How do you build your business when you’re a work at home parent and your adorable darlings are doing their utmost to distract you with death defying leaps, or throwing tantrums that could literally wake the dead?
The ultimate guide to finding a work/life balance for work at home parents
OK, so you were never under the illusion that when you started to work from home, you would enjoy uninterrupted hours at your laptop, with slumbering children in the nursery and older ones quietly entertaining themselves. You knew a few hiccups to your schedule and some juggling was inevitable – but this?
The reality is, as a work at home parent, you have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. I dare anyone to challenge that with a parent who is 5 weeks into the school holidays!
But, at the end of the day you are a work at home parent; you have a business to run, clients to service, work to produce and a degree of professionalism to uphold – all while making sure your children grow into happy, healthy individuals.
So how does a work at home parent do the seemingly impossible and get the most out of their working day?
Forward planning is your friend. If you only have time for one thing, make planning a priority. Try to pre-organise things like meals, uniforms, school and kindy runs, play dates and after school activities – and don’t forget to factor quality family time into the mix.
Simple right? No – but the following may help you:
Share the load
- Can your partner, parents or other family members help you out? Don’t be too proud to ask for help. As they say, many hands make light work!
- Share kindy and school runs so you get a head start a couple of days a week (See time banking below).
- Work together to prep food and pre-make meals. Kids can then grab and go lunch items, whether they’re at home or going to school. Plus, weekday meals are far easier to whip up if all the prep is done.
- Cooking a pot of stew, bolognese or pasta? Cook twice the amount and store half in the freezer for a fast mid-week meal.
- And don’t forget the older kids – are they old enough for chores? Maybe it’s time to earn their pocket money by putting away clothes, loading/unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming.
Did you know: Getting older children to do chores around the house is a good way to teach them life skills like consideration, responsibility and the value of money.
Consider using one of the many project management aides available to schedule and track your daily, weekly and monthly tasks and projects. These can also be used in conjunction with other members of a team or clients, depending on your circumstances and which one you choose.
You’ll find it much easier to keep on top of everything than relying on traditional pen and paper to-do lists. Everything is in one place and reminders keep you focused on your priorities. It’s also easy to update deadlines and add in new projects where necessary. Plus, you can access them from all your devices. So, if your graphic designer has finished your brochure, they can upload it for you to approve – along with any comments – and you can check it, wherever you are.
Remember to include record keeping in your scheduling so you keep up to date with your financial obligations.
As quite a few of the work at home parents we spoke to agreed, juggling work and children often means you just don’t have time for this area of your business. The problem is, the longer you throw receipts in a box, flag email receipts or scribble notes on a pad, the longer and harder the job becomes. So, however unraveled your day gets, habitually make sure the last (or first) thing you do is make note of all your financial transactions and put all your receipts in one place.
Get in the cloud!
Our biggest tip regarding your finances is to invest in accounting software to take the hard work out of keeping track, paying bills and receiving payments. Plus, accounting software makes it far easier to provide records to your tax agent at tax time – usually with just a few quick clicks! One more bonus; the subscription fees are usually tax deductible!
Back up plan
While we’re on the subject of software remember you need a back up plan. Don’t belittle the importance of keeping ALL your software up to date, including your virus protector. Also, back up everything regularly to avoid any fall out from computer crashes or scammers.
Routine is something all children can relate to. They know what to expect and they know the boundaries. One work at home parent we spoke to said: “I do the same things in the same order any day I am at home. The kids get to know the routine and are happy to work within it.” she added, “The routine includes breaks for a play outside for the younger kids who need more of my attention.”
Time banking: the secret weapon for work at home parents!
Time banking was a suggestion made by two busy work at home parents we spoke to. Both said that banking work hours at night, over the weekend or during other child free time slots, was their secret weapon.
So, if you have a sick child, half expect a last minute request from an important client or you’re in danger of breaking a family-time promise, bank a few extra hours of work the night or weekend before. Having that extra chunk of work completed means that you are not so stressed when the inevitable unraveling occurs.
What does the word outsource mean to you? To many work at home parents it’s the difference between wading through treacle and swimming in a clear pool. A crucial part of a productive week.
These days there are plenty of affordable outsourcing websites for all types of businesses, with everything from housework to data entry. You can also source help through community social pages. So, why not free up some extra time for high value tasks.
Good time-consuming tasks to outsource include:
- Housework and laundry
- Dog walking
- Admin work
- Design work
- Social media
- Website updates
Getting help with one or more of these will give you back some valuable work time each week.
There is no denying it, without superhero powers, it is impossible to work properly when you are in sole charge of a baby or a toddler.
It’s also tricky staying focused when school age children are at home during the holidays getting more and more bored as the holidays go on.
Consequently, it is likely that you are going to need some form of childcare support for part of the time. The obvious ideal is willing aunties or grandparents but if this isn’t an option, then you need to consider other options, such as a mother’s help, baby sitter or day care.
Full time childcare is not an option for many work at home parents so the task is to work out how much you can afford AND the best time to lock it in. You may be able to work around two or three mornings a week or perhaps two or three full days. Make sure that whatever option you choose, book your childcare when you are at your most productive work-wise. We all have a ‘sweet spot’ time of day where our focus peaks, our brain is at it’s most alert and our energy levels are high. Make this your child free period.
School age children on school holidays don’t need (or want) your constant attention but you may need to get creative to stop world war three happening in your back yard, as boredom levels rise and sibling patience disappears as fast as their ice creams.
This is where your parent network comes into its own. Parent networking is as beneficial as business networking so make it a habit to chum up with the parents of your children’s friends. Just like your business network, this is never a one way street. You never know when you can help each other out and mutually lend support in times of need.
Being able to rotate play dates, day trips, activity camps, movies and pool time with other parents will help you all stay sane. So between you, try to organise activities once or twice a week during holidays to give children something to look forward to.
A parent working from home is at risk of distractions that could severely damage productivity. It’s important to recognise the ‘dangers’ so you can avoid as many of them as possible.
1. Designated work space
Don’t try to work in a room with a TV or where you can see washing, dishes, mess or any other guilt-weighed domestic distraction. Very few of us will ever be productive in that environment. The solution is to set yourself up in a designated working space. A home office, corner of a bedroom or even a ‘parent cave’.
Teach children that when you are in your work space, you are not available for ‘quick’ chats or questions. When you enter this space, you (and your children) know it’s time for work and interruptions should only be for important things. Here is where routine will help you.
2. Inbox horror
Try to ignore your inbox. If you are in the habit of instantly checking and/or responding to every email notification that pops up, you inevitably experience days where all you do is work out of your inbox. Your planned tasks get pushed back and new priorities now squeeze your time even more.
You can combat this by only checking your inbox two to three times a day. Allow a preset block of time for dealing with the most important ones and flag and schedule the less urgent. It’s recommended that you actually close down your email and turn off notifications so you are not tempted to hop back in. Try it for a few days and see the difference it makes to your productivity.
3. Time blocking
A good productivity tip is to work in blocks of time. Allocating a set amount of time to one task means you work smarter, your focus remains on that one project and your mind isn’t cluttered with others.
Obviously, nap time for parents with younger children, is the optimum time to schedule tasks like phone calls or bashing out a proposal for a new client when you need silence. How you structure the rest of your day is dependent on your own circumstances. Remember that you will need to include one on one time with your children throughout the day when they are at home so include this as you would any other task – even though it may seem a little cold. It’s important not to be unrealistic about how much work you can get done and how much attention even your older children need. You are first a parent, however busy your business is, so let yourself accept that.
4. Beware of the internet
The biggest timewaster ever is the internet! The internet literally sucks hours out of every day if you let it – and don’t even begin to count the time social media can steal from you. It’s hard but be strict with yourself. Unless you absolutely have to check out a particular website, need to research something or weigh up a competitor, keep your browsers well and truly closed until after you have finished work.
A parent working at home is highly likely to have too much on their plate
Be realistic, there is only so much you can take on when you’re juggling children and a work at home business. It’s tempting, especially in the early stages of a business, to say yes to everything but do your sanity and stress levels a favour; think before you say yes.
Will taking on another project force you to spread yourself too thinly? Be honest, you’ll thank yourself for it down the track. If this is happening often, it may be time to consider getting some help so you don’t wing-clip your business too much.
A healthy parent = a happier work at home parent
However busy you are, staying on top of your health will keep your energy levels up and your mind alert, so remember to look after you!
- Remember to take breaks to prevent brain overload. Working without breaks actually makes you less productive and more stressed. A break will allow your mind to rest, allowing you to focus far better when you return.
- Exercise is good for your physical and mental being. Try to make a habit of exercising every day; if you can get out of the house, take your children for a walk, play sport or go for a swim. Failing this, there are plenty of keep fit exercises you can get your children to join in with at home.
- Do you graze or drink too much coffee through the day. Do you find yourself with a glass of wine in your hand mid afternoon? If so, set times for meal and drink breaks, and for clocking off. This helps you avoid too many trips to the fridge and other health zapping indulgences through the day.
- Remember not to fall into the slob trap. Working in tracky-dacks and not showering until the end of the day is not a good way to run a business. Remember this is your professional career and you will perform better if you have mentally and physically prepared for the day.
Finally, as a work at home parent, you will make mistakes. You will be made to feel agonisingly guilty – usually by your own children. And at least once a week, you’ll probably feel like you’re failing, both as a parent and a employee or business owner. But don’t beat yourself up about it. You are not a superhero with powers to make you flawless – no parent is. There is no instruction manual for this juggling act, so just take each day as it comes and know that some of them you will win and others you will not – and that’s totally OK.