When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them I have the best of both worlds: I write from home professionally and care for my toddler daughter. What I’m not telling them is that straddling these two identities often leaves me swapping sleep for work, snapping at my child in an exhausted haze, and generally performing poorly at just about everything.
Recently, however, I dedicated myself to making a change, to discovering that ever-elusive work-life balance. It must exist, even for parents who work from home, right?
I found that with proper planning, I could better harness my productivity during work time, leaving more time for family enjoyment without the threat of looming deadlines. Admittedly, finding comfort in this lifestyle took some time, and a lot of failure and flailing, but here are some truly life-changing strategies and techniques I learned along the way.
Use this simple time management tool to structure your day and maximize productivity and focus. In the evening, sit down and create a visual timeline for the next day—dedicating a set number of hours for each high-priority task. You can download an app or purchase a special time-blocking journal, but I find pencil and paper work just as well.
Let’s say you have an hour in the morning before your child wakes for the day. Then, you have three hours free while your little one attends school. There might be a short nap or a television program as well. I also work an hour or two after dinner when my partner is home to take over. While your work time might come in sporadically throughout the day, you can make the most of it by knowing exactly what work tasks to tackle when—and how much time you’ll need to complete them.
Whether you’re self-employed or working for a company from home, setting measurable and actionable goals is paramount to your success. Schedule time to consider where you’d like to be professionally by the year’s end—and create at least three realistic steps for getting there.
For example, if you’re a freelance writer who dreams of publishing in a major outlet, you might consider finding a mentor and networking, researching appropriate publications, and creating a schedule for writing, editing, and pitching stories throughout the year. Knowing what goal you’re working toward will help ensure you’re moving forward professionally and making the most of your work time each day.
Once your child is napping and work time begins, forget about household responsibilities. Don’t swap the laundry, water the plants, or get the dishwasher going. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. Adopting this strict mentality will help sharpen your focus and keep you on schedule for the day—not to mention that recent studies have found that multi-tasking impairs work performance anyway.
TURN OFF THE DISTRACTIONS
When it’s time to work, make certain you’re ready to focus by eliminating the distractions you can. Carve out a workspace that encourages focus: that means never working from bed or in front of the TV. Resist the temptation to constantly check social media or browse the web by turning your phone notifications off and closing out of Facebook on your computer.
Let’s face it. Parenting while working from home can become a recipe for reclusion—and monotony. Find your tribe to gain built-in accountability, advice-sharing, and a good place to vent work frustrations. Look to networking apps, such as the new Shapr, or mine your friend group for those with similar work situations. Plan to meet for coffee once a month or log into a group Skype chat or email session.
Scheduled downtime enhances productivity and helps keep us sane. By using the time block method mentioned before, you’ll not only maximize work time but also prioritize your free time as well. This way, when it’s time for a family vacation, you’ll be prepared to leave your computer at home—with your email autoresponder on, of course.
Parenting is tough. Working your career into your role as a mom is even tougher. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to find your footing and don’t be afraid to ask for help. When faced with a big deadline, it’s OK if you need to flip on the TV for your little one. It’s OK to hire a babysitter or beg a family member to take over. Take it easy on yourself and recognize that you’re doing your best on all fronts. After all, as long as your family (including you) is happy and healthy, then who really cares about the rest?