As I have alluded to several times over the course of this blog, I work part time from home. I am an independent contractor doing quality control over a whole bunch of data from the comfort of my home computer. Any more specific than that violates my confidentiality agreement. I have been doing this for roughly 3 1/2 years now (3 years as a parent) and I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about how to effectively manage working from home, from the perspective of a full-time parent. Here are some tips to consider if you’re a parent and thinking of making the leap from outside-the-home work to in-home work.
1. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you can do it all at once. To me, this may be the most important point and bears repeating. I do the vast majority of my at-home work when my spouse is home to take care of the kids, if both of them happen to nap at the same time (I have a 3 year old who occasionally naps and a 10 month old who naps daily), or when the 3 year old is at preschool and the 10 month old is napping. Very very rarely can I work and parent at the same time, and assuming you can be as productive in a typical 8-5 or 9-5 schedule while parenting your kids is going to set you up for failure unless you have care arrangements for the kids during that time. Working at home while parenting necessitates thinking outside the box at alternative time schedules or other flexibility options.
2. Set up a schedule for yourself and stick to it. It is easy to let work slide when there are so many other things you could be doing around the house. The flexibility of working at home is great, but without some sort of structure it is very easy to not work at all, or work much less than needed. That being said, realize your schedule can be flexible and can vary from week to week if need be. I have a pretty structured first 15 hours for every week, but as the week progresses, I adjust each day to add in more found time, so my overall hours can increase up to 30+ depending on what I have going on and my available workload.
3. Have a dedicated space with as few distractions as possible. My office is a structured place attached to but separate from my kids’ playroom. In retrospect, I may have wanted to set it up in our guest bedroom instead, because it can be distracting when my spouse is playing with the kids and I am working at the same time. Having a completely separate space though that is just my office helps me to focus on what I am doing much more than when I shared my office with the nursery and the master bedroom (ah, the crowded apartment days). And it helps tremendously with keeping everything organized.
4. Treat your time as valuable – Time management is key! There is only so much time. Much of it is spent sleeping. thin about what you’d like to do with the rest of it. Break time into manageable chunks of work and play and make sure you are not undervaluing your time. Don’t mix too much “play” into the work time or you may find you’re earning far less than your time is worth.
5. Lists are your friend – organization is time management’s best buddy. Just as planning your time can help you be successful, planning your tasks is also very important. What do you want to accomplish today? Tomorrow? this week? Make a list. Write it down. Find what organizational style works for you, but do it and stick to it. Ideas are easily lost, tasks are easily missed, without a backbone of organization.
6. Realize that there will be interruptions, and know when you need backup. Just as my son woke up for the day in the middle of me writing this post, unplanned interruptions happen. If you just cannot be interrupted, make sure you have backup, be it your spouse or a friend, who can step in for you in the parenting department until you are past the phone call/deadline/task that needs to be done right then.
7. Know when being the parent is more important. Sometimes, your kids just need *you*. One of the benefits to working from home is that you can put down what you are working on (usually) and spend some quality time with your kids. It is important to stay organized and on track and focused, but allow room for just being. I know when my son starts bringing me every toy he owns and saying “look here mommy, fun” that he needs me to take a break and spend a little one on one time with him. And a lot of the time, that break can refocus your energy so when you come back to working you’re refreshed and ready to go.
Those are some of my favorite tips to having a happy successful work at home lifestyle as well as being a great parent besides. With some organization, thought, and hard work it can really be a positive thing for you and your family. If you work from home, or have thought about trying it, weigh in with your best tip or idea as well!