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Working from Home: A Survival Guide


 “You work from home?!”

I get this a lot.

Yes, I work from home. Some days, it’s the pits (I’ll just cut to the chase).

As a self-proclaimed I-Can-Do-It-All-er (see my last post), I decided that I’d try my hand at raising my kids full-time, without help, and continue with my career at home. Sounds peachy, right? 

{Insert eye roll here}

I’m four years into this WAHM (work-at-home-mom) gig, and I’m just now sort of getting the hang of it, though most days I still feel like I’m winging it. 

However, since I do get a lot of questions about how I work from home, I started to keep a list of “tips and tricks,” so to speak, for working from home. If you’re at your wits’ end with working from home, or even if you’re thinking about trying it, maybe my (self-proclaimed) Survival Guide will help you out.

Drum roll, please….

Have a Designated Work Space.

This seems pretty obvious, right? Well, to me it wasn’t. I had a nice little workspace set up for myself in our finished basement. All of my work stuff was there: desk, computer, printer/scanner, files, post-its, you name it. This worked great when someone else watched my kids. Except, in my case (and I’m sure in yours too), childcare falls through, or you don’t have enough of it in the first place.

So I was finding myself bringing my computer, files, post-its, and all of my other work essentials upstairs and setting them on the dining room table so I could work while simultaneously watching my kids. That didn’t work for me at all, so I crafted a new solution.

I got a desktop (finally, after years of putting it off) and a “desk” (really a side table for an entryway with a drawer on it) that matched the decor in my dining room and made myself a workspace for myself on the main floor of our house. I also bought a nice sturdy storage bin to house all of my work stuff while I’m not working (keep reading for more details).

Face Away from the Chaos

I purposefully faced my new little workspace toward the back wall of our dining room so that I could look out of the back window into our backyard instead of at my living room.

Do I have to turn around to see my kids? Yes. But, our house is small, so I’m still watching them (with the eyes on the back of my head, as the saying goes). This helps me immensely when I don’t have childcare, so that my focus can be on my computer screen and not solely on my children who are destroying the house.

Make Your Workspace Inviting

When I set up my new workspace, I wanted to do it right this time around. I made sure to make it special for myself so that I’d actually want to sit down and work. For me, that meant getting a table that matched my house’s decor and adding fun touches that made me happy. I bought an awesome pineapple desk lamp (yes, I like the pineapple trend…), and some pieces of my kids’ art up on the wall to add some happy colors and good vibes.

Lots of Natural Light

One of the things that I truly couldn’t stand about working in my basement office was the lack of natural light. The one window down there just didn’t cut it. Now, the corner where my desk sits gets the most sunlight in the end of the afternoon, which is generally when I work most. Sunlight shining on you when you’re working does immeasurable amounts of good, especially during a northeast winter.

Hide Your Work When You’re Not Working

I try to avoid clutter (as much as I can as a mom of two little kids), because it makes my mind race and takes my attention away from other things (must clean up the mess!). Imagine my predicament when I transitioned my home office from a separate area of our house into our dining room. As context, my job is very paperwork heavy, so the clutter situation is real (shudder!).

My solution: storage boxes that look like furniture. I bought a faux leather storage bench to store all of my work, so I don’t have to look at it unless I’m actually working. It holds all of my files and miscellaneous nonsense (like envelopes, checkbooks, my stapler, etc.) as well. And as a side benefit, once the top goes on, it can hold 300 pounds. So I’m not worried about my kids sitting or standing on it (a regular occurrence) and crushing my stuff. Plus, it collapses down for easy moving from place to place. 

P.S. These work great for kids’ things as well. We have another one for books.

Set a Schedule and Keep To It

Yes, this can be difficult, but it’s essential for our house. First, if I don’t keep a schedule for myself, life gets in the way and before I know it, it’s 10 p.m. and I haven’t done anything. Second, my kids will actually cooperate if they know what to expect (I suppose the experts were right about kids and structure). On the days I’m solo and have to cram work in while I’m simultaneously keeping my kids alive (priorities, of course), I have the following schedule (which seems to keep everyone sane).

Morning – Alone time with smaller rugrat while bigger rugrat is in school. If we don’t have an activity to go to, sometimes we come home and I do busy work like writing checks, sending emails, etc. and let him “help” me.

Midday – Alone time with bigger rugrat while smaller rugrat naps. Sometimes I do busy work during this time as well and let her “help” me too.

Afternoon – If we don’t have plans, I put a movie on for the kids and try to get work done for two hours. No, I am not ashamed. I’m trying to juggle two kids, a career, and a blog. My theory: I am fully present for all other parts of the day. They know mommy is working, they both had alone time with me, and now they hang out together and get to watch a movie. It’s a win/win for us all.

Nighttime – After the kids go to bed, I almost always work. It’s a sacrifice I make since I am able to stay home with my kids during the day. There will always be 24 hours in every day, so I have to use what time I have to its full potential.

Encourage Independent Play from the Start 

If my kids are happy to be playing by themselves, I leave them alone and try to get things done. Sometimes this time last for only a few minutes, but sometimes I will get a good hour of work in without a peep from either one of them.

I am also a huge proponent of  independent play on a macro level (perhaps because I am an introvert and love to do things alone). They’re learning an invaluable life skill by sitting quietly and doing something alone like reading a book, building with blocks, or coloring pictures.

Special Time with Daddy = Mommy Work Time

On weekends, my husband will take the kids out for special activities with dad. Yes, sometimes I sit on the couch and take a nap. We all deserve a little “me time.” But most of the time, I park myself at my desk and get some stuff done. Frankly, doing work with a hot cup of coffee in a blissfully quiet house is extremely enjoyable (and productive!).

Get Dressed Every Day

One of the pitfalls of working from home is falling into the pajamas-all-of-the-time trap. Don’t fall into this trap! Even on days when I know we won’t be doing much (snow, rain, sickness, you name it), I dress myself like I care. 

I find it extremely difficult to get anything done effectively or efficiently when I am dressed in my pajamas. All I want to do is snuggle on the couch with a hot chocolate and watch movies. We all know  that absolutely no work is getting done under those conditions. 

So I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, put on an outfit and some makeup, and I start my day feeling good about myself and motivated to get things done.

plannerUse a Planner

I’m sure most of you already do this (kids and their schedules…), but I’m including it as an essential item for this WAHM. Despite my affinity for social media, I completely and totally dislike digital planners. I have an old-fashioned paper planner, and it keeps me sane. I like to check items off of my checklist one-by-one, as it gives me a sense of accomplishment. It’s also fun to buy bright colored stickers at Michael’s in the planner aisle so I can dress it up. Yes, I’m that person.

Lower Your Expectations and Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Some days just won’t go your way. Whether it be sickness, tantrums, bad sleep, accidents, too many appointments, or just a bad mood – sometimes work just doesn’t get done. It’s okay. Poop happens. Go to bed early and start fresh tomorrow.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you work from home. Nothing ever goes according to my plan, and I never get things done as quickly as I’d like to. Just stay consistent and keep on moving. Your kids will praise you one day for your hustle (or that’s at least what I like to tell myself).

Get Help!

Yes, this is a no-brainer. I am lucky enough to have an awesome mom who watches my kids two afternoons a week so I can focus on work. Thank you, mom. I love you. My kids know that when their grandma is here, mommy works. Knowing that I have that time to devote to work makes tolerating the multitasking much, much easier.

I am also lucky enough to have house cleaners each week. I know that not everyone can afford this (literal) luxury. But, if you can, do it. Between my kids, my husband, my career, and my blog, my house was always last. I just didn’t have time to scrub a toilet. And, frankly, I work better in a tidy house.

There you have it, folks. My not-so-expert survival guide for a work-at-home-mom. Do you work from home? What are your biggest struggles? Do you have your own tips and tricks to share?

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