I want to start out by saying that I’ve always thought the term “Work at Home Mom” was strange because, well, don’t ALL moms work at home? I think the term “Stay at Home Mom” is strange too because I know not a single mom who truly stays at home, even if she doesn’t have a wage-paying job.
Anyway, semantics aside. Today’s tips are for those moms who are in the fortunate situation of having a wage-paying job that they can do from home. Working from home has its many blessings and many challenges. Flexibility, no need to commute, wearing slippers come to mind, as do the risk of getting side tracked with housework and the expectation others may have that you are always “on duty”.
I have been working from home for about two and a half years and I have certainly experienced these challenges as well as a few others. I have also found some ways to work a bit more productively and maintain clear boundaries, and today I am going to share some of my best tips with you.
1. Have a designated workspace.
This doesn’t have to be an actual home office, as in a separate room that is ONLY for your work. That is not even a realistic option for many of us. Just find a spot that makes you feel productive and focused. It might be your kitchen table, or your living room floor, or your master bedroom. Whatever it is, designate that as your work spot and work from that spot consistently. This will help you get into the work-frame-of-mind and help you stay focused while you work.
2. Set office hours and stick to them.
This is one of the most important ways to keep your work separate from your personal, family, and leisure time. One of the easiest ways to get burnt out on working from home is to fall into the habit of always being “on duty”. Answering phone calls, replying to emails, trying to get a few quick things done here and there throughout the entire day means you never really quit working. A big part of sticking to your office hours that can be challenging for so many is staying away from email during your “off duty” times. It can be so easy to answer a quick email while your kids are having a snack or while waiting in line at the grocery store. But when we blur these lines, we run the risk of never feeling like we get a break from work. We also run the risk of making our loved ones feel like we are distracted and would rather be working than spending time with them.
3. Use a timer.
This is so simple, but a very easy way to stay on task. I am easily sidetracked when I am in a creative rut or when I am working on a piece of a project that I do not particularly enjoy. I find myself on social media or reading blogs instead! When I am feeling the focus float away, I use a simple kitchen timer. I set the timer for somewhere between 30 and 50 minutes and work on one thing while the timer is going. Then I give myself a timed break, usually about 5 minutes, during which I will get on social media or get a quick task done around the house (like fold laundry or vacuum the living room). I don’t always do this because much of the time I enjoy what I am doing and can lose track of time while working, but when I do it is a great help. If you are faced with a task that you just don’t want to do or feels particularly challenging, break it up and work on it in small timed increments.
4. Create a ritual to start your workday.
I’m not talking about anything complicated. For me, it is very simple. I always start with a cup of coffee and making my daily to-do list. When I turn my computer on, the first thing I do is open my email and answer anything that can be answered immediately without any further work or investigation. After that, it’s off to the races. But starting with those three things tells my brain that we are entering “work time” and gets me prepared to begin work.
5. Minimize multitasking.
Multitasking is a very effective way to reduce your productivity. You may feel like you are being efficient, but you truly are not. Remember, there is a difference between being efficient and being productive. Efficient is how fast you can get something done and productive is how much work you actually complete correctly. Multitasking distracts us from quality of work.
6. Get organized.
Once you get your office hours set, you want to be sure you use that time well. You don’t want to waste time looking for things, sifting through paperwork or other materials, or just trying to figure out what to do first. Invest in some office accessories to organize your space. You don’t have to buy all new stuff – visit thrift shops, garage sales, and the internet for second hand office organization accessories. Or get creative and make your own. Also, find the time management system that works best for you. Some people do well with online tools, like Google Calendar or Cozi. I am still using a paper planner, but I am trying to learn to use technology a bit more effectively. Which brings me to my next tip.
7. Use technology — but not too much!
Technology can be a great tool, but it can also get you bogged down. Did you happen to see that article on Fast Company about why apps designed to help us stay organized often don’t work? Check it out and you’ll see what I mean. If an app or program or other techy tool is easy to use and really does save you time and money, then go for it! But don’t get yourself down if you just can’t seem to jump on the Evernote bandwagon because it seems much faster to just whip out your handy-dandy notebook (bonus points if you know that reference!) and jot down an idea.
8. Be clear on your job description.
Whether you are self employed or not, knowing your job description is critical – for any job! One of your reasons for choosing to work from home was probably to have more flexibility and time to spend with your loved ones or doing other things you enjoy. You definitely don’t want to waste time performing duties that are not even part of your job! So be sure that you and your boss have the same understanding of what is included in your job description.
If you are self-employed, take the time to write out your job description. Think hard about what you should be spending your time on in order to achieve your goals (which means you should have clear goals!) Write down a few items that are NOT in your job description – things you know you might be tempted to do but you also know that they don’t help you achieve your goals. Stick to the duties that are clearly identified as being within your job description means that you will make the most of your working time.
This can be particularly difficult when you work from home because it is so easy to think you can just quickly load the dishwasher and be that much ahead when it comes time to make dinner. But then you realize you accidentally spent 15 minutes cleaning the kitchen. Do that a couple of times a day and you’ve now spent a good part of your office hours doing housework. If you have your job description written down, you’ve made conscious decisions about what you will and will not do during your work time. If doing the dishes does not help you achieve your goals to build your business, then don’t do the dishes while you should be working. Schedule yourself some short breaks throughout the day during which you can do small household chores if that helps you feel less distracted, but be sure to use a timer (see tip 3).
9. Don’t forget your reason for working.
No one ever chooses to work because they WANT to be stressed out. Most likely, you choose to work because you love what you do, or because you need to earn money for your family, or because you enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with working. Keep those reasons in mind whenever you find yourself overwhelmed or stressed out about working. Then take a good look at what is causing the problem and work to mitigate it. Use your reason for working as your motivation and your strength to find the solution and make working from home work for you.
I keep framed photos of my husband and kids all around my workspace. Every time I feel like I just want to stop all of it, I remember that I am doing this for them. That gives me just enough umph to get my head back in the game and do what needs to be done.
Do you work from home? What are your top tips for staying on task?