Meeting deadlines, caring for children, spending time with your spouse, keeping up with laundry—it’s certainly a full plate. In fact, sometimes you may feel like you’re spinning multiple plates while desperately trying to prevent any of them from hitting the ground. Despite this challenging balancing act, most parents who work from home love it. They enjoy being able to devote more time to their families, not having a daily commute, and being their own boss.
But any time you are earning a paycheck and raising children, you will encounter challenges. Working at home is no different. In effect, you are working two jobs—one is taking care of your family and the other is running your business. Some days you may feel like you have everything under control and you have made the best possible choice for you and your family, and other days you may feel like you are spread so thin that you’re not doing anything well.
But with careful planning plus a little juggling, you can run your business and your household with efficiency and ease. By implementing these 6 tips, you will gain more harmony at home—while working and parenting.
Tip #1: The 2/3 rule of childcare
One of the most frequent comments home-based entrepreneurs hear is, “Oh, that’s great. You work from home—you have no childcare expense.”
Anyone who says this to you obviously hasn’t tried this arrangement! While most work at home parents do enjoy spending more time with their children, it’s tough to run a business and meet your children’s needs 24/7. Pitching an idea to a client while your two year old throws a tantrum isn’t exactly professional. Nor is it realistic for you to ask your children to “be good” for hours at a time while you work. If you worked in an office outside the home, you wouldn’t take your kids to work with you—they would be bored and distract you. It’s no different when you work from home.
The 2/3 rule of childcare is a good compromise. For example, if you work 24 hours a week, plan to have someone care for your child 16 hours. This will guarantee you some uninterrupted time to do the work that requires intense concentration, attend meetings or have phone conversations. Plus, with the right provider, your child will enjoy spending time with other children and learning new things—instead of watching you work. For the remaining 8 hours you need to put in per week, decide when is the most realistic time to do it—nap time, in the morning before the kids wake up, after they go to bed or when your spouse gets home. Don’t be afraid to experiment—you may need to find out by “trial and error” which arrangement works best for you and your family.
Tip #2: Declare some evenings “work-free”It is far too easy to always be working when you work from home. Your computer is just steps away. So is your business line, your fax machine, and your “to do” pile. Draw limits—remember, just because you work from home doesn’t mean you should be “on-call” twenty-four hours a day. If your business line rings after your scheduled hours, don’t answer it. If you suddenly think of a work task you need to do, jot it down and put a note on your desk. Now you can stop worrying that you’ll forget the task by tomorrow.
Schedule a couple nights each week just to relax. Watch a movie, go shopping, play a game with your children, go to a park, and enjoy your friends and family. Whenever possible, leave the house. Since you spend the majority of your time in your home—either working or taking care of your children—you need a change of scenery to keep you fresh.
Tip#3: Use your laptop
Even if you don’t work five days a week, you need to stay connected to your work world on your “off” days. With the real-time speed of the internet, potential clients and customers expect quick replies. Make it a habit to check your email in the morning and the afternoon.
Use a laptop and take it to where your kids are playing or watching TV. Check your email, catch up on industry news and browse your newsgroups. Since you are physically present, your kids won’t feel you have abandoned them and you can spend a few minutes catching up.
Tip #4: Pretend you work 10 miles away.
When working from home, distractions are all around you. It’s really easy to see all the things you need to do around the house and walk away from your work, promising yourself you’ll just do the dishes or vacuum the living room. The problem is that once you start doing this, you keep finding other tasks you “need” to do, instead of working. So don’t start them!
Working at home requires discipline and commitment. Set yourself up for success. Make sure your office looks like one. Frame your diploma and any certificates you’ve received and hang them on the wall. When you’re in your office, shut the door. If household noises distract you, turn on a sound machine. If you prefer music, listen to internet radio—you can choose the type of music you want to listen too, plus there are no distracting commercials! If your home phone line rings, ignore it. Say no when a friend asks you to watch her kids “since you’re home.” If you are ever in doubt how to handle something, ask yourself, “would I be able to do this if my office was in another building 10 miles away?” If you can’t say yes, then say no.
Tip#5: Enjoy your off-days
Don’t spend all your “days off” catching up on laundry or running errands. Periodically schedule “field trips” with your children (and spouse if they’re able.) Go to a museum, the park, or a friend’s house. Be flexible. Every once in a while laze around in your pajamas, just like the kids, and watch cartoons with them. Do yoga with your kids or bring them to the gym with you. Running a business and raising children can drain your energy. Get a workout in several times a week to keep up your stamina. Avoid being consumed by your “busy-ness.” Embrace the flexibility you have in your life—you may not always have such a luxury as your business grows.
Tip#6: Prepare for the unexpected
It’s going to happen at some point or another—your babysitter skips town without notice or one of your kids has a stomach virus and can’t go to school. As luck would have it, this usually happens on a busy day when you are on a tight deadline. While your world may have stopped because your child is sick, no one else’s has.
The key to getting work done on days like these is to spend a large chunk of time giving your children your undivided attention. If they are well, go on a special outing with them—take a walk or go to a playground. If they’re sick, play a game or do a puzzle. If you give them 100% of your attention for a couple hours, they are much more likely to play by themselves later so you can get your work done. When you begin your work, allow your children to watch a special movie, play with a favorite toy, draw, or let them do an easy craft. They will enjoy the special activity, and you will meet your deadlines.
The Right Mix
When you effectively meet the needs of your business and your children, you will experience less stress and gain confidence in your abilities as both an entrepreneur and a parent. Realize that occasionally one of the plates you’re spinning will become heavier than the rest and your life will temporarily become unbalanced. That’s normal. But by following these 6 tips, you will achieve harmony that allows you, your family and your business to prosper.
Lauren Hidden is a virtual assistant and the owner of The Hidden Helper. Her virtual assistant services enhance the productivity of speakers, writers and real estate professionals. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.