One of the most difficult parts of returning to work after my divorce was learning how to balance single parenting and a developing career. In my current situation as a full-time single mom of three teenage daughters and an adolescent son and the type of work that I do (writing and editing), it made sense for me to work from home.
Making the adjustment took some time, but after a lot of trial and error, over time I developed a routine for my day and found a rhythm. Working from home does come with its challenges. To stay focused and productive, both as a mom, business owner, and lifestyle editor for an online auction site, I implemented the following five strategies.
1. Define your workspace.
Figuring out where to set up shop so to speak took some time to figure out, and as my needs changed, I adjusted where I worked. When I began writing, I sat at my kitchen island with my laptop. I was blogging a few times per week and felt most comfortable sitting where I always had during my marriage. The desk and desktop computer had always been my husband’s domain. Even though he was about to become my ex-husband and no longer lived with me, I stayed put.
When I started my business and began taking on private clients, I needed more room and took over what was once my husband’s space. Even though I have a home office in my house, I often choose to work at a desk in our family room, which keeps me in the center of the action while the kids are home — and away from the refrigerator.
2. Set your hours.
Anyone who has ever started a business knows how labor-intensive it is. Early on, it is likely you are handling most if not all of the backend tasks by yourself while also sourcing new leads. That can amount to a long workday and week extending long past regular business hours and into the weekend. Guilty as charged. What began happening was that I was spending every spare moment I had focusing on my business. There is no question that I love what I do. But I am also in it for the long haul and do not want to burn out, which I began to do.
Recently, I reevaluated my schedule. Working from home, I maintain flexibility as to when I can work and cherish the quiet while my children are at school. I run errands after the workday is over or when I would ordinarily eat lunch. At certain times of the day, my focus remains exclusively on my family. At others, I am devoted entirely to my business. I have also come to understand the value of a good night’s sleep so that I feel refreshed for the next day.
As my business began to grow, I put together a calendar to schedule the time I devote to each of my clients. That way I remain on task and meet all of my deadlines. My schedule also abides by the business hours I set, leaving me the leisure time I need and want. As soon as I implemented my calendar, not only did I feel less stressed, I also found additional time during the day to devote to business development and other tasks previously put on hold.
4. Take pride.
During my business’s early days, I spent an afternoon volunteering at my son’s school. One of the moms there, a “working mom” who had taken the day off from her position in the city to help out, asked me if I worked. I told her that I worked from home. Before even asking me what I did, she questioned why I qualified my answer to her. I had no answer.
In retrospect, I was lessening my value because I felt like I was less than someone who commuted to an office. How wrong I was. She took it upon herself to advise me that I should tell others when asked that, yes, I do work. Period. The woman was right. If you take your professional obligations seriously, there is no difference between working from home and working anywhere else. Work is work.
5. Set boundaries.
Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you are on call for everyone else who is not working from home. That means, barring emergencies, you should consider yourself the same as someone who works a bridge or tunnel away. If you draw a distinction, you will get nothing done. It is also important to limit personal phone calls during the workday. Keeping everyone entertained while they sit in traffic on their daily commute or while on the road heading to appointments throughout the day can eat up hours of your precious time each week. Don’t be afraid to say that it is not a convenient time to speak or let the call go to voicemail. Friends will understand and come to respect your time. The key is you must respect it first.