I’ve been working from home since 1993. When my son was born in 2004, I just kept on working. Well… more or less. Sometimes definitely less. I remember that first month after he was born, when I hadn’t met my yearly PassPorter book deadline. I’d had complications from childbirth and ended up back in the hospital. So when I was finally well enough to sit at a desk, I strapped Alexander into a sling and sat at my computer, wondering how the heck I was going to be a work-at-home mom.
I’m happy to say I figured it out. It hasn’t been without its ups and downs. And I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are my top 10 tricks to keep myself on track and working, while still being there for my son.
Work Early, Not Late
This is a tough one for me, as I’m a natural night owl. For years I fought this and stayed up working too late. But now that I get up early (6:15 am), I find I am more productive and happy work-at-home mom. I think this is because when I worked after my son goes to bed, I’d work too much and neglect my need for downtime. Then I’d be tired the next day and unproductive. Break the cycle. I know some fellow work-at-home moms and writers who get up at 5:00 or even 4:00 am to write. That’s too early for me, but if you can do it, give it a try.
It seems like distraction is just a way of life for work-at-home moms. There’s always something to distract us … kids, laundry, phone, errands, appointments, Facebook, you know what I’m talking about. And then there are the more tempting distractions, like games, TV, long lunches with friends, the napping couch (oh, how I love that napping couch). You need to remove or delay as many of these as possible, or they will suck you in. I let my son know I’m working (and give him a time that I can be available later), I save errands for the end of the day, and I make games my reward at the end of the night. What distractions do you have, and how can you minimize them?
Keep Your Desk Within Earshot, But Not Too Handy
This trick has worked well for me over the years. I used to have my desk in our home office, which was in our walk-out basement. At one point there were four of us working down in that office. That was great for collaboration, but really hard as a work-at-home mom because my son was upstairs while I was downstairs. So when I had the opportunity, I changed this. My desk is now in our “family room,” which I essentially took over at my office. It’s on the same floor as the kitchen and living room, but separated by a longish hallway. So I can hear what’s going on out there, but be removed. This allows me to keep an ear out for my child, while still attending to my work.
Now I could have just moved my desk into the living room, where I could see as well as hear my son. But, no, that is too close. It would be constant interruption. Right now I’m close, but not too close.
Here’s my desk in our family room (that red area behind my desk is a converted closet and it now has built-in shelves and a bench):
Keep Regular Work-at-Home Mom Office Hours
Yes, I’m at home and could work whenever, but I do not (unless there’s an extenuating circumstance). Instead, I keep regular hours. Typically my office hours are 7:30 am – 5:30 pm, Monday through Friday. I know this, my family knows this, and I do my best to stick to it. Having clear expectations of when I should work, and when I should not, helps me and my family tremendously. A regular work-at-home mom is a happy work-at-home mom!
Get Your Kid(s) Involved
It can be tough when your kid needs you and you’re right there at home, but all they hear “I’m working” from you again and again. When it seems clear my son wants time with me, but work is my priority, I try to get him involved in what I’m doing. So I might ask him what he thinks of something I’m working on, or if he has any advice for a particular project of mine. He often has something to contribute and I learn something in the process. But he also learns about my current work, which isn’t usually that interesting to him. After a few minutes, he tends to wander off because he thought of something more interesting to do on his own. So we spent a little time together working and both benefitted in the end.
Keep a Checklist of Activities For Your Kid(s)
Kids aren’t always so great at keeping themselves engaged. For those times that they’re bored while you’re working, a handy list of things they can (or should) do. For example, if Alexander comes to me and says he’s bored, I ask him if he’s done his chores, read a book, exercised, or done something creative yet today. If the answer is no, I tell him to go do them. If he does them all and is still bored, we make a date to spend time together later after work (or on a work break).
Here’s my BORED checklist:
Use Technology to Your Advantage
I keep my son’s computer and devices networked to my own, which means I can control and connect to them whenever necessary. If he’s having an issue, I can often troubleshoot it right from my desk. I can also monitor what’s going on on his computer without the need to stop working. That means I can remind him when he’s been on his computer too long and redirect him elsewhere, all without missing a beat in my work. Technology can be a work-at-home mom’s best friend!
Keep Your Family In the Loop
I find it helps if I let my family know how things are going in my work and the general projects I am working on. Communicating with your family really helps them understand your work situation and mood. Being a work-at-home mom means your work is in your home, living alongside everything else. Your family should know how things are going.
When Your Work-at-Home Mom Job is Done, Be With Your Kid(s)
When work finishes, I spend time with my family. We eat dinner together at the table every night, and we usually play a game together (Munchkin is our current favorite). This quality time is so important for you and your kids. Avoid the temptation to keep working on your phone at the table, or be there but not “present” because your mind is on work. Do you best to shut the door (literally or figuratively) and really BE with your family. It’s not the quantity of time we spend together that matters; it’s the quality of time.
I hope these tricks help other work-at-home moms and moms who are considering this particular path. Please let me know if you have more work-at-home mom ideas or questions!