When I tell people that I am work from home mom, there are typically two kinds of responses.
“Wow, that is amazing. You get to choose when you want to work, such flexibility is really awesome!”
“WHAAATT??! How do you manage? Isn’t it stressful to work with a toddler in the same house and no nanny!?”
My response to both is only one and the same. *Nod head and smile broadly* simply because both are right. I used to be a freelance writer even before my son came into the picture. Purely because I enjoyed writing, it was only a side hustle along with my actual full-time corporate job. I really didn’t have to do much of planning and prioritizing back then because there would also be weekends or pockets of leisure time where I could just grab a coffee and sit down to write. It was purely on my terms and deadlines didn’t seem so intimidating.
The arrival of the offspring completely changed the rules of the game. The son was 9 months old when I decided to be a work from home mom. Things were exciting in the beginning and I was enjoying doing something unrelated to diapers and milk bottles, I kept at it. I silently applauded myself for being able to juggle all the balls that I wanted to.
But after a few months, they began to slip. I could not keep up with housework, the baby and my deadlines. Suddenly the child who slept for 2 hours slept only for 40 minutes and kept waking up at night. With his demands getting bigger, my patience started to depreciate. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and a thoroughly disgruntled woman. Needless to say, social media only made it worse.
Not that I had assignments pouring in and editors knocking at my door, but even the smallest of tasks like writing a simple blog post seemed too stressful. I played the victim for a while and then decided it is time to step up and fix it. While a work from home job gives you the ultimate flexibility of being at home and close to your family, it is not as easy as it sounds. Housework, children and family all demand your attention and unless you know how and when to prioritize, such a shift can lead to maximum resentment and dissatisfaction. Two years and counting, I have learnt some of my biggest lessons purely by trial and error.
Based on my experience here is what keeps you ahead of your game:
1. Define your purpose:
When you set out to work from home, you must be clear about what your goals are. Is it creative satisfaction or monetary benefit, or a mix of both? Are you looking to be employed by a company or do you wish to start your own website/blog? Are freelance projects more suited to your needs? I was once a corporate workaholic. But after my son was born I decided to be a stay at home mom and eventually a freelance writer. The transition had more to do with my love for the craft than meeting a financial goal. Your purpose is what will give you the clarity to chart a path for yourself. Goal setting should be done only after evaluating your current domestic situation and the needs of your
child/dependents. Your goals could also change with every season of motherhood that you are in and that is absolutely normal.
2. Nail your routine:
Goals done, next is the strategy. Ask yourself the right questions. How many hours can you set aside to achieve these goals? Who will watch your child when you are working? What will be a good routine to manage work and home? If you have a teenager who is in school, then your strategy is likely to differ from another mother with a one-year-old. It goes without saying that in order for you to establish a routine, your child needs to have one too. Figure out what works and nail it! Yes, you will end up floundering a little in the beginning but do not lose heart.
3. Create a workstation at home:
Treat your work from home as important as any other corporate stint. Sitting with your laptop on your bed or by the kitchen counter may have helped you finish deadlines in the past, but it will not bear fruit in the long run. Have a dedicated working space, such as a study room with a comfortable table and chair or even a dedicated area in your
bedroom or living room where you can work peacefully without interruptions. And while you are at it, put on your best clothes and bright lipstick. There you go! You are back to your favourite cubicle! 😉
4. Choose work wisely:
If you are running your own business or blog, then you could skip this one. But like me, if you are working for different businesses, make sure you choose your projects
sensibly. There is no point in choosing a deliverable that needs you to work late nights if you are already sleep-deprived with a little child. Don’t get overwhelmed and upset if you have to say NO to an assignment that you really wanted. This is only a passing phase and once your child is older, you will always have more opportunities. I remember speaking to an employer, based in the US and while their assignment was very interesting and lucrative, I had to say NO as I knew there was no way I could work those many hours sitting in a completely different time zone. With my husband at work and no one at home to manage my 2-year-old, sleeping during the day and working at night was definitely not an option!
5. Make productivity tools and hacks your best friends:
In other words, get productive and not busy. One of my biggest blunders, when I started out, was trying to accomplish too much in too little time. This only leads to a decline in your overall productivity and way too much caffeine in your system! Focus on two to three important tasks and complete them in order of priority. I know many mothers who use meal planners and weekly calendar apps as it simplifies tasks and they are not wasting precious time. A productivity hack I swear by is Time Batching. For the uninitiated, time batching helps you complete one specific kind of task in a fixed amount of time in the place of doing five different things within that time. I set aside different 30 – 40-minute time batches in a day where I focus on writing, emails, research etc during each time slot. It has made a huge impact on my productivity and would recommend it to everyone (not just moms!)
6. Ask for help:
Although you might want to do everything yourself, let’s face it. You cannot. There is no rule that you should. Cut yourself some slack and ask for help when you need it. If it means hiring a babysitter when you have a crazy deadline, go ahead and do it. If it means requesting a close friend to watch your child while you have a work meeting, you must. But remember to repay the favour when it is your turn. If you are an expat mother like me with no immediate family around, then you have no option but use whatever resource is available to you. No one is going to judge you for it.
7. Set boundaries:
Learning to say NO is an art. One that we all need to master to move closer to our goals. Unless you set boundaries, the distraction will sweep you off your feet. Look at the
brighter side, when you say NO to something, you are always saying YES to something else. There are days when I cancel all plans and set my phone to aeroplane mode when I have an important deliverable. I have set expectations with my friends and family and they know when I do not want to be disturbed. It may ruffle a few feathers at first, but those who really want you to move ahead will understand. And those are the friends you want to keep.
8.. Downtime is mandatory:
Schedule one activity a week where you give yourself some time off to relax and put your feet up. This is for all moms, not just for the working ones. Maybe your spouse can watch your child or you can get a babysitter. It is important to stay happy and sane for the sake of your entire family! Don’t let social media fool you into thinking that everything at
home needs to be perfect. It rarely ever happens. Perfectionism only leads to more dissatisfaction.
The above habits have really helped me manage work and family although I must confess that there are some really tough days where nothing ever happens according to the plan. And it is nobody’s fault. Although my biggest learning is that no matter what you do, it is important to stay flexible. With every passing year, it helps to evaluate your situation at home and tweak your routine to get the best out of your day.
What is your biggest learning as a work from home mother? I would love to know!