Are you struggling to find your work from home groove? Enjoying the freedom and flexibility but finding that kids, washing, grocery shopping, paying bills and the other tasks of domestic life are getting in the way of doing actual work? You are not alone.
After writing my 10 tips for working from home, a reader wrote back asking me how I schedule my time. Another mentioned that she struggled to work at home even while the kids were away because it was only then that she could run errands without small, demanding encumbrances.
I'm not the world's most productive person and I don't live according to a tight schedule. I'm an INTJ (for those who know the Myers-Briggs) so while I like structure, order and routine I'm hopeless with detail, my to-do lists are in 14 different places and I'm always hopping about from one project or idea to another.
I've put together my personal Work from Home Hacks - some of the tips and tricks that I use while juggling work at home with kids.
1. Have a plan. Planning does not come naturally to me so I try to write a to-do list for each day the night before. I use an online calendar which allows me to access my tasks and commitments from anywhere and any device and as I think of a task I pop it in my calendar on a day when I anticipate having some time available. The beauty of an online calendar that syncs across all of my devices is that I can add a task when I'm standing in the school yard and it will be there on my PC when I get home. I can also move tasks around from day to day if things change (or I don't get to them, which happens because: life).
2. With kids or without?. Because I juggle work and kids I plan my tasks according to what I can do when they're around. I can do washing when they're home. I can take the littlest man to do the grocery shopping (or I can do it online or sometimes at night). I can run some errands with them in tow. I can cook and tidy when they're around and I can do mindless administrative jobs. I cannot do anything that requires dedicated time and concentration like writing, planning, phone calls to clients, research or anything online, except cat videos. These (except the cat videos) must be allocated to child free time.
3. Use every moment. When my boys were little and slept during the day I had a list of things to get done during nap time. As soon as they were settled I was at the computer and working at the jobs that required thought and concentration. Everything else waited (including food at times). Now that I have child free days each week I do the same. My only exception is one yoga class per week on a Thursday morning. I pack my portable office (ipad, notebooks, pens, phone) and go straight from yoga to my fave cafe for an hour's work over coffee. Mummy's treat. I also squeeze in work poolside during swimming lessons or from the sidelines at gymnastics class. I use every available moment to work. It feels crazy at times but but I'm doing what I can during this phase of life.
4. You're procrastinating! Doing anything other than work while working from home is procrastination. I remind myself of this regularly. If I should be working and I'm hanging washing out, I'm procrastinating. If I should be working and I am cooking, I'm procrastinating. If I should be working and I'm on Facebook, I'm definitely procrastinating. It's easy to justify tasks that are not work when we're working from home. The washing still needs to be hung, the cooking still needs to be done. BUT if you are doing it during the time that you have designated for work then you are procrastinating, trust me.
5. Work to your strengths. Are you an early riser? A night owl? I'm neither really. I work best in the middle of the day. I'm most effective between 10am to 2pm with another flurry of productivity in the evenings but no later than 10pm. Getting to grips with my own pattern of productivity has helped me to plan my days and be more efficient. If you're an early riser, use that time! If you work best at night, plan your tasks for the evenings. If you're like me and do day time work best, babysitters, day care and school are your friends.
6. Meal planning, batch cooking, online grocery shopping, clean the house at night, outsource what you can. Self explanatory.
7. Be conscious and forgiving. On Mondays I help with reading in my son's classroom. On Friday's I take the little one to gymnastics. I struggle sometimes with taking time out from work to do other activities. I feel guilty but I've found that if I am conscious about my decisions the guilt disappears and I can enjoy the other stuff (which is arguably more important anyway.)
When you're torn between responsibilities and feeling guilty about everything, be conscious about what you're doing and why - your priorities - and forgive yourself the odd transgression. Remember to socialise. It's good for your state of mind. Remember to rest. It's vital to your health. Don't beat yourself up. It's a waste of much needed energy.
Working from home with kids is a juggle. With or without kids it requires planning, discipline, self awareness and, for me at least, practice. It doesn't suit everyone but if you thrive on autonomy and variety and hate wasting time in traffic it's the best gig ever.
What are your best work from home hacks? Have you found your work from home groove or do you need more practice?