Sharing the tips and tools I use to actually accomplish something while working from home and caring for my 9 month old and 3 year old — because we all know it’s not always easy!
Let me first just say that I don’t feel I am technically a Work at Home Mom.
I mean, I’m a work at home mom because I work at home and I’m a mom (aren’t we all?), but I actually have a job outside the home most of the time. I’ve been on maternity leave for almost a full year now (crazy!), but I only have a few months left before I head back to my day job as a high school teacher.
And all of my American friends here are saying, “one YEAR?!”. Yes, in Canada, we get 52 weeks of maternity and parental leave, and my employers were generous enough to extend that for me even further. So though I wouldn’t technically call myself a Work at Home Mom because it might give people the impression that I don’t also work outside of the home.
That being said, I feel like I’ve had a pretty realistic year-long taste of what being a Work at Home Mom is like, and it might have taken me about 9 months but I think I’ve finally figured out how to be productive and still sane.
And I treasure my sanity.
As does my husband.
I am the kind of person who can’t leave work alone. If there is work I need to do, I must do it and I must do it now. I am the complete opposite of a procrastinator. So look at the tips I’m offering here with that in mind.
My biggest struggle has always been separating blog work and life, and to be honest, I just never really had a life outside of blog work when I was at home. I spend a minimum of 30 hours a week, probably 40, working on this here blog when I’m home, and I have driven myself to the edge of crazy (but don’t ask my husband — he’d say I was long gone!).
But I started making some changes to how I work when I’m at home, and I remember texting my husband telling him how much this was going to change the game. I felt infinitely better, more relaxed, less stressed, and I cut a good 1-3 hours off of my work day, every day.
Because I’m a serious workaholic, productivity is close to my heart. My husband often reminded me that if I kept going as I was going, I was not going to be able to keep up the blog for very long. And if you’re not a blogger and you’re wondering what actually takes sooooo much time, check out my post on What Food Blogger Really Do over here! It might be a little less taste testing cookies than you originally thought 😉
So, without further babbling (’cause we all got stuff to do!), here are my Top 10 Productivity Tips for Work at Home Moms:
(1) I let my kids fend for themselves
Not all the time! Don’t look at me like that. My girls are 9 months and 3 years old, there are things they need help doing. But I am their mom, I’m not a clown or a comedian or an entertainer, and they play quite well on their own. I think it’s good for children to learn to use their imaginations and entertain themselves. We’re lucky enough to have large space attached to my “office” where we have a TV and couch, and a lot of their toys. They play, and I can usually get some time to sit at the computer and accomplish something.
One thing I don’t do is leave the TV on all day long. My 3 year old loves watching cartoons, but I only let her watch cartoons at certain times. Getting to watch cartoons is a real treat, and if I need to make an important phone call or if I have something pressing that needs to be done and I need to concentrate, I can the TV on and she’ll sit quietly for as long as I need.
Now, I’m not suggesting you let the TV babysit your young children. I’m saying when you have young kids like I do, it can be really nice to have special things that you know they’ll sit quietly for, because every once in a while you’re going to need some quiet!
(2) I figure out what the best time of day is to do different things
And I stick pretty closely to my routine most weekdays. There are certain things that are just easier to do when you know you might be interrupted every minute and a half. This is going to look differently for everyone, and I’m not at all saying you should do exactly what I do. But it took me so long to figure out something that works for us that I wanted to share it anyway.
Here’s a glimpse at our average routine:
7:00-9:00: Everyone is up. We eat breakfast, get dressed, and I do some simple tasks like participate in Facebook groups and check/respond to/delete the easy emails (if I read something that needs more attention later, I mark it as unread so I don’t forget to deal with it). The kids play.
9:00-11:00: My littlest girl naps, and my oldest girl plays in her room by herself for 45 minutes. I am either cooking/baking, writing posts/eBooks, responding to those important emails, etc. This is my most productive time of the day.
11:00-12:00: If I have something to cook and photograph, I often do it now, just before lunch. I like to try to cook when it makes a little bit of sense, like close to meal times. Most of the time, I’m cooking when both of my kids are up and playing and/or hanging off of my legs. I like to think this means the recipes I’ll bring you are easy enough for busy moms just like me.
12:00-1:00: Lunch and the kids go down for a nap
1:00-5:00: I’m back on the computer and the kids are napping or playing, so I’m tackling those tasks that can be done more easily when the kids are awake. Sometimes editing photos, checking email again, finishing up Facebook groups, responding to comments or commenting on other blogs.
5:00-7:00: Supper, chaos, bed time (at least for the littlest one). I don’t even try to accomplish computer work now and I’m rarely on my phone. I will clean up the kitchen, empty the dishwasher or do tasks around the house, but this is a particularly chaotic time in our house. My 9 month old is getting tired and cranky, and my 3 year old is generally energetic and running circles around everything.
7:00-8:00: My 3 year old is usually up til 8, so I can accomplish a little more, but not a lot.
8:00-9:00: Both kids are asleep in their beds, and I work like crazy to finish up the more difficult tasks of the day.
9:00-10:30: I try to shut things down and read or watch TV. It doesn’t always happen right at 9:00, but I read pretty much every night. I’ve found that with the amount of time I spend on the computer and in the face of technology, the only way I can really unwind is to be without it. Watering flowers, reading a book, or out of the house.
Best tasks to do when the kiddos are up:
- check email (the easy ones anyway)
- Facebook groups
- leave/respond to blog comments (part of Networking with Other Bloggers)
- cook and photograph (sometimes)
- edit photos
Best things to do when the kiddos are asleep or quietly entertained:
- Form sentences (write blog posts, read and write the important emails, work on the eBook)
(3) I take a “nap”
But I don’t actually sleep.
I mean, every once in a while I sleep, because, hello — Pure Exhaustion. But I take the time both of my kids are napping off of the computer completely (unless I have something really pressing to do). I’ve just started doing this and it makes my day so much better. I still lay on the couch with my phone and check in on social media, but I am rarely on the computer, and I try to take at least 30 minutes to close my eyes and shut off for a bit.
(4) I separate my computer time, my cooking and photography time, and my personal time and spaces
This is a change I made just a couple months ago and it’s seriously changed my life. For the first few days I texted my husband, every day, and said how life changing this was, and how I felt so much better and so much less stressed.
Up until a couple of months ago, I used my computer in the dining room, off of the kitchen. My computer stayed on the counter in the kitchen all day if I wasn’t on it at the dining room table. I was constantly trying to be on the computer, but also cooking something and doing laundry and chasing the kids around the main floor of our house.
We bought a new desk, an L-shaped one so it looks out onto our kids play area that’s attached to my work space, and I moved my computer up to the desk, just to try it out. I felt so much better, immediately after moving it that it never came down. It was clear right away how much more productive I am when I can focus on either the computer tasks or cooking/photography or just shutting the computer off, when it’s not in our main living area. It’s so much easier to separate At Work from Not At Work, which was my biggest struggle since the very beginning.
My work space now is a good distance away from our main living area. When I go up to my desk, I’m not leaving it for a good period of time. I focus on what needs to be done and I do it. I’m not looking at the dishes on my counter or thinking about that recipe I want to crank out today. It was seriously life changing for me.
(5) I make lists
Man I love lists. My problem is that I was always having to rearrange my plans, my daily schedule, because kids make things a little unpredictable. So I would end up with all of these scribbles and arrows in my day planner and looking at that kind of mess just makes me feel like a mess, you know? A messy list adds stress to my day (and I’m not joking!).
Here’s what I do now:
In my day planner, I have the weeks laid out with a spot for every day, and I also have a calendar. In my daily spots, I write out the major tasks that need to be done that day, work wise. I don’t put any personal to-do’s on there. I have a small notebook in which I write my schedule for the day, yes, with times and everything! I know this might not be the way everyone works, but it works for me. On this list, I include any personal things that need to be done and where everything will hopefully fit in my day.
And throughout the day, I scratch it out multiple times and start over again, because, hey, life is unpredictable, especially with kids! But when I look in my dayplanner I can still see my major tasks, and when my schedule gets too difficult to understand I just flip to a new page. In a dayplanner, you can’t really do this because you only get a certain space for each day.
(6) I stay organized
This helps me feel like a sane person who is capable of running a blog and mothering her children. I need a clean work space (my new desk has lots of drawers to hide stuff in!), with no toys, and colorful post its. (Right?!?)
I stole this idea from somewhere I read it online… and I’m ashamed to not know where. But here’s how I keep track of my posts:
I have 4 colors of small post it notes. One for savory recipes, one for sweet recipes, one for non-recipe posts (like these), and one for sponsored posts. This helps me to see if I have a good balance every month, and it helps me to see if there is good spacing in between sponsors or if I need to do some rearranging.
I write, in pencil, the recipes I plan to do on the specific days of the month on my calendar in my day planner, and when I complete something and schedule it, I place the appropriate color of post it note with the recipe name on that date on my calendar.
This way, when I need to move things around (which I always do), I’m not scribbling and drawing arrows (because looking at that kind of a mess drives me nuts).
(7) I’ve turned off my notifications
This is a biggie and it goes right back to #4 — separating your time to do things and staying focused. If my phone or computer is beeping at me all day, it’s hard for me not to check out what’s going on. I get distracted, I get nothing done, and then I get stressed because I got nothing done.
So I eliminated the blinking and the beeping, and it changed my world.
(8) I close extra browser tabs
This is another biggie, and I know you’re thinking, “whatever.” But if I’m working on the computer, trying to form sentences in the limited time that I have, and I have a tab open with Facebook or my email, I’m always thinking, “I wonder if so-and-so replied to my email yet”, “I wonder what’s new in that discussion on Facebook”, and again, distraction, getting nothing done, stress, repeat.
(9) I create my own deadlines
I’m just not capable of leaving things until the last minute. I’m not saying you need to be more like me or that you’re wrong to not plan ahead. These are tips based on what makes me the most productive, so if you feel differently, fine! That’s great. Figure out what works for you and run with it.
Some time ago, I created this deadline for myself: I would complete, and have scheduled, every blog post (within my control, i.e., not waiting on products from a sponsor or something) for a certain month by the last day of the month before. Having that concrete deadline in place gave me something to work toward and gave me so much more peace.
Yes, there are times when a new sponsor comes up or I’m waiting on a product or I feel suddenly inspired by a seasonal ingredient and make something that I end up squeezing in at the last minute. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be willing to change things up (see #6 and the post it notes!), but I like to not have to stress about a post at the last minute.
So yes, this means I’m baking Christmas cookies in August and Thanksgiving meals in April but it works for me, okay? (I’m joking. Kind of)
(10) I let things slide
When I have no other options.
Sometimes, things don’t work out. Sometimes I don’t get a single thing crossed off my to-do list. Sometimes I push back deadlines.
Because I am a mom, and kids sometimes need moms to kiss owies, change diapers, dry tears, feed them or bathe them.
Sometimes other things come up that weren’t on your to-do list but they need to get done.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Figure out what the priority is and deal with that, and deal with the rest later. Your world will not fall apart because you didn’t get to cross every single thing off of your list (though sometimes I feel like mine will!). Forgive yourself. Move on. You still kicked butt.
If you have anything to add, I’d love for you to leave your tips in the comments below!