When I started a small part-time business 2 ½ years ago, I had no idea that it would grow to the full-time business is it today, allowing me to walk away from a corporate career I spent 15 years building! When I tell people I work from home and have replaced a corporate salary within 2 years, I usually get one of two responses – “I don’t know how you get anything done,” or “I wish could do that.”
I feel that many of my friends who are also moms like me think the flexibility of working from home sounds amazing, but they aren’t sure they have what it takes to be productive. I’ll admit that you can become easily distracted, but here are 10 tips I’ve learned along the way.
1. Establish a Schedule
I know for many moms this can seem difficult (especially if you have young children), but it’s a critical element to successfully working from home.
If you do not have a schedule and do not set your intentions for the day, you will waste more time trying to figure out what work to do versus actually getting work done. It doesn’t have to be an hour by hour schedule, but something that becomes routine.
For example, I like to use Mondays as my office day to make calls, send follow-up emails, write my social media posts for the week, and set appointments with current and potential clients – anything office related. Tuesdays through Thursdays, I usually schedule an hour of office/desk time but spend the majority of those days on appointments and networking with others. I like Fridays to be my day to tie up loose ends and tackle all of the tasks that I necessarily pushed off. I have a daily list – I know I have had a productive day when I see all the things crossed off of my list. Even if you only work 2 or 3 hours per day on whatever it is you do from home, it is important to have that time blocked off and know what you intend to accomplish during those hours.
You can accomplish a lot in 1 hour if it’s a focused, distraction-free hour; if you try to squeeze in 5-10 minutes here and there, you’ll likely find yourself stuck in the same spot for weeks.
2. Establish Boundaries
I truly believe this is where most moms struggle. I have a designated work-space in my home. When I am in my work-space during my work hours, I do not spend any of that time answering personal emails or personal calls (unless it’s my kids’ school or my husband, which are really the only exceptions). My kids are now 4 and 7, so we had a conversation in terms they understand; if Mommy is at her desk on the phone, it is not the time to interrupt. And I’m realistic when I’m planning my work schedule, so when my kids are home (day off of school or in the summer), I typically don’t spend more than an hour at a time at my desk. Instead, I’ll break up my work day explaining “it’s Mommy’s hour to work” and give them 2-3 choices of things they can pick to do during that hour. You may or may not agree with this method, but I believe children need to learn to entertain themselves for short periods of time (i.e. it helps them practice self-discipline). I have even caught them playing “office,” mimicking me making my calls, etc. On the flip-side, my kids know they will have my full attention during play-time.
By setting the boundaries and schedule, you won’t have to worry about the guilt of empty promises of “just give me 10 more minutes and we’ll play then…” Your family will appreciate the boundaries. They will learn to recognize when Mom is working and when she is available, rather than constantly interrupting because they’re competing for your attention.
3. Know When You Need childcare
Sure, I started my own business to have more time with my children, but there are times when you may have to put in more hours or attend a meeting and it simply wouldn’t be appropriate to bring your children along. If your children are not yet in school and you work from home, find a reliable form of childcare for the times it is needed, even if it means swapping playdates with a friend.
4. Get Out of Your House
This might be difficult for moms with small children, which is why I mentioned #3. I understand that one of the main reasons we choose to work from home is because we want more time with our children. But working from home can be a bit lonely. While a lot of connecting begins through social media, real relationships are still developed in person. Make attending local networking groups, trainings or events a part of your regular schedule. That’s where you can meet potential clients, colleagues and mentors to support you on your journey. I recently attended a LinkedIn class and not only did I meet great people, but I also chose an activity that would benefit me professionally.
5. Evaluate Your Activities and Priorities
I was a busy corporate mom before I started my own business and either way, when you add a new responsibility, you have to let go of something. No one is going to do this for you. You have to be the one to evaluate your current activities and obligations and decide where your time is best spent. I started by clearing out my DVR; I still like to binge-watch Fixer Upper every now and again, I love me some Chip and Joanna, but TV can be one of the biggest time wasters.
Be clear about your priorities in life and focus on them. Cut down on activities and obligations that don’t help with your priorities. (i.e. TV watching, magazine reading, social activities, mindless Internet surfing, etc.) Make every moment of your life count. Do only what helps you achieve your goals. Learn how to say no without guilt. I really wanted to serve on my daughter’s school’s parent teacher committee this past year but when I looked at the time and commitment, I realized I was still establishing myself as a business owner and balancing my time as a mother. I still contribute, just not by serving as a committee member.
6. Hold Family Meetings
Make sure your spouse understands your business, your goals and your priorities. My husband travels 50-70% of the time for work but he still likes to understand what I am working towards with regard not only to my schedule, but how our children will be cared for on my busy days, as well. We also involve our children at times. When I first started my business, our daughters understood that Mommy had to work really hard and a lot of hours so she could quit her job and be the one to take them to and from school. My husband and I explained that we needed their help, which included doing their chores without complaining, getting ready on time in the morning and understanding that Mommy would have to work late sometimes during what looked to be a very busy upcoming year. To increase their willingness to be helpful, we promised them Disneyland passes if they followed through. Let’s just say incentives work wonders with young children!
7. Get Your Rest
Remember when you had your first child and everyone said “Nap when the baby naps.” I hated hearing that! I used to think “but what about the laundry? I need a shower.” I soon realized an overly tired Mommy wasn’t good for my husband or the baby, so I napped. I am not saying to take naps, but if you are up working until midnight or 1:00 am to work on your business while the kids are sleeping – stop! Lack of sleep will catch up with you and won’t be good for anyone. Go back and read #2. It is possible to work while your kids are awake. Even powerhouse mompreneurs need their beauty rest!
8. Get and Keep Your Home Organized
An organized home will demand less time for upkeep, while a cluttered home will require constant work and suck your energy. Don’t even think of starting a home-based business or working from home until your house has been decluttered and organized and your household maintenance systems are in place. Set up daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and yearly routines for house cleaning. For example, I throw in a load of laundry every morning, it goes in the dryer when kids come home from school and is folded and put away before we go to bed at night. I wipe down the bathrooms Monday morning and wash all the bedding on Thursdays; it doesn’t matter what you do or when, but create your system and stick to it.
9. Dress for Success
I know your PJs are comfy and one of the perks working from home should be that you don’t have to get dressed up BUT, you still have to get dressed, even to work from home. I’m not sitting here in my power suit and heels, but you do need to get out of your PJs and slippers. I wear something comfortable and casual that I can wear outside the house. I even put on my basic makeup. My rule of thumb is – be presentable enough to meet a potential client. If you’re physically ready for anything, your mind will be as well. Believe it or not, this will make you more productive.
10. Let Go
Let go of the idea that you can do it all. Maybe this should have been #1. You can’t clean the house, do all the laundry, run the errands, pay attention to your husband, answer 100 emails per week, plan and prepare dinner every night, print pictures to mail to grandma, volunteer at school, bake cookies for the church bake sale and grow your business…all by yourself. Get over being perfect. If you have the luxury of doing so – hire someone to clean the house. It’s okay if you have to buy the cookies. Ask your spouse to help out a little bit around the house. Feel “OK” if you can’t do it all – remember why you started – to have more time with your family; they won’t mind if the cookies are store-bought. When you are 86, what will you look back and treasure the most? You’ll either look back and love the time you had with your family or wish you had made more time for family. Live in the moment so you can look back and actually remember these moments.