Working from home always sounds ideal. Taking calls in bed, lounging on the couch to answer emails, or conducting meetings in sweatpants is so much more appealing than sitting in a stuffy office. In fact, it's fast becoming the norm for many Americans. In 2010, the US Census Bureau reported that over 13 million Americans worked from home at least once a week, a 35 percent increase from the last decade; and from what I've seen, it's only grown since then. But as a work-at-home mom (WAHM) myself, I can tell you that as great as it is to have flexibility with your work life, most days, it's a total struggle, too.
Yes, I can take meetings in my pajamas. But I sometimes also have to wrangle myself out of a chokehold hug while in the middle of a conference call. I get to run over to my kids' school for performances and parties, but I also have to furiously type out emails while I sit parked in the school pickup lane.
You're constantly juggling your home and work lives when you're a WAHM and inevitably, the poopie diaper hits the fan just when you're about to get on an important call. That isn't to say that it's impossible. On the contrary, working from home is incredibly gratifying and manageable, you just need to find strategies that work for you to keep all the balls in the air. Here are mine:
- Designate a work space: Sure, I've got the flexibility to work all over the house, but my productivity increases if I'm working in a consistent space day in and day out. Plus, it helped my kids get conditioned to the idea that when I'm at my desk, I'm busy. After a while, they modified their behaviors and started to leave me alone when I'm "at work." With fewer distractions, I'm better able to efficiently conquer my to-do list, and walk away when I need to put my mom hat back on. A designated work space is an essential (and visible) barrier between my work and family responsibilities.
- Put the phone away when working: For me, this is a big one. I tend to leave my phone flipped over and out of reach when I'm working so that I'm not tempted to check every single notification that comes through. If I can avoid falling into the social media abyss, I'm able to use my time more wisely.
- Recruit the kids to help: Whenever I have an important work call to get on, I will run through a quick series of instructions with the kids for different scenarios that can possibly take place. I also whip out my secret stash of Play-Doh, coloring books, and Lego sets when I need 20 minutes of uninterrupted work time. Or, I'll put away some lesser-used toys for a few months and then take them out right before I go into a big meeting. Then, my kids are too immersed in rediscovering their old toys to barge in on me! It doesn't always work as planned, but if the kids have some guidance and a few distractions set up in advance, there's less of a chance that they'll come looking for me at an inopportune time. I always end a successful (and busy) workday with a small reward for my kids so they know they did a great job of helping me out.
- Get on an early-bird schedule: This is the one that makes or breaks my week, because with kids, it's always so difficult to stay on schedule. But if I carve aside a few hours before they get up, I start the day having accomplished so much before I need to dive into their morning routine. And I always take advantage of the quiet when they take a nap. Setting office hours around my kids' days can be really hard, but when I try to stick to some kind of regular schedule, even loosely, it helps to keep me on task without getting irritable with my kids.
- Learn to say no: When I switched from being a stay-at-home mom into work mode, I didn't give up a lot of my volunteer work at the kids' school, and I definitely didn't give up any of my lunches with friends. That ended up wreaking havoc on my schedule because I started burning the midnight oil every night to finish my projects — and still didn't get enough done. For me, embarking on the journey of working from home meant prioritizing and saying no to things that I no longer had time for. It got easier the more I did it and the things that really mattered became more apparent, but I still have to remind myself not to feel guilty for saying no to things that I used to say yes to. Because ultimately, reigniting my career and working from home has been the most rewarding way for me to say yes to myself!