I’ve worked at home in some capacity since my first child was born almost 10 years ago. For most of that time, I’ve also been a full-time mom and have had to fit my work into our full, often chaotic lives. Sometimes people ask me, “How do you do it all?” and although I will gladly take the compliment, my answer is that I really have no idea. It’s probably a bit of crazy willpower, my need to have a life outside my role as mom, and the fact that our budget constraints make it impossible for me not to work.
The other reason I’ve never really thought of myself as some kind of working mom superhero is because I’m awful at multitasking, and I was pretty sure that’s what all successful work-at-home parents do. I find it totally impossible to concentrate on more than one thing at once. I go crazy. Making my kid a sandwich while texting my boss while wiping someone’s butt while writing the last sentence to an article I’m working on? No, just no.
The latest theories on time management advise strongly against multitasking—good news for me. The new catchphrase is “chunking,” and it basically means that rather than trying to get everything done at once, you set aside specific chunks of time, and then just work. Do nothing else.
Turns out I’ve been a “chunker” all along. Of course, this often means that the only way I can get something done is when my kids are about 10 miles away from me, in the care of another grown-up. This usually amounts to locking myself in my office (i.e., my bedroom) and making sure whoever is caring for my kids has a long list of instructions, including “DO NOT DISTURB MOM UNLESS SOMEONE IS DYING.”
Here are a few more pieces of real-life tips I’ve accrued over the years:
1. Schedule time to work, and then really work.
It’s so easy for us moms to get a quiet house (or room) to ourselves and then just want to continue tending to our mom duties. Don’t do it. Now is not the time to clean the house, make doctor’s appointments, fill out permission slips, or Amazon Prime your face off. Nope.
2. Shut off social media, emails, and texts.
This is a hard one, and I will admit I haven’t mastered it yet. As a writer, I find taking breaks every few paragraphs useful, and so I do keep some of my social media within reach for my needed breaks. However, all sounds are off, and I don’t look at my texts or emails while I’m working. If you think temptation might get the best of you, just leave your phone in the other room, or use one of those apps available for computers or mobile devices that shut off social media and email for you.
3. Expect the unexpected and build that into your vision of your work-life.
Kids get sick. Naps get skipped. The great thing about working from home is you can usually work around these inconveniences. But that doesn’t mean they won’t throw you for a loop. If you can expect lost days and work, you will be more likely to have a back-up plan and less likely to freak out when the train goes off the rails.
4. Take your job seriously.
You are a working professional even though you might do lots of your work in your pajamas with kids at your feet. Show up when you say you are going to. Work your butt off. Be proud of what you do. Don’t give away your work for free (lots of women are unfortunately guilty of this). Ask for raises. Be bold. Kick ass.
5. Don’t overbook the rest of your life.
If working from home and caring for your kids is overwhelming enough, don’t take on volunteer positions, extra playdates, or whatever else someone expects you to do as a mom. You are a mom and a worker, first and foremost. Keep good boundaries and priorities.
6. Have a work plan, and keep it updated.
I have a weekly work schedule, and each day I have a plan for what I want to accomplish. Sometimes I accomplish everything; sometimes certain tasks have to wait until tomorrow. Working at home (and for myself) means that I am accountable only to me. This also means there is opportunity for slacking, but not if I think of what I do as important and worthy of my time (see No. 4)
Let’s get real: It can be exhausting to do it all. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about working from home is that self-care is a must. It is very easy to go on overdrive and do nothing but work or mommy-ing, especially when your kids and your office occupy the same space.
But where does that leave you? If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t do a damn thing for anyone or anything else. I have had to learn this lesson more than once, unfortunately. So, now I make sure to “chunk in” some time for myself each day: a 30 minute run, 20 minutes on the yoga mat, 15 minutes on the couch zoning out on my phone. Whatever it is, it’s just me being me, not attending to work or kids.
And the fact is, I don’t really do it all. I couldn’t do what I do without an amazing husband who I can throw my kids at as soon as he comes home from work, and during weekends. And I do have days where I feel as though I will literally break in half from the stress of having so much on my plate at all times.
But I also know how lucky I am to be able to work from home. I’m a homebody at heart (yoga pants for life!), and I truly do appreciate the fact that I get to be on my home turf so much as my kids grow up. As hard as it can be to “do it all,” I wouldn’t trade this life for the world.