Did you know 3.7 million employees (that’s almost three percent of the American workforce) work from home at least half the time? That’s not counting those who are self-employed. In the last three years, the telecommuter population has grown 5.6 percent and the self-employed, home-based business population has grown by 18.7 percent.
With computers in our pockets and office systems in the cloud, more of us are choosing to work from home. This flexibility is nice but, if we are parenting kids while working, productivity is hard to come by.
As a work-at-home mom and a coach for work-at-home women, I have found being both a ‘parent’ and a ‘working parent’ under the same roof — often at the same time — makes me long for the days of a commute.
For parents struggling to balance working from home and raising a family, here are 12 tips.
1. Keep a legitimate schedule.
The No. 1 suggestion I can offer is to create a master schedule, outlining when you are working and when you are not. Then do everything in your power to keep to that schedule. Do not get sidetracked by dirty dishes or children playing on the swingset. Do not fear that a schedule will cramp your style. I promise it will set you free.
2. Separate roles with blocks of time.
The best way to find balance during the day as a ‘parent’ and ‘working parent’ is to incorporate time blocks into that schedule.
Chelsea Briggs is a mortgage processor with little kids at home. Briggs explains, “Time blocking helps. I block time for my kids so they have some mommy time during the day. I try to save all my calls while my kids are napping, if I can. For me it is impossible to get rid of the distractions, but time blocking really helps.”
I suggest blocking time for your role as a ‘home manager’ so that laundry pile doesn’t trump a logistics report.
3. Work in a designated work space, preferably with a door.
This has not been a luxury for me. My ‘office’ is a desk and bookcase along a wall in our family room. The effort it takes to stay organized and undistracted is intense. Often, I’ll make client calls in the laundry room, record trainings in my master closet and write articles from my bedroom because those rooms have doors.
It’s nice to be where my kids are, and a lot of work I do allows that, but there is always a part of my business that feels scattered, no matter what.
Beth Garn is a mom of three in Syracuse, Utah, who has worked mostly from home for years. She loves having an office in her house to keep distractions away and suggest, “If you don’t have designated space to work, have designated times where the kids need to play away from you. That works if they are older. When my kids were babies I had to work at night while they slept.”
4. Change out of your pajamas.
Seriously. Even comfy yoga pants make it easier for us to slide into less productive activities. Slippers, on the other hand? I’m not stopping you.
5. Keep a notebook close.
Distractions from other people in the house while you’re working take their toll. Honoring a simple request from a child often means you’ll spend an extra 15 minutes trying to figure out where you left off.
Keep a notebook close and, when you need to step away to help someone (or stop the fight that’s breaking out over the Xbox), jot down what you are doing and the two things in your mind you are planning on doing next.
6. Hire help.
Even with a flexible schedule, you can’t do it all. It may be necessary to hire someone to help with housework or childcare. Having a babysitter, nanny or mother’s helper a few days a week makes a difference in your productivity.
When I was writing my book and had a manuscript deadline pressing, I hired an 11-year-old to come over and play with the kids for several hours each week while I pretended I wasn’t home.
7. Kid swap.
If hiring help with your kids is not an option, maybe you could arrange a babysitting co-op. Is there another parent who works from home near you? Or a mom who needs a day to herself? Coordinate schedules and trade days to watch each other’s children.
8. Make work time special.
If help with kids is not an option, create a list of activities the kids can do only while you are working. This will help them get excited about the time you spend working.
When my big kids were preschoolers, I had a special cupboard of activities available for them to use only while I was working or busy. We had a sticker bin, play dough bin, cars bin, etc. The kids made a bigger mess because I was not there with them, but they had a good time, and getting work done was a nice tradeoff.
9. Announce you are working.
Before you step into your office or jump on that conference call, ask your children what you can do for them before you leave the room to work. I promise this one question will cut down on so many silly interruptions.
10. Sell your kids on your ‘why.’
Help your children understand what you do for work and how it helps the family. Offer them the chance to set a family reward when you meet a deadline or hit your quota. When they feel they are a part of your team, they will be more willing to allow you the time and space you need to make it happen.
Janika Barfuss is a health coach who doesn’t hesitate to sit her kids down and explain what she does and why she does it. “I tell them I need their help with the house things so that I can work more efficiently,” Barfuss says. She rallies the kids around the idea of vacations or fun things. “We are in this together. It’s a win-win across the board.”
11. Involve your kids.
Think of creative ways to include your children. Can they put stamps on envelopes? Type in client information? Or maybe you could set up a space for them in your office to ‘pretend’ to work alongside you.
12. Don’t hate that you use Netflix to entertain. Way. Too. Much.
We all use screen time to help us get our work done. It’s a big club.