Working from home is a brilliant opportunity for mums. We can set our own schedule, working around our kids, and most importantly, spend more time being present with our family. The downside to working from home is ensuring we are focused, productive and try being fully present with each activity, whether this is work or family-related.
When I started working from home, I was so excited. Working from home wasn’t an idea I had just plucked out of the air. Like many mums, I wanted to find a way to work from home after giving birth to my first child.
Being able to work from home meant I could earn and be with my kids at the same time. A lot of my friends ask me, ‘Isn’t it difficult to manage time when working from home? How do your kids let you work in peace? Don’t you feel it’s easier to work from an office’
To be honest, I find working from home offers a lot more time. Firstly, I save a good amount of commute time. I would spend nearly an hour travelling to and from work 5 days a week. Not to mention all the work I brought home with me. Plus the set time I had to get everyone ready on a morning and rushed out of the door.
Now, we have the flexibility to leisurely get our breakfasts and no rush to get dressed in the morning. The kids can play whilst I have my morning cuppa and we can plan what we want to do for the day.
In saying that, working from home does present a different set of challenges. And over the years, I have learned to manage those challenges. Yes, there are times when my kids are sick and I can’t focus on work. But my kids take priority in my life, and I don’t mind giving up a few hours to tend to them. And if you are able to manage your time productivity, I can manage those sick days without having them affecting my business or my client’s.
Time Management when Working from Home
I’m not going to tell you that you have to completely change your working methodology in order to be more productive. It doesn’t work that way. Each of us works and accomplishes things in a different way because our minds work differently.
There are different popular time-management methods you can try out:
Time Blocking Method:
Many of our famous billionaires including Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Cal Newport use the time blocking method to make the most of their day.
The focus of this method is to break down your day into set time blocks. Each individual’s time blocks will look different, depending on the events you have on each day or tasks that need completing.
Then, within each time block, you focus solely on one task. For example, this might be writing content, sending out emails to your email list or scheduling social media posts. The method works because you focus solely on achieving one task within a set time frame rather than scattering your thoughts and juggling different tasks all at once.
If using this method, ensure to spend time planning out your day. Write down events that are fixed such as your kid’s ballet classes, school runs or medical appointments. Then ensure to include time for other daily tasks non-work related such as cooking or walking the dog.
Once all of your non-work related tasks are included, then start to plan the rest of your day. Block out your availability and give yourself set work hours. Now you have these, you can begin to write down all the tasks you need to do for your business. Write next to each task, how long it takes you to complete them. This will then help you assess which time during the day you can allocate to which task.
A top tip for entrepreneurs is to ensure you schedule in your most important task for the day. This task might not be a task you want to do, but it is best to get those challenging tasks done first and then move on to something easier. You will feel so much better for it and accomplish more in the process.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a very interesting time management technique. In this method, you work intensively on a specific task for brief periods of time. After every session, you give yourself a short break and then you resume your task. After every 4 sessions, you take a longer break.
Here’s what you do.
Allocate your working hours. Now divide these into 25-minute chunks. During those 25 minutes, you focus on a very specific task. You don’t allow for any distractions during that time, and put all your energy into completing that task in 25 minutes.
Set a timer. When the timer sets off, you stop. You give yourself a 5-minute break. And then, you resume your task after those 25 minutes. After 4 25-minute sessions, you give yourself a break of 15-20 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique works well when you don’t have distractions so your attention is focused during each 25-minute session. For mums, this can be challenging to achieve especially with young children. Perhaps you could plan this method during your child’s nap time or around lunch for example. So you have a full 25-minute session without interruptions.
90-minute focus sessions
This method is a little like the Pomodoro Technique, except now your sessions extend up to 90 minutes. This technique is based on the concept of the Ultradian rhythm.
Simply put, this concept claims that your body goes through high-frequency brain activity followed by lower-frequency brain activity. The high-frequency brain activity goes on for about 90 minutes, which then requires your body to go for a rest for 20 minutes during the low-frequency brain activity.
When applying this method to work, you divide all your day’s work into 90-minute tasks. Work during those 90 minutes, and rest for 20 minutes. I find this technique works better when my kids are on nursery days and for particular tasks. For me personally, 90-minutes is a long time for my kids to self-entertain, with them being only 2 and 3 years old. Even watching a movie, they don’t just sit still for 90-minutes, and I wouldn’t expect them to either.
Hence, I use this method on the days they attend nursery and particularly match it with content writing. When I write, I need to dedicate myself long periods of time to batch write and complete a whole article. When my mind is ready to write, I can seriously write for hours. Using this method ensures that I remember to take a break away from my laptop screen, grab a drink and a couple of minutes fresh air in the garden, before resuming for the next 90-minute block.
Alternatively, if your child naps, perhaps your 90-minute block would work for you within this part of your day.
The Most Important Task (MIT) Method
In this time management method, you don’t do everything in one day. You just create a list of 1-3 most important tasks that you have to finish in the day.
It’s not like you don’t do anything apart from these three tasks in your entire day, you just ensure to prioritise your tasks, whilst minimising overwhelm.
Try to start your day by focusing all your energy entirely on those three important tasks. Once you finish those tasks, your entire day is free to finish other tasks. Your mind is now free to relax and have fun, rather than nearing the end of the day and feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything.
When we create our schedule, often we pack it with too many tasks. Some of these tasks aren’t even important. So with this method, you are focusing your energy on the most important tasks. You declutter your tasks and your mind. I love this quote by Robin Sharma, and it really sums up the concept of this method;
‘Make a stop doing list. Stop the misuse of your oh-so-precious time’.
When deciding which technique works best for you, understand that all techniques offer their own set of benefits. You need to figure out which technique works best in your unique circumstances. You don’t even have to limit yourself to just one method. A combination of each method might suit you best. I personally use different methods depending on the day of the week. The day my kids are in the nursery, I follow a mix of time-blocking and the 90-minute method. On the days they aren’t at nursery, is a mixture of time-blocking and the Pomodoro technique. Through trial and error, you can work out what suits you and your family in order to increase your focus and productivity whilst working from home.
More Tips on how to stay focused when working from home
A few of my tried and tested productivity tips:
Set realistic goals
You can’t do everything. Before you even start planning your work from home, understand your constraints. Decide on how much time you can put into your work every day.
At the end of every week, review your performance. Figure out if you are exerting yourself too much. If you felt stressed out during the week, it could indicate that you are trying to do too much. Step back a little. Remember, even a small amount of progress is still progress and a step to moving your business forward!
Plan your Day
I plan my day every night before going to bed. I list down all the work that has to be done. This actually helps my mind to relax and go to sleep. It also gives my mind the time to prepare for the next day.
Planning out your day the night before ensures you aren’t wasting time the next day, figuring out which tasks to do and prioritising each task. If you have done this the night before, you can immediately start your day proactively and focused.
Sometimes during high-work weeks, I actually create a rough plan for my entire week. I tell myself if I finish all these tasks during the week, I can turn off work-mode for the entire weekend (yes, I work weekends frequently).
Allocate non-working hours
When I mentioned home tasks, I didn’t just mean washing dishes, doing the laundry or cleaning up. My home tasks include allocating time with my kids. This helps with all my ‘mum guilt’ (mum guilt is the worst am I right?!). By ensuring I switch off from work mode and put down my phone, I can spend intentional time with my kids and be fully present, embracing that moment.
Also, throughout the day, I have time to relax. Often tasks finish up earlier. When they do, I sit down and get my daily dose of social media. Or watch Friends or Brooklyn 99 on Netflix.
When you are working from home, there are so many distractions out there. What I would recommend is to go minimalistic with your life.
For most people, I recommend limiting your use of social media. It is so easy to go down the social media rabbit hole. We’ve all done it where we went on to schedule a post or comment on one thread and then find an hour later we are still scrolling through Facebook!
Install a time tracking app on your phone, I personally use Your Hour. When I did that, I found out to my horror that I was spending an average of 4 hours on my phone! The thing is you never realize how much time you are spending on social media until you track it.
Track your time. And if it is more than one hour, I suggest using the apps lock system, so that you can limit the time you spend unproductively using your phone.
Set up a work-station
You don’t need to set up a complete office to get into work mode. For me, a work station works well too. My work-station is just a desk set-up within my bedroom. It simply comprises of a small desk and chair. But it works to help me stay focused because my desk isn’t full of clutter and distractions.
Setting up a work station gets you in the mind frame of working. It’s also the place you keep all your work stuff. So, everything is within reach when you really sit down to work. No more getting up every 5 minutes to fetch the diary, or a pen, etc.
You could even place a big corkboard over your work-station for a vision board or barge calendar to layout your month ahead.
I often put up my daily schedule on it for myself and also for my family. Also, as a mom, there are so many things I have to remember. Extra-curricular, fee payment for those extra-curricular, playdates, doctor’s appointments. I put up everything on that board and colour code each category, so it’s always there for me to remember.
Time Management Tools and Apps
Apps have made life so much easier for us to work at home. I would go as far as to say that they have actually made the laptop lifestyle possible in many ways. From tracking your expenses to keeping a digital calendar. Digital apps are a huge pro to any entrepreneur and can particularly help us work from home mums stay organised and on top of things.
Some tools and app I would recommend you try out are:
- Trello. I live by Trello. Trello makes it so much easier for me to communicate with my team. We can keep all our conversations and the important files in one place. It saves so much time trying to sift through emails and hundreds of other forms of communication to find the right file.
- Be Focused. This is the app you might want to download if you wish to try the Pomodoro Technique.
- Toggl. If you are planning on using any of the time tracking techniques, download Toggl. Toggl is a time tracking app.
- Ever Note. I always have some kind of notebook installed on my phone. When working from home, I’m essentially my own boss and my own assistant. With Ever Note, I can keep track of my notes, my thoughts, and all the important stuff in one place. I also use it to list my daily and weekly tasks. Plus, I have it synced from my phone to my laptop, so that all my notes are updated no matter which device I am using at the time.
- LastPass. This is another app I have both on my phone and my laptop. LastPass keeps all your passwords in one place. There are tons of apps and software we are using nowadays, and it’s not advisable to use the same passwords for all of them. Enters LastPass. You just have to remember one password. With LastPass, you can even share access to your accounts, without actually giving someone the password.
Working from Home Around Kids
With this being a work from home mum blog, I couldn’t not talk about some top tips of just how to work from home around your kids. Let’s get real for a second. Kids will be kids. Some days will run smoother than others and you will feel like working from home is a breeze. Other days you wonder why you even bothered to switch on your laptop. My point is, working from home as a mum isn’t always easy, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Here are some top tips that I personally follow to assist me in working around my kids and keeping focused on working from home:
Ask Your Partner For Help
Yes, he can help. As work at home moms, we put too much pressure on ourselves. And many times, we forget to ask for help. Sit down with him and discuss your predicament. Ask him for help.
Each families agreement will work slightly different. For example, my husband works nights and on different shift patterns. So, when he is on his night shifts, I know I won’t get any additional hours on those days to work, outside of my usual hours after the kids have gone to bed. But, on his days off, if I need to catch up on work or crank out some blog posts, I know I can ask him for a few hours. He would usually take them for a walk or fit it around picking up the groceries. Which is plenty of time for me to feel like I have caught up and achieved something towards my business.
For others, particularly partners who work a standard 9-5, 5 days a week, your schedule may look completely different. Perhaps your partner can take over bath time responsibilities and allow you an hour of work each night during bathtime and before the kid’s bedtime.
If you are a single parent, ask your friends and family to help out. Many of them will if you ask them. Return the favour in some other way. Swap playdates. Cook extras and share.
Work Around Their Sleep Time
Sleep when the baby sleeps doesn’t really work, or it didn’t for me anyway. My brain is constantly ticking away about xyz things I want to achieve and get done. So trying to take a daytime nap for me, was completely out of the question.
During my son’s naptime, IF he naps, I either spend time 121 with my daughter or, if my husband is available, he will spend quality time with her whilst I work towards growing my business.
Alternatively, spend some time working out when are your most productive hours. Are you an early bird or a night owl? If your kids allow, try to work whilst they sleep that way you eliminate mum-guilt and are getting things done each and every day.
The only downside is if you are like me, my kids wake up super early anywhere from 5 am. Though I am an early bird myself and am most productive on a morning, waking up earlier than 5 am when I don’t get a full nights sleep (thank you son), is not an option. So, I am having to train my brain and body, to work on an evening instead after my kids have gone to bed.
Get Your Kids to Pitch In
It doesn’t have to be your work. Encourage your kids to help clean up, set the table, sort the laundry. Set those habits from the beginning. It helps both you and them later in life. Plus, if you have young kids, they thoroughly enjoy feeling like they are helping.
Even with my work, I try and find ways to include my children. If I am making new graphics, opt-ins or visuals, I try and include my kids in choosing the pictures and colours. I don’t always keep their choices, but they really enjoy feeling included and being allowed to make important decisions.
Encourage Independent Play
Invest in toys that your children can play independently. Pick toys that don’t require complex assembly or require adult supervision. And when you allow them to play on their own, create a space where they are allowed to be messy. Make it a habit to include them in the cleaning up process.
Problem solving or sensory activities I find to be the most effective at entertaining my children. Things such as puzzles or toys you have to put back together such as shapes in the correct slots are always good. They help grow children’s problem-solving skills and motor skills, but also take children longer than just leaving them to use their imagination with generic plastic toys (which almost always lead to fights as well!)
Sensory activities don’t take long to set up and these can be things such as shaving foam and hiding letters or animal toys for your children to find. Of course, if you are creating anything messy for them to do, ensure to make your life easier by placing down a mat or having a bowl with water at the ready to wash their hands when they are finished.
Alternatively, I have recently removed the majority of my children’s toys from sight downstairs to their bedrooms. During the day, we always play downstairs and so now, with rotating toys around they play with them a lot longer and use their imagination more.
Another top tip is to set aside time to put away your work including your phone and be 100% present and hands-on playing with your children. No matter the activity, whether it’s pretend tea and cake, playdough or pirates. Giving your full attention to your children shows them that they are valued and important. But, it also helps to fill up their cup. Once their cup is full, you will find they are quite content to continue playing their game without you and you can return to your work whilst they remain happy playing.
There are many parents who frown upon screen time. I’m not really one of them. My kids watch TV daily and play educational games on their tablet. Not everything they watch on TV is educational, but I am ok with there being a mixture from nursery rhymes to Storybots, Dora to Disney movies. My view is, as long as they aren’t watching TV all day every day and we are still active in spending quality time together, going for walks and getting out of the house as much as possible, screen time is fine by me.
Sometimes it just enables me to catch up on the housework. Other times, it means my husband can rest after coming off of night shifts. For me, it can allow me time to respond to emails or schedule social media posts.
Screen time doesn’t have to be a negative thing, it just has to be monitored with what your children are watching and how long they are spending watching a screen. Of course, in an ideal world, we would play outside all day every day, but it just isn’t possible with daily life and everything we are trying to achieve with our businesses as work from home mums. So, I find that screen time can provide some balance when used appropriately.
Working from home is so rewarding for us mums, but it doesn’t come without challenges. What it does do is enable us to work around the people we love most, be flexible with the hours we work and choose how we spend the rest of our time.
The downside is that it can be hard to remain focused working from home around our kids, household chores and other responsibilities we may have. I hope that these tools, tips and techniques can support you with staying focused and help increase your productivity.
If you have any other productivity tips, help us mamas out. Share your tips in the comment section below.