How do you do it? I am often asked how I manage to balance working at home and being a mom, wife and partner, and the day to day parts of home life.
First, I will say, I don’t honestly know if you can find a perfect balance. Working at home is a fantastic experience and I truly love it. The more office time I get the happier I am. It has some interesting draw backs that can be extremely difficult to overcome, and I have found that there are a few things that you can do to help make it easier.
First, before we get into the solutions, let me talk about working at home. I have talked to many people who do different types of work at home, whether it be writing, editing, blogging, crafting, business administration, etc. What we all seem to agree on is that working at home takes an extreme amount of discipline. When I started working at home, I had to figure out how to focus in ways I had never experience before.
While I had been writing and editing for years, most of my projects were either shoehorned in here and there, or for a job at an actual work site. Working at home, meant that I had to focus on my work, while ignoring the huge “to do” list of chores, the easy of sleeping in, or going out at any time, unlimited access to the internet without someone looking over my shoulder, and so on. It is so easy to fall into the trap of having so flexible a schedule that you end up not getting enough done, or that you eat into family time. When I first started I didn’t manage my email and internet time very well, and so I often ran right up against deadlines.
Freedom is a wonderful thing, but boy can it also be extremely distracting. And when you set your own deadlines, you can get far too comfortable moving them around to accommodate this or that.
So, how do you find a balance with working at home? Honestly, you treat it just like a job at an office.
My top tips for creating the most productive environment for freelancing from your home office have served me well over the years.
Have a Home Office
This seems like a given, but many people work out of their bedrooms, at a desk in a corner, or on the dining room table. Sometimes, it just isn’t possible to have a separate office space, and if that’s the case, then make your office/work area YOUR SPACE. Don’t let it clutter up with things belonging to other people in your household. Make sure your office has everything you need for your chosen work, including electronics, books and resources, a few things that make it feel like your space
Decorate it in a soothing and creative manner (favorite paint color, a desk that you like. Make is the perfect, most inspiring space that you can.
Don’t Do Anything Other than Work
Don’t use your work time (Office Hours) to do other things like work on that household “to do” list. Stick to the idea that you are AT WORK and if you were working at a job location, you certainly would not be fixing the toilet, or cleaning the kitchen floors.
While one of the benefits of working at home is that you can intermix your worktime with household time, one of the biggest mistakes people make when working at home is not actually spending an allotted amount of time actually working. (Also, make sure your spouse, family, and friends understand that when you are working, you are busy. They can’t just drop by or call because you ‘don’t have a real job. Train them well, and you’ll have a happier relationship with them in the long run.)
Keep a Schedule
Set “Office Hours” where no matter what, you are sitting in your office working. Different people need a different type of scheduling. For example, my 4-year-old son is in DayCare three days a week: one full day (Monday) and two half days (Wednesday and Friday.) My office hours are 9-4 every Monday and 9-1 Wednesdays and Fridays. I make a point to sit at my desk during those times and work on something. If I don’t have editing to do, I work on my upcoming poetry book, or one of my fiction projects. I try to keep any phone calls to Monday’s or I do that on the off days if the kiddo lets me.
As a rule, I don’t have to plan my entire days out, but sometimes that works. You may find that you need to allot yourself a certain amount of time to read through emails, do website or blog updates, handle phone calls or basic office maintenance. Only time and experience will tell you how much you need to schedule your own day.
Track your Time
It is important to get into the habit of tracking your time when you are working. Often when you get a freelance job, your client is going to want to know how much time you spent working on their project. If you track all your time working at your desk/in your office from the very beginning, creating the habit, it makes things so much easier when you need to track for a client. It is also a good way to see how much time you are spending on different things.
I track my over-all office time, as well as individual project time. It has helped me become more efficient and a great deal better at time management and awareness of how long a project might take.
Dress to work
So, this is one of those things that for many, flies in the face of the freedom of working at home. I always get comments about how nice it must be to be able to work in my pjs (which I rarely do) or that I don’t have to dress up for anyone. While this is true, that I don’t have to be as careful of what I am wearing, I do find that changing clothing, and looking somewhat presentable not only helps my mindset when I work, but also means that I don’t fly into a panic if I get a sudden Skype interview, or video call, or need to do a video for my blog. I feel more awake if I go through the motions (and I generally get dressed anyway to take my son to school, so I might as well dress for the day of work). If you can work in your PJs and feel productive and official, more power to you. I find I need a bit more encouragement for my day. My typical attire is often yoga pants and a nice comfortable shirt and sweater, and a pair of slippers.
Find Your Routine
Finally, one of the most important things that I do everyday is follow a routine. This is a nice mix of many of the other parts covered in this post, but it entails a bit more. When I worked in a big office building, there were certain rituals that I did everyday to make my work time better. I do the same at home. I get home after dropping off my son, grab my breakfast (English muffin or bagel), make my tea (TEA IS LIFE ?), eat while the tea is steeping and check emails via my phone, and then once the tea is ready, I head upstairs to start my work day. I usually spend about half an hour sorting though things before I dig in and get to work on whatever the ‘project of the day’ is. I take at least 2 more tea breaks (Like I said, tea is life) as well as a lunch break. I try to move around a bit every hour or so (this is important if you sit at a desk most of the day).
The thing about all the above, is that these habits or routines are part of what make my workday productive. Because I have them, my brain clues in that this is what we’re are doing, and I get more work done if I keep up my little rituals. Every part of the puzzle helps you become more productive and helps balance the freedom of working at home, with the discipline required to do so well.
Until next time,
Have a great day!