a part of the house that receives the least amount of traffic. If that’s not an option for you (it isn’t an option for me…my office is a main thoroughfare in our home), then you’ll have to make a conscious effort to step away from your work. I often fall into the trap of sitting down to check email every time I come into the office (which is frequent). Because it’s so easy to get consumed by work when it’s always right there in front of me, I have to always stay aware of how much time I’m spending on work as opposed to with my family.
This goes right alongside #5. I am almost ashamed to admit how many days I have looked at the clock at the end of the day to realize I’ve spend the last 5 or 6 hours at the computer, with only a couple of trips to the bathroom or the kitchen to refuel. We’re all pretty familiar by now with the dangers of sitting and what it can do to our long-term health. But even beyond the physical benefits of exercise, moving around and standing up more is good for your brain as well. Fortunately, when you are working from home, you have the freedom to create an environment that promotes activity.
My daughter is in daycare a couple of days a week, and in a dream world I’d be able to finish all of my work within those hours. But life isn’t that tidy, so I very often have work to do on days when she’s home with me. That means I have to be really flexible with when I work and how much time I’m able to spend on my work. Luckily she’s a good napper, but even so we’ve had occasional days where a knock on the door woke her up earlier than expected or she just decided she wasn’t into a nap that day. Preparing yourself for the unexpected - the short or nonexistent nap, the surprisingly cranky baby, the cold that came out of nowhere – is an essential part of any mother’s journey. But when you factor in managing a career at the same time, it is even more crucial for you to be able to shift your schedule at a moment’s notice.
Your work environment is almost as important as your work schedule, in my opinion. I know I work much better in a well-organized, well-lit space than I do in somewhere cluttered, dark and depressing. Set up a space that feels good and that allows you to access the tools you need easily. For me, that meant installing a pegboard to house all of my supplies. I keep a basket on my desk for stray folders, and a large desktop calendar to keep me on schedule. Figure out what sort of environment you work best in, and create a space that embodies that.
I have a Pinterest Board full of inspiring words, images and people. When I’ve lost my motivation or when I just need a little kick in the creativity department, I browse that Pinterest Board for a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll print off a quote or an image that has really inspired me and pin it up on my office wall in plain view. Achieving your goals depends on your ability to maintain your motivation and stay focused. For me, the best way to do that is to surround myself with things that inspire me. Sometimes all I need to get back on track when I’m feeling stuck or overwhelmed is to shift my mind to something that reminds me what my goals are. There is power in inspiration.
Maybe it’s a fluke but it seems like a big trend among us busy, career-driven moms is that we rarely allow ourselves to reach out for a helping hand. We’ve been taught since girlhood to go after what we want and not let anything hold us back, but unfortunately we’ve equated that with asking for help. I know that I’m guilty of suffering through stressful moments on my own when all I need is someone else to handle dinner for one night. My husband works long hours and helps when he can, but I’ve found that many of my friends are more than happy to help me through a tough moment when I ask. Even if all I need are encouraging words or a playdate to give myself a break, just having a bit of help makes a huge difference for me. We all know we CAN do it on our own, but we forget that we don’t have to.
♥The Midnight Mama