I’ve been working primarily from home for the better part of 5-years now. I know I am fortunate to have a full-time job that affords me the ability to be at home and a work-life balance that I so crave. People often ask me “how do you do it?” “Don’t you get distracted?” “Do you really get the same amount of work done?” Truth be told it takes discipline, especially once you have kids. A lot of my discipline comes from the fact that I started working from home pre-kids where I was able to form habits and rituals that I worked hard to carry over once our daughter arrived.
Sure, there are days I take liberties. There are days where sign on a little bit later or step out to run to the grocery store. But it is all about how you manage your time. I equate those mini breaks to the ones I would take when I was in the office… gossiping with co-workers over coffee, taking walks or long lunches because we needed to get out of the office, or lingering in the conference room a little longer than necessary because I just didn’t want to go back to my desk and work! But, there are also days where I work 10-12 hours because it is so easy to sign back online once I put my daughter down and crank out some more work, my office is essentially always open and it becomes difficult to fully sign-off.
Emerson is now 20-months and I have been working from home since she was 4-months old and my maternity leave ended. It’s been incredibly special to watch her every day, be within an earshot of her and have a hand in how my nanny structures her day. There have also been challenges and obstacles that I’ve had to overcome. As I gear up to start a new role in my company I am re-evaluating my work-from-home structure, making sure my habits and discipline are in check and that I am prepared to fully focus on my new role ahead.
So, below I’ve captured 10-tips that have helped make me successful in working from home.
This may seem like a no brainer. Prior to having Emerson I got dressed and showered every day when working from home. Post-Emerson and that become a feat in and of itself. After getting your child fed and dressed for the day there was little time for me to do the same before my first conference calls. I notice that I definitely am more efficient and start the day off in a better headspace if I at least wash my face and change my clothes. And sometimes changing my clothes is taking off PJs and getting into workout clothes, but that small change helps prepare you for the day and signals transition from just being at home to time for work.
Keep a To-Do List.
Every morning when I sit down at my desk I jot down my to-dos for the day. This allows you to stay focused and eliminates my desire to get up and change that load of laundry until the major items are checked off the list. Again, it seems like a no-brainer but keeping this ritual has allowed me to stay focused and ensure I get the priority items done before I allow myself to tackle anything at home.
Find Reliable Childcare.
Whether that is a nanny, good daycare or preschool, good childcare is essential to working from home. I certainly could not do this 9-5 job without it. We have a wonderful nanny who keeps my daughter to a schedule, knows how to handle her tantrums or sticky situations, takes her out of the house to different actives and classes. Reliable childcare also means someone or a place that has flexible hours. Some days my conference calls start earlier or end later, or a fire drill comes up and I need to stay online a bit longer. Having a childcare provider who is flexible and understands your schedule is everything!
Get Out of the House.
My husband can certainly attest to the this, there is a difference in my mood on the days I leave the house at least once and the days I don’t leave at all. It is important to get out and walk around, whether it is to take the dog around the block, get coffee, or go for a quick run. Whatever it is, it is important to leave the house and get some fresh air. It is extremely difficult to work from home all day and then be expected to perform as a parent, you need to get out for your own sanity.
Don’t Compromise Sleep.
Remember when you had a newborn and everyone told you to sleep when the baby sleeps? Of course, that never really worked in your favor because you were thinking of all the dirty laundry that needed to be washed and the fact that you hadn’t washed your hair in a week! But, if you were smart and disciplined, you took a nap because you knew that a cranky mom is no good to anyone.
The same thing holds true for working from home. If you’re burning the midnight oil because you can only work while the kids are asleep, please stop right now. The lack of sleep will catch up with you and you’ll find yourself sick and unhappy. I can tell you from experience that it isn’t worth it. You’ll be much better off being well rested. For me, that sometimes means going to bed at 8:30pm if I know I have to be up early or was up late the night before. Making small sacrifices to preserve your sleep is extremely important so you be your best employee and mom!
Establish Office Hours.
This aligns with your to-do list but extremely important in keeping yourself organized. It is so easy to flow back and forth from mom to businesswoman, never really sure what role you are playing at any given time. By establishing office hours for myself, I am setting boundaries and ensuring that I am fully concentrating on work, not the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. My goal is to sign on every day by 9am. My daughter now knows what it means when I say “Mommy is going upstairs to work.” She gives me a kiss and waves goodbye. She understands that it is time for her to be with her nanny and start her play, and that mommy needs to go up to to work. It mentally helps me separate as well.
Change the Scenery.
If you are able, go to a coffee shop, library, or park. It creates newfound productivity and gets your juices flowing. I try and work from a coffee shop for a few hours 1-2 times a week and I definitely find myself more creative and focused during those times. It helps to shake things up every now again.
Let Go of Some Things.
There is going to be screaming child in the background of your conference call, your nanny is going to bail on a critical day. These are all things out of your control, forgive yourself and move on. Harboring and agonizing over those things is not going to do any good. Accepting it and trying to make up for work where you can is all you can control, don’t beat yourself up over the other stuff.
Keep an Organized Office.
Having baby bottles or toys sprayed across your desk is only going to remind you of all those mom tasks that need to get done. Strip your office of any child items and make it a space for yourself. My office is in my bedroom but I keep my desk as if I would in my office cube, clean, simple and only with the items I need to perform work.
Give Your Undivided Attention.
This one is difficult for me. But when I am with my daughter I am with her, when I am working I am shut off from mom-mode. Meaning, when I am with Emerson I am not checking emails on my phone and responding to emails or texts from co-workers. Giving half divided attention to her or to work doesn’t make me feel like I’m excelling at either. It is important that when I am with her in the morning or evening I am hers. When I go upstairs to work I checkout from motherhood and focus on work and being a productive employee. When I am able to give each my undivided attention I feel more fulfilled and rewarded for my time.
Hail to all the other working moms and work-from-home moms out there. It isn't easy but you can excel at it!