I know a lot of you have recently been thrust into work from home, and you may not have been completely prepared. I have been working from home for over seven years now (which is hard to believe). I built this business from 3 readers (which was my mom, my husband, and my best friend) to something that now employs multiple people – all from home! If you’re struggling, know that it is possible. While I am far from perfect at it, I want to share what I’ve learned over the years about how to work from home productively.
This is part of our Seeds of Sanity series where we are sharing loads of helpful resources (many of them are free) to help you plant peace in your home during this time. Click here to see all the resources in the series so far.
I’ll first share some general tips, and then I’ll specifically share advice for how to work from home with kids around. I have a 5 and 3 year old, and started working from home before I was even pregnant with my first.
Realize that it’s not as easy as it sounds. IF you’re not used to working from home, it can sound super easy. It’s important to realize that in many cases, it’s actually HARDER to work productively from home than it is to do so from an office! It’s true. Most of the time, you have a consistent schedule at the office, and you’re there to do one thing: work. That’s not the case at home. Often you don’t need to be as strict with your schedule, and there are a thousand distractions. Just know that working from home is a learned skill, but it’s totally doable and I LOVE it.
Work time is for work – not catching up on laundry, scrolling facebook, or chatting on the phone. It’s vital to respect work time – even though it’s happening in the same place that you do everything else. The sooner you put boundaries in place for your dedicated work time, the better. I know it’s tempting to throw another load of laundry in the washer, but, trust me, dividing your focus will only hurt your progress in the end.
Let others know that work time is for work. Since working from home is relatively new in our society, it can be easy for others not to take your work seriously. This is especially true if you are just starting a home business and aren’t making much money yet. Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you’re suddenly available for phone catch up sessions or a mid day airport drop off.
Set up a dedicated workspace for yourself at home. Having a workspace is so helpful. Even though I’m my own boss and I work from home, I very rarely work from my couch or bed. I sit in an office chair at my desk. It helps me to focus and really feel like I’m working. You might not have an office in your home, but at least find a spot for yourself. Make sure you have everything you need (power cords, phone charger, water, pens, notepads, printer, etc).
Minimize distractions. This is a struggle at home and in the office, but minimizing distractions is so important. You won’t get any work done if you’re constantly checking your phone, switching out laundry, and answering questions. When I’m disciplined, I actually think it can be easier to focus when I’m at home than at the office. I have no coworkers around, and I can silence notifications.
Always sit down to work with a goal in mind. This is some advice that I wish I implemented more consistently. It applies no matter where you work. When you sit down to work, have a list of what you need to do rather than jumping from thing to thing. You’ll be so much more productive by completing one thing and moving to the next as opposed to having 12 half done projects all the time. (Ask me how I know? 😉)
Develop a routine. Some of us who work from home are our own boss which means we can choose when we work. No one is telling us that we need to work from to 9 to 5. This is honestly a double edged sword. Just because you CAN work at 3 am, doesn’t mean you should. When you are first free from your 9 to 5, it feels strangely exhilarating to watch Netflix or reorganize your sock drawer at 10 am. However, that becomes way LESS fun when 10 pm rolls around and you still have work to do. As much as possible, you’ll benefit from a consistent schedule. It doesn’t have to be 9 to 5, but it needs to be consistent and intentional. You can work 1-3 pm and 8-11 pm if you want.
Set boundaries around when you are “at work.” When you work from home, you are literally always “at work.” Work can take over your life if you let it. Myself and my employees who work from home have fallen into the trap of almost getting burnt out because we never leave work. Because I love what I do so much and I have a thousand things I want to create for you all, it’s hard to stop. I’ve found it super helpful to have work-free (and usually tech free) times. I take some weekends (and a lot of Sundays) completely off. I take many evenings off, or I at least give myself that option.
These are specific tips for working at home with kids around:
Try to get at least a few focused work hours if possible. I know a lot of people don’t have the luxury of childcare so they can work. However, try to get creative so you can carve out at least a few hours a week of undistracted time. This can happen during nap times or quiet times, after bedtime, or early in the mornings. If your spouse is available, you could work on Saturday mornings while they watch the kids. You could trade childcare with a friend one afternoon a week. Knowing you have at least a bit of dedicated work time will go a long way to helping you feel sane and in control of work (ask me how I know).
Use those precious few focused work hours wisely. When you have kids and little to no childcare, it’s more important than ever to treat that little bit of focused time like gold! This means that you make a list of tasks that require your full concentration. ONLY work on those things during your focused time. Don’t spend that time doing things like filtering emails or responding to social media that you could do with divided attention.
Work on easier tasks when the kids are around. Keep a list of those tasks you can do without full concentration. Those are the things you should work on when the kids are around and you might be interrupted. Do NOT try to work on things requiring your full concentration with the kids around. Trust me, it will only end with everyone frustrated – and your work still won’t be done.
Work with kids around, but don’t count on it. You can sit at a table working a puzzle or coloring with your kids while you have your laptop out working. I don’t suggest doing this 24/7, but you can get things done while you play with kids. Here’s the thing that I have experienced, though. Some days my kids are more than content to sit at the table with me for two hours playing while I work. Other days, we’ve had 5 fights, 6 tantrums, and 12 time outs before 9 am (and I only have two kids). While I do what I can, I know not to count on getting something done with the kids around. Same goes for projects around the house – not just work.
Nap times, quiet times, and independent play are great if you can do it. Nearly every article I’ve read about working from home when you have little kids mentions implementing a nap or quiet time each afternoon and allowing your kids to play independently. I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that here, but know that it doesn’t work out for everyone. I think a lot of factors come into play including age of children, personalities of your children, and parenting style. When you do have a consistent nap/quiet time daily at the same time for each child, it is a beautiful thing!! That only happened for me for about a year. The rest of the time, it hasn’t worked for various reasons.
Make time to focus just on the kids. Don’t try to work all the time. Make sure you have time each day focused just on interacting with your kids. Play games and read with them. Snuggle them. Some people have said that by spending a focused hour with their children each morning, the children’s love tanks are full and they are happy to play by themselves later. I have never found that to be the case for my kids. They aren’t any more or less likely to happily play independently after I’ve spent focused time with them, but it might work for you. However, I still spend plenty of focused time with them because I want to, and so I don’t need to feel guilty when I am working.
Take advantage of independent play times. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are highly unpredictable. One day they play together perfectly all day, and I feel like I should be winning a mom of the year award. The next day they might struggle to string together even 15 minutes of happy play – and I feel like I definitely won’t be winning any parenting awards. That means that I can’t control or predict when independent play will happen, but I’m always ready when it does. If they start playing together happily and barely notice me, I’ll start getting some work done. I know that might not sound like the most professional advice, but I’m telling how it really happens around here. #keepinitreal
Let some things go. I know you’ve heard this a million times, but you can’t do it all. Don’t try. Instead, intentionally choose what aspects of your life to let go or do the bare minimum, so you can focus on other things. If you don’t choose, your life and circumstances will choose for you. For example when my kids were two and an infant, I went through a time where I didn’t have much (or any) childcare. We had also just moved, and my business was growing. I had to let a lot of things go. I did keep the business going and I took good care of my kids. Everything else was not a priority. The house was almost always a mess. Our meals were super simple. Just know that no one does it all, and don’t beat yourself up.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Seeds of Sanity series here.