Aaaaaaargh! Can you hear me screaming in frustration after being interrupted or the eleventy-billionth time this morning? I can’t blame the kids – it’s just as frustrating for them to be at home while I’m working from home. I get stabby. Hence these work from home mum hacks are for the kids as much as the mums.
I’ve been working from home around my children for eight years full time, almost 15 years part time. You could say, I’ve got it down to a fine art. Although, note my opening sentence. There is no ‘fine art’ when it comes to mothering.
A word of caution: you can’t work when your kids are little. Well, maybe there are some shiny unicorn mums out there who can, but not me. And probably not you either.
A word of caution: you can’t work when your kids are little. Well, maybe there are some shiny unicorn mums out there who can, but not me. And probably not you either. When kids are little, it’s not reasonable to expect them to entertain themselves for a lengthy enough amount of time for you to get stuck into your work. Cue loads of cranky frustration and very low productivity.
So, if the kids are little and you can’t manage a nanny/sitter during the day, you may need to do what I did for years and years: work late into the night or super-early in the morning. Or you may be a shiny unicorn.
So, if your kids are old enough for you to answer, “Why are you telling the lady slaving away at invoicing that you are bored?”, then these hacks are for you. Most of us need all the work from home mum ideas we can get! Trial and error, people, trial and error.
Work from home mum strategies to try
Cutting down interruptions
1. Regular check-ins
The best way I know to stop the constant interruptions (and something I forgot to do today!), is to have a set schedule of ‘check ins’ with the kids. Set an alarm on your computer, and pop out to see them. Let them know the schedule in advance and ask that they hold any questions until you come see them. It doesn’t cut the interruptions completely, but it helps.
2. Have activities planned
Make sure the kids have enough to do while you work. You do not have to entertain them, but definitely request that they come up with a list of things to do on their own. That way, when they are restless, they can consult their list.
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3. Schedule the day
A big help is blocking out the day into units: first thing, early morning, late morning, lunch, after lunch, afternoon, evening, dinner. Allocate a ‘type’ of activity to each time slot for the kids to do. This gives their day better structure, plus they can see when it’s time to eat. You will also be able to get them outside easier if it’s ‘go outside’ time in the late morning. Be clear about when screens are on or off.
4. Sort the food situation
You might like to add food to the kids’ schedule. I’d say 80% of the interruptions I experience are food-based. Can I have a snack? What’s for dinner? I can’t open the corn tin. Do we have any more Weet-Bix? And on it goes. If the kids know what snacks they can have and when; what’s for lunch and dinner; and how to access all necessary food stuffs, you”ll cut down on 80% of the interruptions in one fell swoop.
5. Check your work space
Do you have everything you need at your fingertips? Is it away from the general ruckus of the house? Does it have a lock on the door? All three answers will determine how often you’ll need to leave your space to wrangle the children.
6. Get up early or stay up late
Working when the kids are asleep is the best work from home mum hack around. It’s not always possible, of course. Little kids tend to wake up super-early and big kids tend to stay up super-late. If you have both, you are probably doomed. But you can try.
7. Spend plenty of time together
You’ve got a full workload to get through, so it can be hard to drag yourself away for lunch or to hang out with the kids. But do it anyway. They’ll enjoy getting a piece of you during the day and will be more inclined to leave you to it the rest of the time. Schedule a few half hour to one hour breaks, even if it means you have to work that night to catch up. The next section can help with this too.
8. Work side by side
Set your kids a task and have them work alongside you. Write a story based on a topic you set. Colouring in. Drawings based on things you call out. Even some game time with headphones. That way you’ll feel like you’re spending time together, even though you are working on separate tasks.
Get more done in less time
9. Batch your work
A good weekly batch plan that sees you doing one type of work on Mondays, another on Tuesdays, etc means you’ll get more done overall. Every job will be different for batching, but for me, I need to work across several clients each week. Rather then do one client on one day, another on another, I batch the types of work instead. So I write articles on Mondays, plan social media on Tuesdays, produce newsletters on Wednesdays, write copy on Thursdays and Fridays (with a bit of luck) I work on Mumlyfe.
10. Keep batching to get ahead
I try to compress my work to three days in the school holidays. That way I have time with the kids. One of the best things about being a work from home mum with my own business is that I can sometimes work like crazy to get a week or two ahead. You might not be able to do this with all your work, but try to do it with some.
11. Pomodoro the day away
Using the Pomodoro technique helps keep me focused with the kids are distracting. Like, right now the girls are staging a hip hop dance competition about a metre away from my head. I commit to working flat out for 20 minutes, then I’ll take a 5 minute break and go and watch the show. This helps keep me focused on the work.
12. Schedule email time
While you are busy making the kids their day-to-day schedule, make yourself one too. Block out time on your calendar that you will use to check emails and stick to only checking them at these times. The beginning and end of each day is good.
13. Block time-sucks
If you find yourself popping onto certain websites to watch cats playing piano and puppies swimming in mid-air, it’s time for some app help. StayFocusd will help you block websites for at certain times.
14. Keep separate To Do lists
It’s way too easy to get distracted by home To Dos when you should be focusing on work To Dos. Don’t keep them on the same list! Break it into home and work and put the home one away when it’s work time. And vice versa.
15. Avoid dialling-in
Meetings are awful face-to-face and 10x worse when you’re dialling in. Especially if it’s an audio-only feed. Try to get out of as many of those types of meetings as possible. It’s not a good use of your time. Send an email to the organiser outlining what you want to input and request a list of action points after the meeting. People are surprisingly okay with this approach.
16. Turn off notifications
This is a good one for all workers, not just work from home types. Switch off your email, social media and all other unnecessary notifications. The only thing you might like ot keep on is calendar notifications, so you don’t miss a meeting. Otherwise, they are just distracting you from what you need to get done.
Works like this: Our #1 rule for our kids’ mobile phone use
You don’t need to receive 101 newsletters. If you find yourself not opening a newsletter more than two weeks in a row, it’s time to hit Unsubscribe.
18. Use templates
Create templates for any work that you do regularly. Graphics, excel spreadsheets, documents – template the lot.
19. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb
This will help keep your focus better than anything. Airplane mode works too.
I know, I know, I hate the phone, too. But things like scheduling appointments or arranging to meet someone are 10x faster when you pick up the phone and have a quick discussion.
20. Stop texting and call
If you find yourself in a ‘text conversation’ that lasts more than one or two back-and-forths, a call will solve things much faster. I know, I know, I hate the phone, too. But things like scheduling appointments or arranging to meet someone are 10x faster when you pick up the phone and have a quick discussion.
21. Use a calendar, not a list
Put your To Do list into your calendar on a set date and time. This will help you tick things off at a ridiculously satisfying pace. A deadline is very motivating.
22. Keep a Ta Da list
When you don’t have set work hours and days, it can be hard to get started at all. Especially when the sun is shining and the kids are outside enjoying it while you’re stuck inside plugging away at your computer. Keeping a Ta Da list next to your To Do list can help a lot.
Here’s how it works: Why you desperately need a Ta Da list
23. Try the ‘three things’ approach
Each morning, write down three things you definitely want to get done that day and do them first.
24. Have set hours
Just because you can work whenever you want, doesn’t mean you should. Try working to set hours and give yourself regular breaks. Two hours in the morning, an hour with the kids, another two hours, and so on.
Get up, get dressed and you’ll feel much more ‘worky’. It’s a good idea to ask the kids to get dressed too.
25. Get dressed for success
With no school run to do, it can be tempting to just stay in your PJs for the day. Not very motivating. Get up, get dressed and you’ll feel much more ‘worky’. It’s a good idea to ask the kids to get dressed too.
26. Play some tunes
Music can be a great motivator to keep the pep in your work day. It’s also a great way to delineate your work space from the rest of the house where the kids are lurking. Just try not to play too many of your favourite songs or you’ll be too distracted.
Blending work and home
27. Alternate tasks
It’s one thing to say “ignore the housework and just do your paid work”, but rather difficult to do it. I find it easier to do one work task, one home task at a time. I’ll put a load of washing on, get half an article written, hang the washing out, finish the draft, prep dinner, edit the article, etc.
28. Do things the night before
Don’t wake up to a messy kitchen / bathroom / living room. Put it all away the night before. That way, you can better enjoy breakfast and there is much less tidying to do afterwards. The kids can take care of that.
29. Break the housework down
Just like your work day, it can help to do small tasks often around the house too. Instead of facing down the giant washing pile, commit to folding 10 items before going back to work. Do another 10 next time and rope the kids in while you do it.
30. Don’t kid yourself
Some days work will be more important, and some days home will take priority. Try not to kid yourself about which one truly matters on any given day. Don’t feel guilty if it’s work on a lot of the days: that’s just life. You wouldn’t be feeling guilty if you left the home to go to work, so try not to feel it just because you are there.
This might help: How to banish working mum guilt
31. Lower your expectations
The kids are living at home full-time in the holidays. It’s not going to stay as neat and tidy as you like to keep it when they are at school. Accept this, and move on.
32. Give the kids set jobs
Most kids are going to complain of boredom at some stage during an at-home holiday. That’s part of the bliss of being a kid (they just don’t know it yet). If they’re bored doing nothing, they may as well be bored doing something. Great school holiday tasks for kids include dusting the skirting boards; cleaning the windows; tidying inside drawers and cupboards; scrubbing the bathroom floor. Great fun.
33. Take time off
If you don’t have to work, don’t. You can’t get better work from home mum advice than that. Take a holiday, even if it’s an unpaid one. Try to do the batch-stacking to get some paid time off if you work for yourself. Do all your client’s work for the week, just early. Your kids deserve your undivided attention at least some of the holidays.
Enjoy the holidays!