One thing that I was surprised to learn when I started genuinely working from home was that it can be a lot more challenging than working a more traditional job. The hours can be longer. It can be more difficult to know exactly when to clock in and when to clock out. One of the things that I struggled with was finding a good balance between my home/family life and my work life. I often found that there wasn’t enough of a boundary between these two aspects of my life. In fact, when things were out of balance, it posed some serious issues on both sides.
As a work-at-home mom, it is critical that you are able to draw clear lines between your business and the rest of your life. That is why I have come to embrace the idea of having a routine of daily and weekly habits. I used to tell myself that I sucked at sticking to a routine. I made myself believe that I thrive most when I have 100% flexibility. However, the truth is that having structure in your life will make things a lot easier.
Below are some of the questions I think are helpful to consider as you try to establish a work-at-home routine that works for you and your family.
Note: This post includes links for products I have bought or used. Some of these links may be affiliate links.
What are your natural sleep and waking habits? Do you wake up and get tired around the same time each day? Are you a morning bird or are you a night owl?
One thing that I have realized is that I am no longer a night owl. I used to be, but once I had my son, it slowly shifted in the other direction. These days, I can’t last much longer than 11pm on a good day. My body definitely lets me know it is ready to wind down around 10. On the flip side, I find that I naturally wake up pretty early. In fact, I usually wake up 2-3 hours before my son wakes up. I try to avoid pushing myself too far beyond these times because I am not as functional when I do that.
However, if you do decide that you need to wake up earlier or stay up later so that you can get things done, it is important for you to figure out what your schedule SHOULD be, keeping in mind that you need to get enough rest each day. Once you have a schedule in mind, train your body to adapt to that schedule by setting alarms for your wake-up time and for when you need to settle down for bed. Just as we can train our children to follow a schedule, we can train ourselves. I used to think it was crazy to wake up at 6am, but when I actually committed to doing it, I found that it wasn’t so hard after the first week or so.
Another important thing that I pay attention to is whether I experience a noticeable dip in energy at the same time during the day. If you feel like you really need a nap during the middle of the day, you might consider scheduling in a power nap or a little pick-me-up (I admit to drinking coffee in the middle of the day sometimes). However, if you have chronic fatigue, you might also want to talk to your primary care provider. I learned from experience that chronic fatigue could be a sign of something more serious than just needing a nap.
What do you need to help you get going in the morning?
Although my son typically does not wake up until a few hours after I do, I still find that I need to do certain things to help me prepare for the day and focus on what I need to do. During the week, I typically start my day off with a tasty jolt of caffeine. I recently received an awesome Stainless Steel Espresso & Cappuccino Machine from Capresso, so I can make tasty beverages without having to run to a coffee shop or restaurant. I usually make two shots of espresso and top it with frothy almond milk and caramel macchiato creamer. Then I have a light breakfast of peanut butter toast and fruit since I’m not much of a breakfast person. Sometimes, if the weather is nice, I will go outside and enjoy a bit of fresh air while I eat (usually with a book on hand). Other times I sit in my office or at the dining room table.
In addition to fueling my body a bit, I also find it helpful to have some quiet time to reflect. Lately, I have been really into doing 10-20 minutes of yoga. The combination of stretching, deep breaths, and meditating seem to be helping me to get off on a good foot. I have a few DVDs that I use, but there are also a TON of channels on Youtube that offer a wide variety of yoga workouts. If you like something a beat more upbeat and energetic to start your day, I highly recommend Lauren Fitz’s dance fitness videos.
How do you track what needs to be done?
Every morning, I take a few minutes to jot down my to-do list for the day before I even think about getting on social media (aka “the rabbit hole”, lol). By having a prioritized to-do list, I know what I need to get done that day. In addition to my paper to-do list, I use a few other tools to help me get and stay organized. For my freelancing, I have a physical copy of The Freelancer Planner that helps me track things like which client projects I need to work on, which clients I need to follow up with, and what other daily activities I need to do to market my business. I utilize the Excel workbook that I got with the Blog By Number ebook to help me decide what content I should work on. I also have a family wall calendar that I check each morning for any appointments or events that Christian and I might need to attend.
When are you most productive?
I really like the concept that the guys over at Fizzle presented about the two modes of productivity. They suggest that successful entrepreneurs are the ones who are able to move from CEO mode into Worker Bee mode. The CEO mode is when you are planning and strategizing. You are figuring out what needs to be done next. The Worker Bee mode is when you are doing the work that needs to be done. It is the action mode that is the natural progression from thinking mode. They recommend that you be able to master both of these modes by learning how to come up with great ideas and then actually execute them. They also believe that people have certain periods of the day when they are more creative as well as periods when they are able to buckle down and really get to work. Actually, I’ll let them explain it:
It may take a bit of experimentation to find out when these periods are, but once you do, you can take advantage of them. For example, you may find that when you wake up, feeling rested, you are able to get right to business, checking things off your to-do list like a boss. You may also find that the evening hours is when your mind really goes into overdrive, coming up with awesome ideas for your business and plotting how you can go about making those ideas come alive. If that is the case, then you know that your most productive work hours are in the morning and your most productive planning hours are before bed.
How can you balance your family duties with your work duties?
If you are like me and have your children at home with you during the day, it can be quite a challenge drawing clear lines between family time and work time. However, for the happiness of your family and the health of your business, this is something that you should really work on as soon as possible. I try really hard to get a good chunk of my daily work done before my son wakes up, however, most days I still end up having to do some work during the day. What I have found to be helpful is to work on business for a certain number of minutes and then take a break to hang out with my son. I also take breaks for meals and any appointments or events we have to attend. I highly recommend looking into the Pomodoro Technique. You might find it to be very helpful in your daily life.
Another thing that I have been implementing lately is “clocking out” at 10pm, regardless of if I got my work done. Sometimes it is tempting to stay awake and try to finish, but that is a slippery slope. I could tell myself “just 30 more minutes, and then the next thing I know, it’s midnight. I also make sure that my son and I have a game night and a movie night most weeks and that at least one day out of the weekend, I don’t do any work at all. It isn’t perfect, but it is what works for us right now.
When it comes to household chores, I admit that I still have not perfected my routine. I fear that I will never be the perfect homemaker. Honestly, as soon as I can afford to, I plan to hire a housekeeper to come by once a week to help me with keeping everything nice and net. However, until then, I manage as best as I can. For example, I tend to run a load of laundry in the morning so that I can hang it out to dry during the day. I also write down a general list of ideas for which meals we will eat during the week and go grocery shopping once a week. However, my goal is to become a meal planning pro.
Another thing that you may want to consider is whether you will need childcare. I homeschool my son, but am seriously debating hiring someone to babysit him in my home for 2-3 hours a day, 2 or 3 days a week so that I can focus on work without distraction. If you have school-age kids, this may not be an issue during the school year; however, it will need to be a consideration for when school is out and for when you have kids that are not yet school-age.
Where will you work?
This is a question that I don’t think gets enough attention. When you work from home, it is easy to view your entire house as your office. However, I have found that when I didn’t have specific areas that were for getting work done, I was more easily distracted. That is why I converted one of our bedrooms into a home office. Having that room set up for business makes me feel like I am actually going to work instead of going into another part of the house. I have also taken over half of the dining room table as a makeshift desk. My son is learning that when I am at that desk on my computer, I am working and he shouldn’t disturb me. One place that I try to avoid working is my bed. The temptation to just lay down is too strong. I also sometimes choose to work at a local coffeehouse when someone agrees to babysit for a few hours. Usually there are other people there (mostly students) on their laptops, so it feels like a focused and productive environment. I also just like being around other adults. As I mentioned in this post about the pros and cons of working from home, it can be difficult not being around other people – giving myself a change of scenery every now and then helps to alleviate that.
How will you get your family on board?
Finally, you need to get your family on board with your work-at-home routine. This goes for the family that lives with you as well as any extended family members that might drop by or call unexpectedly. Let them know that you will be working from home during a specific set of hours and that during that time, you are not to be interrupted unless it is an emergency. Though you will likely have some situations arise that require you to put on your “mom/spouse/sibling” on unexpectedly, if your family knows what is expected, it can help tremendously to cut down on distractions.
Hopefully answering these questions has helped you to determine what type of work-at-home routine will work best for you and your family. Do you have any tips, tools, or resources you would like to share. I’d love to read your comments.