I didn’t choose to become a work-a-home-mom almost 10 years ago, but it’s turned out to be a great fit for our family. I’ve had readers ask me how I manage to do it all and make time for my family. The ugly truth is: I don’t do it all. You should see the state of my kitchen. Ok, maybe you shouldn’t look at the mound of dirty dishes or the piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded. Being a work at home mom allows me to drop my kids at the bus stop and greet them when they step off the bus. Plus I’m pretty happy with my office dress code: jeans and a cute top.
For a multi-tasker like me, working from home requires being organized and staying focus. Add my 4-year-old who stays home with me and focus can remain illusive. I was so happy when he started preschool! Four mornings a week I had 3 hours to sit at my desk and work. Over the past 10 years, I’ve learned what types of time management works for me. I’m definitely looking forward to when Jaxson heads off to grade school next fall, but in the mean time, I’ve set realistic expectations of my time.
Time Management Tips for Work at Home Moms (and Dads)
1. Set office hours and stick to them. This is by far the most challenging for me. I love what I do and could easily spend 10-12 hours a day at my desk. When I started direct sales, I rolled my eyes whenever I received this piece of advice. I didn’t need to set office hours–what if a client needed me at 8PM? Now I’ve learned that setting office hours allows my brain to recharge while I’m away from my desk. Now that I work at fairly consistent times, my family knows when they get me all to themselves.
Here’s what my typical week looks like:
- Monday-Thursday: Work from 8:30am-11am while Jaxson is preschool. Lunch with Jaxson. Work while he naps. Hang out with him until it’s time to pick up his sister from school. Family time until 9 or 10PM. Work until midnight.
- Fridays: Jaxson and hubby’s day off. Work in the morning, run errands
- Friday afternoon-Sunday 9pM: Unplug (mostly) for family time
- Sunday 9PM-midnight work.
Of course anything can throw off this schedule: longer naps, volunteering at my daughter’s school, etc. Sometimes I cook and photograph my food on the Sunday afternoons, but that dish is ends up being Sunday supper.
2. Unplug. I mean really unplug. Since my work involves social media, it’s challenging to unplug completely. I keep up with friends on Facebook and Instagram so I check in on those platforms periodically. I limit my time on them and then it’s just personal use. Unless I have several deadlines for Monday morning, I stay off my computer. I’ve realized that staying glued to my screen hinders my creativity. I run out of ideas to write about. I need to go offline and experience real life in order to get fresh ideas.
3. Use a planner or calendar to stay organized. I used to be anti-calendar. Then I got my very first Erin Condren planner and love it. It’s grid system allows me to visually organize my different projects. I also use Google calendar to keep track of my appointments and set reminders for deadlines. My husband can see my work/travel calendar and our family’s calendar. If you like electronic calendars, I have friends who swear by Cozi calendar/app (click link for free app and trial for premium version). There’s no such thing as a perfect planner, but it does take trial and error to find one that works for you. (Affiliate links for those awesome calendars & planners–I <heart> my Erin Condren.)
4. Track your time. When I work on consulting projects, I track my time. I want to make sure that the time I put in is equitable to the pay I receive. Tracking my time also discourages me from playing around on Facebook or procrastinating. If it’s a new client or project, recording the time I spend on a project lets me see how long it takes for me to do each task. This helps me plan my time commitment for future projects.
5. Be flexible. I know I said to set office hours and stick to them. The main reason I work from home was because the flexible schedule allowed me to be home with the kids. Yesterday I was able to chaperone Jaxson’s field trip to the pumpkin patch. Since I’d be out of the office most of the day, I stayed up a little later Monday night to finish a few things. That way I could spend time with his class without worrying about deadlines. I did periodically check my phone to do some email triage, but only while on the bus to and from the farm.
6. Focus on one project at a time. It can be tempting to multitask. I don’t mean the gazillion browser tabs I have open. My office is right next to my kitchen and laundry area. I have to ignore them during my office hours. If I put in a load of laundry, I compelled to move it the dryer 53 minutes later. Then I’ll want to start another load. In the mornings I only have 2.5 hours to work until I pick up my son from preschool. Each time I get up to do something and walk back to my desk, I waste time trying to regain my focus. So laundry and dishes are ignored until the afternoon.
7. Take regular breaks. When I worked in theatre, we used to joke that we should take up smoking because the smokers always took their breaks. It’s easy to become consumed with a blog post or a consulting project. When the kids were away this summer, I realized that some days I only stepped away from desk for bathroom breaks. Set a timer so you can get up and stretch, walk around, etc. I don’t use a timer, but once I finish a specific task such as write a blog post, I’ll take a stroll around my apartment to clear my head.
There’s no perfect time management method that works for everyone. If you only do one thing from this list, make sure you set your office hours and stick with them. That has changed how I work for the better.
Do you work from home? Share your time management tips in the comments.