I have children...wild children. And I work from home. What that's saying? If you fail to plan, you plan to fail? I spent several years failing miserably before slowly getting it together. Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.
Set Office Hours and stick to them. Whether you have an office outside the home, have an office space in your home, or like me, have a hybrid situation (I do the bulk of my work at home, but I meet clients at my office space,) set hours as though you report to a supervisor. You will get much more done allocating blocks of time to your business than wandering around your house stopping to work periodically. If your children's schedule changes frequently, schedule your hours weekly on Sunday nights. Keep a list of action items so you never show up at your desk and say "Why am I here? What should I do?"
Ignore your Inbox. If you work from home, chances are email is the primary way you communicate for work. So if it's that important, why would you check your email at stop light, while on a run, or at the grocery store?! I get it...unread emails are so tempting. I used to check them in the carpool line, the bathroom (gross,) and yeah, in the car. The problem was although I was physically reading them, I wasn't focused enough to retain the information and actually get back to the person who emailed me. Worse, I was distracted with my kids and in the car. Do not mindlessly check your work email account. Take it seriously and give it your full attention...later. It may help to remove or hide the email app you use from your phone's home screen.
Until you stop Ignoring your Inbox...Choose a time (or multiple times) in a day that you can devote to your email communication. Give it at least 30 minutes, not just to read but to give a meaningful response. As soon as I put my kids down for naps, I go to my desk and check email. Nothing gets missed and I retain and respond to what I read. I check it again quickly right after we put the kids to bed and after that, I leave it to the next day. To be clear... this is my work account. You better believe I'm like "What's the latest sale at Anthro??? Gimme more email!" on my personal account. Yeah, I still check that one the bathroom because kids. Quiet time. None.
Make communication with clients a priority. Let your clients know when you are available to do business and when they will expect to hear from you. Make it easy to find. Put it on your website, use an auto reply system for your emails, or include it in your voicemail message. Then actually follow through with that you said. Think about who you choose to do business with. For me, I research my options and reach out to those I think might work. 9 times out of 10 I go with the person who gets back to me first, and the person that communicates with me the best. (Read: gets back to me in a timely manner and actually answers my questions.) My old method of checking email on the fly was KILLING my communication with potential and current clients because I wasn't returning those emails in a timely manner. I also had a serious case of phone call phobia. I HATE talking on the phone, so I would ignore it when it would ring and then never check voicemail. That's a little self sabotaging for a small business owner don't you think?? Now my "office" hours are clearly posted on my website. I let clients know when I'm available to meet them in person, as well as when they might expect to hear back from me if they send an email. I also have this information on my voicemail. When I sit down to work after I put my kids down for naps, I check those emails and voicemail and I get back to every single person with the information they requested.
Utilize your chosen calendar. Do you have a calendar on your phone? Use it. Allow whoever you share childcare duties with to see it. For me that's my husband. I can see his calendar and he can see mine, this way we can anticipate any conflicts in our schedule and know if one of us needs to pick up the slack for the other. Do you prefer a hard copy calendar? That's great! But learn to use the one on your phone anyways. You know you aren't carrying that big old day planner in your clutch when you go out on a date right? It's pretty useless to you if it's sitting on your desk back at home.
Plan your day or you'll waste it. I'm sure there are lots of ways to plan a day, prioritizing your tasks, etc... but for me, I just start with a list. I keep a long term list going with big items I know won't get done quickly and need to work on overtime, but I make a daily list before I go to bed. It frees my mind so I can sleep peacefully, and I always wake up with direction. With kids the day can slip away very easily without a plan and your working hours will be the same way! I get two days "kid free" to work. I have to get a lot done during that time and my list keeps me focused. I do the quick tasks first and then go for the more time consuming ones later but that's just my personal preference.
Take advantage of alternative childcare options. Sometimes last minute things pop up. Know what your alternative childcare options are. In our city there are two awesome places parents can utilize for those unexpected moments. One is an indoor play space filled with fun no tech toys. I can take the kids, grab a coffee and sit in the corner to work while my kids are safe and occupied with quality toys and other kids. Our other option is a drop-in childcare. Best idea ever!!! My kids are preregistered, I sign them in with my fingerprint, they provide meals if I request them... it's awesome! They charge by the minute so I only pay for the time I use, and it'a actually less expensive than hiring a sitter. The kids love it and they aren't glued to a television, which is something that's been a slippery slope in our house so we try very hard to stay away from it totally.
***New tip: Online Grocery Shopping. I wrote this post a few weeks ago and from then to now, our family has grown unexpectedly by one little lady! I now have NO child-free days until May so I’ve had to fine tune my day. I took a look at how I used my free time and realized most of that time was spent at Target. I know... I’m a cliche. After a tear-filled rant to my husband about being completely emotionally exhausted and feeling like my business was going to go down in a ball of fire, I jumped online and 1. Bought an Instant Pot. 2. Signed up for Amazon Grocery. 3. Committed to Sunday evening meal planning and 4. Committed to mindful and reduced shopping. I tend to buy on impulse only to return at least half of it. The impulse part is fast, but the running around town returning is a major time waster. Instead of using precious moments to relax and recharge, I was letting it slip away from me only to slack during my work time because I was just so “done” with the day.
What about you? Do you have some work at home parenting tips?