Practical Tips for Working From Home When You're a Mom
|Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash
Perhaps you work from home because you want to, or maybe you've started telecommuting due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Either way, working at home while you're still raising kids can be challenging. As a remote worker with kids, I've learned to overcome the challenges of working in a houseful of people.
Read on for a definitive guide on how to be productive while working from home as a busy mom. I'll provide you with examples from my own experience as well as several actionable steps you can take today to make your dream of successfully juggling kids and a career a reality.
What I Do from Home
If you've been following me for a while, you may remember that I started writing for content companies back in 2016, but since I was still learning the ropes, I didn't make much money. Because of the low pay, I reduced my writing down to an occasional hobby, but I got more serious about it this year when I was offered higher-paying work.
I am now blessed to be earning a full-time income from home as a freelance writer. In addition to my writing gigs, I have a successful cleaning podcast, which I record and edit once a week. How am I able to do all this with children still living at home? Well, number one, my kids are getting older, and number two, I've learned what works for our family through trial and error. Let's dig into the specifics.
Be Realistic in Your Expectations
If you have babies and toddlers but no babysitter, you may only be able to work part-time. I know this might not be what you wanted to hear, but taking care of small children is a full-time job in and of itself. If you are working full time from home and intent on keeping your children there with you, you may need to hire a mother's helper to entertain the babies while you work.
Another option could be getting together with another mom, who is in the same situation. One day she can watch all the kids, and another day you can watch them. Still, you would only be working part-time in that scenario.
There are also those few quiet hours during the kids' nap or before they wake up in the morning. Again, you may only be able to work part-time unless you work opposite hours from your spouse or your kids go to daycare.
Realize They Grow Up Fast
I get it. You want to contribute to the household financially, or maybe you just need a creative outlet to feel fulfilled. Working from home can be difficult, though—especially if you have small children who are very needy. Trying to work from home with babies and toddlers underfoot is hard. Don’t worry—they grow up fast, and working from home will be very doable once they get a little older and more independent. Not only will they stop needing as much close supervision, but they'll be able to pitch in with household chores, freeing you up to do your job.
Children Thrive on Routine
When you're a stay-at-home mom, it can be tempting to take advantage of the flexibility and not have much of a daily routine. I highly caution against this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. In my opinion, even if your only responsibility is taking care of your children, having a routine makes life more enjoyable for you as well as the kids. And when you're a work-at-home mom, having a plan for your day is vital.
Routine vs. Schedule
There's a difference between having a schedule and having a routine. A routine is an order in which you do things, whereas a schedule implies having an exact time for every single activity. When taking care of kids, you'll need the flexibility of a routine as opposed to a rigid schedule. You don't want to be too strict with your children, but a little structure can go a long way. The level of organization in your day will vary based on personal preference, but here are some realistic minimums:
Have a set bedtime.
Putting your kids to bed at a decent hour isn't selfish; it's good for them. Ideally, when your children grow up and have a fuller schedule, they'll have the self-discipline to get to bed on time because they've been doing it all their life. Having a bedtime for kids might seem like a no-brainer, but some parents these days allow their kids to stay up way too late. That said, letting older kids stay up late once a week is fine because they will probably crash before too long anyway if they are used to an early bedtime.
Young children need naps.
In addition to bedtime, naptime will be part of the routine for very young children. Some may argue that their child won't take a nap, but childcare centers have no problem putting toddlers and preschoolers down for a nap at the same time every day. Part of this is that the kids are getting up early each day, and the other part is that their teachers don't take no for an answer. Children who get up during naptime get sent right back to the mat, and you ought to be able to do the same at home. Consistency is key.
Serve meals at regular times and have convenient snacks available.
Everyone will be in a better mood if you eat at consistent times and have convenient meal and snack options available. With a little advance planning, food can be healthy as well as convenient.
Have a chore list for school-aged children.
Kids benefit from doing chores, and delegating some of your household responsibilities will give you more time to get your other work done.
Have a routine or at least a flow in your day.
In addition to setting benchmarks for bedtime and mealtimes, it's good to have a rough order in which your family does things. It's up to you to develop a routine that will be unique to your family, but here's a rough idea of what my typical day looks like:
5:45 a.m. Coffee and quiet reading time
6:15 a.m. Wake up my teenage son, so he can start getting ready for school
6:30 a.m. Start on my writing.
9:00 a.m. Assign daily goals to the two who are homeschooling and explain any new concepts. They work quietly alongside me and know that I am approachable, so long as they are asking a school-related question. In August, they'll be joining their brother at a nearby private school, which will free me up to do even more work. They are excited about going to school in person, so it's going to be a win-win for our family.
Noon: Serve lunch or delegate that chore to one of the kids.
4:30 p.m. Start dinner if my husband isn't planning on cooking. I also reserve the right to have pizzas delivered if I'm on a roll with my work. Ideally, though, we sit together and have dinner as a family, discussing our day.
Late nights: I often quit working at dinner time, but once the kids are in bed, I'll do the easier task of planning my outlines for the next day's writing projects. This is fine with my husband since he's usually watching TV or on his phone in the evenings. Not only that, but he goes to bed early on weeknights.
Enjoy Your Weekends or Other Days Off
The one night my kids stay up late is Friday. This results in them sleeping in on Saturday mornings when I usually knock out at least one writing project. After that, we try to get out of the house and do something fun as a family. I don't work on Sundays.
Take at Least One Full Day Off Each Week.
Don't be tempted to become a workaholic just because you work from home. Yes, you might need to burn the midnight oil now and then to make up for lost time, but be sure to take at least one full day off each week where you can relax and be 100% present with your family.
Work When You Are Naturally Most Productive
Getting up before my kids wake up is vital because those early hours right after I drink my coffee are the most productive of my day. That's what works for me, but your circadian rhythm may be different. If you are most productive in the afternoon or early evening, plan accordingly. Starting dinner in the morning in a slow cooker would prevent you from having to stop to cook later in the evening when you're engrossed in your work.
Keep Track of Time By Setting Reminders
When I recently transitioned from working part-time to working all day, I realized something. After sitting still for several hours straight, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I learned two things. I needed a comfortable office chair, and I needed to get up and move more often.
When you work at a brick and mortar office somewhere, your day is punctuated by regular breaks. Not only that, but some tasks require getting out of your seat even between those breaks. It's somehow easier to keep track of time at an office, perhaps because things are more organized.
When you work at home, it usually goes one of two ways. You either constantly stop to handle other responsibilities, or you have a tendency to get so absorbed in your work that you don't move around enough. I deal with both scenarios at different times. Setting alarms on your phone, reminding you to take breaks is a great way to make sure you get up and move more often. And it reminds you to take time to focus on your kids.
Pro tip: Set an alarm on your phone, reminding you to pick the kids up from school and another one to start dinner.
Have a Way to Differentiate When You are at Work
My husband and kids know that if I'm on the computer, I'm working. If I'm casually checking Facebook, I do that on my phone, but all of my writing work is done on the computer. My family knows not to interrupt me when I'm working unless it's for something important. They also know that once I walk away from the computer, I'm all theirs. Whether it's a computer, a desk, a recliner, or an office, there needs to be a physical reminder signifying you've gone to work.
Have a Primary Workspace Where You Keep Organized
Although I sometimes work on a laptop in various rooms of the house, I also have an official desk with an ergonomically designed chair complete with neck and lumbar support. Not only is my space comfortable, but it's a place to keep all the necessary tools of the trade.
What you need at your workstation will be unique to what you do, but a calendar or planner in addition to the usual office supplies is a must for organizing your workweek. Only you know what else you need to keep handy at your workstation, but in a sometimes chaotic household, you need to have a respected area where nobody's allowed to touch your stuff.
Cheat Sheets Help You Not to Forget Things
In addition to a planner, notebook, and pens, I also have some things at my desk that I affectionately refer to as cheat sheets. These help me produce quality work despite the distractions that are inevitable when working from home.
At around age 12, I started my first job as a receptionist. Yes, you read that right, but it's not as weird as it sounds. My family owned a business, and I had to answer the phone when my parents weren't home. It wasn't a paid position, of course, but I learned a lot about organization and professionalism.
There were certain questions I had to ask each customer before dispatching my dad, so my parents kept a list on our family's "business desk." Quickly looking over that list before hanging up the phone gave me the peace of mind that I had asked the right questions and written down all the pertinent information. I carried that lesson with me through life and still use checklists as tools in my work.
Cheat Sheets Specific to Writing
Each writing assignment I get comes with client instructions, and each content marketing agency has its own rules, so there are built-in cheat sheets on their websites. I've recently narrowed my work down to two preferred agencies and might drop down to only one because it pays more. Whichever agency I end up focusing on, I plan to print and display their general instructions on my desk, so I don't have to keep toggling back to that page on their website.
My basic formula for an article or blog post is engrained in my mind, so I don't need a cheat sheet for those other than the agency/client/project specifics. With copywriting work—another style of assignment I sometimes get--there's a certain flow to the paper that I don't have completely memorized yet. For these projects, I frequently reference some cheat sheets I keep on my desk. I realize a lot of what I'm talking about is specific to my line of work, but hopefully, it gets you thinking about what you need at your own home workstation.
Know When to Step Out
It might be necessary to have an alternate workstation for when you need absolute silence. Let's face it: Kids can forget you're on the phone and act up. If you need to take an important business call or participate in a Zoom meeting, going out to the car can prevent the other party from hearing any embarrassing outbursts from your kids. Although I like to remain approachable while writing, I record my weekly podcast in my car.
Involve Your Kids in Your Work
Your children might find your work fascinating, and discussing what you do with them can be educational. An essential part of my writing process is to proofread each piece out loud to another person. Although that final proofread is mainly about checking for typos and hearing how the words flow, I never do this step alone. Reading a piece to another person allows me to listen to it through their ears. When my husband isn't available to listen to a proofread, I read it to one of the kids. They get a kick out of it, and when they ask questions, it lets me know which parts of the paper might need further clarification. You may not be a writer, but there's probably some aspect of your work your kids would enjoy doing with you.
Know When to Call it a Day
You probably think I'm going to talk about spending time with family in the evenings, and that is important, but it's not the only reason you might need to call it a day sooner than later. When all I have left to do is a difficult project, I clock out early. This is especially important with writing since it takes a lot of concentration.
I'm more productive in the morning. I learned that about myself years ago while working at an insurance company. I noticed that I had trouble solving complicated problems that came up in the late afternoon, so I learned to set those items aside to work on the next morning when I would be at my sharpest. Putting things off might sound like procrastination, but in this situation, it isn't. Sometimes it just makes sense to either call it a day or switch to the easy stuff when you're starting to get tired. Save those more intense projects for the next day.
Sometimes when you sleep on a problem, you wake up in the middle of the night with the solution. I often dream about my writing assignments and get up bright and early excited to get back to work with a fresh new perspective. Working from home can be exhausting, and knowing when to quit and start back up again is a valuable time management skill.
It's All About Being Flexible
As I mentioned earlier, work-at-home-moms need to be flexible, so it's also time to call it a day when your children need you. If you take away just one thing from this article, I hope it's the part about remaining flexible.
You Can Be a Good Parent and Do Quality Work
I'm here to tell you that you can do this—even if it needs to be part-time for now. Relax, and chip away at your work while enjoying the fact that you're able to stay home with your kids. Don't get in a hurry, or the quality of your work could suffer. Be approachable, and take breaks frequently. Take deep breaths, do one thing at a time, and consult with your cheat sheets to make sure you don't miss anything.
If this post resonated with you, you'd probably also enjoy my podcast, Clean With Me. Cleaning along with my show for an hour will get your house under control, which is likely one of your many responsibilities as a mom.
Search for Clean With Me on your favorite podcast app and subscribe today!