Even in the most ideal of situations, working from home can be a challenge. It’s easy to get distracted by tasks like laundry, dishes, cooking and even home improvement projects that have been on your to-do list for months or even years.
Add in having twin toddlers and a husband who’s a busy physician, and it’s hard to imagine successfully working from home. However, that’s what I’ve been doing as a self-employed business owner for almost three years.
It doesn’t always run smoothly and my house always seems to be a disaster, but I’m much happier in my work and life now than I’ve ever been.
I wanted to work from home because I envisioned a life where I would spend more time with my family. I knew people could make money blogging, so I started a blog in 2010, planning to use that income to help me work from home.
After three years of blogging and freelancing, and pregnant with my twins, I was ready to take the leap from my teaching job at a university to working from home. I loved my job, but I was ready to take the leap.
Now that I’ve been in business for a few years and my children are older, I can share what I learned along the way. Here are some tips on how I work at home successfully.
1. Do Not Multitask
I once thought multitasking was the only way to get everything done for my business and my family.
One time, shortly after my twins were born, I found myself sitting on the couch with a mountain of laundry, rocking a baby seat with my foot and trying to write a blog post all at the same time.
I eventually finished all of those tasks, but none of them were my best work because I wasn’t focused on one thing at a time. Over time, I’ve found I produce higher-quality work and deliver better parenting when I focus on one task at a time.
Because I couldn’t afford child care when I first started working from home, I could only work when my twins were napping or after they’d gone to bed for the night.
I now have someone come to my house four days a week to help with my children, which brings me to my next point.
2. Hire Help When You Can
As much as I want to be the perfect wife, mother and entrepreneur, I’ve realized that I can’t give 100% to all three things at the same time while maintaining my sense of self. This is why I finally decided to hire help for my business and my daily tasks.
I spent months working at home while caring for my children before I hired a mother’s helper. I was overwhelmed, working mostly during the twins’ naps, and I knew I needed help.
When I realized I could bill more work in an hour than it would cost to hire a mother’s helper, I knew it was a good financial decision. With a babysitter helping me care for my children, it was easier for me to focus on my business.
My finances were tight at first, but over time, I’ve earned more money because I could work uninterrupted.
I used the time my babysitter was watching my children to approach new clients and negotiate new deals. It definitely paid off: It wasn’t long before my income increased by $500 a month, then $1,000 a month and beyond.
I also started outsourcing parts of my business, like social media management and my overflowing inbox, so I could more effectively use my time.
It was far faster, and thus cheaper, to hire an expert to take on some tasks for me. When you start outsourcing, you must be mindful of the cost versus the benefit. But when you do it right, outsourcing can help you grow your business and spend less time working.
3. Carve Out an Office Space
While I have an office space now, it’s actually the first time I’ve had one. Before, I carved out space in my bedroom for a desk and all of my business supplies.
I still occasionally work from other places, such as my kitchen table and living room couch, but in general, I am better focused and can work more efficiently in my office space.
Instead of a nook in my bedroom, I now have the whole upper floor of my house, which is a finished attic, so I can really stretch out. Though I’m enjoying having a lot more square footage for my business, I was able to run it successfully out of just a little nook in my bedroom.
The key is to dedicate a space just for your work, whether it’s a small desk or an office, away from distractions. It’s near impossible to get any good work done with kids trying to sit in your lap and type with you.
4. Take Time Off
You can’t be all about work all the time. I work anywhere from five to eight hours a day, and I take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off both to spend time with my family and to give my mind a rest — it’s a great schedule.
Whenever I start to feel stressed or unmotivated during a work day, I like to take a short break for 15 minutes or so to clear my mind and take care of myself.
One of the ways I do this is by taking a walk. My dog loves to come with me, and getting out of the house is refreshing, even if it’s only a quick walk around the block. Other times, I take a shorter walk just to show my twins some love or get a snack from the fridge.
While these little breaks can be a nice way to muddle through your workday and get things done, eventually you have to shut down your computer for a longer period of time so you can rest and recuperate.
When I’m done working for the day, I shut my computer down so I’m not tempted to re-open it.
I also try to avoid screen time, like checking emails or looking at Facebook on my phone, after I’ve shut down and stopped working for the day. My kids know I’m not paying attention to them when I’m on my phone, so to really be there and maintain a semblance of work-life balance, I try to put it in another room when I’m watching them.
5. Develop Good Productivity Habits
Staying focused can be a major challenge for people who work from home.
Here are some of my favorite strategies for boosting concentrating and increasing productivity, so I get the most out of my working hours:
Plan Out Work the Night Before
After I shut down my computer for the night, I make a list of my top priorities and deadlines for the next day so I know what to tackle first.
Start With the Hard Stuff
If you aren’t a morning person, it can be a struggle to start with the hard tasks, but it will help you feel accomplished in a hurry.
Even though I’m a night owl, I like to complete my hardest and most important tasks early in the morning so things get easier as the day goes on.
With twin toddlers, I never know if I’ll actually get to work as long as I’d planned, so it’s best to finish my priorities early in the day.
Make Time for Exercise
Working from home allows you the flexibility of setting your own schedule, but sometimes this flexibility can be a negative, leading to procrastination instead of action as you think you have time to “do it later.”
Prioritize time for exercise, as it relieves stress and improves your mood. Schedule it for the same time each week, if possible, so you don’t forget about this healthy habit.
I go to yoga every Tuesday night, and I try to work out once or twice more during the week depending on how busy it is. I have a membership to a nice gym, and it’s worth every penny because my kids enjoy spending time in its huge daycare area.
Use Tools Wisely
Play around with timers, schedulers, calendars and website blockers to find ones that work best for you.
Tracking your time helps you realize just how much of it you’re devoting to focused work and how much you’re wasting. Plus, this easily helps you gauge how much you earn each hour.
Website blockers were a great productivity booster for my business. I used Self Control to block Facebook from my web browser, and it significantly improved my focus and work rate.
Could You Work From Home?
Ultimately, working from home isn’t for everyone, but many people are hugely successful at it.
The key to success when you work from home is finding the best way to eliminate distractions and boost productivity. That way, whether you have twin toddlers or not, you can feel great about your workday and feel motivated to keep going.
The key is to make the most of your uninterrupted work time and not get distracted by social media sites, chores, or phone calls with family and friends. If you stick to these rules, you truly can have the best of both worlds — a successful and thriving business and much more time with your kids than the average working mom.
Your Turn: Do you work from home and have kids? Share your tips in the comments!
Catherine Alford is an award-winning family finance expert and financial writer who lives in Detroit, Michigan, and blogs at CatherineAlford.com. When she is not working, she enjoys yoga, spending time with her 2.5 year old boy/girl twins, and doing DIY projects around the house.