In my career, I work in a traditional office. I get up every morning, head to the train, and spend my day at my desk in the city. While I wish I didn’t have that commute, I never realized how easy an office made working efficiently until I started Mama Fish Saves. Now, in addition to the random days I work from home for my day job, I spend 30 hours a week, or more, working from home on the blog. What I’ve realized is that what happened to be efficient for a few hours on a weekend afternoon for my day job, doesn’t work for regular focused efforts on Mama Fish each week. I’ve had to make conscious adjustments to create a happy, successful work-at-home lifestyle. So today, I wanted to share the steps that work for me.
1 – Get up, get dressed, and “go” to work
This is a big one for me. I am the queen of changing into sweatpants and a t-shirt within 5 minutes of getting home from the office. I love comfy clothes, a warm blanket, and a seat on the couch when it comes to puttering on my laptop or organizing the thousands of photos of Fuss Fish. But, the more time I committed to the blog and the more I wanted to treat it like a business, the more I focused on what really makes me efficient.
My mother’s boyfriend, who has worked from home four days a week for years, recommended I act like I was headed to the office when I got ready to work on Mama Fish. Shower, eat breakfast (or dinner when I’m working at night) and go sit at my desk. This sounded like no fun at all, but after a few times of trying it, I have to admit he is right. I feel like I’m giving my work the respect it deserves, and in return, I get a lot more accomplished. No need to put on a suit or a fancy dress, but skip the pajamas and sweats!
2 – Have a clean, work specific area
Remember my comfy seat on the couch? I love it, but let me tell you what happens when I sit there. First, Fuss Fish carries over Little Blue Truck saying “beep beep beep!” and waving it at me to read to him. I take a 5-minute break because what mom can say no to reading their child a book? Then, my husband wants me to listen to this article he just found or watch a funny video. While I’m paying attention to him, Fuss Fish either steals my pen, starts crumpling my notes, or slams on my computer keys. Cute, but not exactly helpful.
I’ve tried the kitchen island, the dining room table, and the comfy chair in my bedroom. Unfortunately, the story runs about the same. I so badly wanted to work where I could see my family but it only meant that I was working longer, was more frustrated, and felt more guilty. So, I’ve embraced my home office. My desk is no longer the dumping ground for mail, clothing returns, and coloring books. A clean desk, large computer screen, nice desk chair, and door that closes means I can focus. When I’m sitting there I know my goal is to work and I don’t feel guilty for doing it. I know that I get more done, quickly, so I can get back to spending time with the people I love.
You may not have room in your home for a whole office, but you can find a quiet corner or spot that works for you. When you are in this place, make sure your family knows that your first priority is your work, and you will be back to them soon.
3 – Set a real work schedule and stick to it
If you have ever worked from home, you know saying, “I need to work on this project for 3 hours at some point today,” either leaves you up working at 10pm or pushing your project off until tomorrow. Whether your kids and spouse are home or you are on your own, there are just too many demands on our time. We need to put the laundry away, call our brother, take our child to the library and so much more. So, all too quickly, it is dinner time and we’ve only worked for 30 minutes.
Set a real time when you are, “at the office.” Fit everything else around that schedule the same way you would if you went to a physical office. Personally, when I have the whole day, I like to get my work done first. That way if one of my other demands take more time than I thought or I get distracted or my son is being super cute, my work still gets done. Plus, it means I can concentrate on and value the other tasks and responsibilities in my life without worrying about work tasks.
4 – Limit distractions and practice focus
Our culture loves multitasking. Forget doing one thing at a time, somehow if you aren’t doing four things at a time you aren’t perceived as important or successful anymore. The problem is, multitasking is a myth. It means you get multiple things 80% done and nothing 100% done. If you want to be truly successful in your work-at-home career, you have to break the habit of multitasking and allow yourself to focus fully on one thing. You can’t work while entertaining your kids, fielding questions from your spouse, or listening for the dishwasher. You have to shut it out. According to research by the American Psychological Association, “brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.” Do you have 40% of your productive time to give up? I doubt it.
For me, this means logging out of social media, closing my office door, making sure my son is asleep for the night or my husband has full responsibility for him, and not checking email if answering email isn’t the specific task I’m tackling. It isn’t always easy. If you are a stay-at-home parent building a work-at-home career, this can be especially difficult. It can mean waking up early or staying up late to work, asking family members to step in occasionally to help you focus, and reprioritizing some of your goals. But it isn’t impossible, it just takes practice.
One way to practice is to set small goals. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, put headphones on with music that helps you focus and set a timer for a small task. For me, this can be 10 minutes to write a section of a post. Then commit those 10 minutes to just that task. As you get better at keeping your goal in the forefront of your mind during your focused work bursts, make your bursts a little longer or string a few together. You can do this!
5 – Be off the clock when you’re off the clock
One of the most difficult things about working from home is setting up boundaries, especially if you’re building a business. Your home is your office so your to-do list is always floating around in the back of your mind. You’re cooking dinner and wondering whether you responded to that email from a new customer. You’re yessing your spouse while they’re telling you a story, wondering when you are going to get that next thing done. It is totally normal but isn’t good for your mental health and it isn’t good for your family.
I have an incredibly hard time with this because my mind is always running. I have so many ideas and a never-ending to-do list. So, during the week, it has meant instituting a no phone policy from the moment I walk in the door from my day job until Fuss Fish goes to bed. Then I’m ready to work on Mama Fish and I feel refreshed having spent some time focused on my family. On the weekends, I take my work block in the morning. Then I put the laptop and phone away until bedtime or the next day. I can’t stop my mind from thinking, but I can create barriers to jumping into work during family and personal time.
Thus, the last rule to creating a happy, efficient work-at-home environment is simply the flip side of Step 3. When you’re done, be done. Leave your work in your designated work spot. Know that you’ll tackle it again during your next block of working time. Take the time to relax, enjoy your family and friends, and take care of yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
Do you have any work-at-home tricks you love? What are your biggest challenges? Let me know in the comments!