I’m a work-at-home mom. As in, I run a business out of my home. Or I have children living in my office, where I also sleep and cook endless grilled cheese sandwiches. However you want to look at it.
Working without a workplace hasn’t always been easy, and there are definitely things I miss about my old career. Like going to my luxuriously clean and quiet office, where there were never jam fingerprints on the bathroom door. But I love what I do, and I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years about how my working at home works best for me and my family.
Whether you’re telecommuting, freelancing, or starting your own business, here are my suggestions for work-at-home parents who want to harness that magical unicorn, work/life balance.
1. Nail down your childcare.
The whole point of working at home is to spend more time with your family, right? But working while you care for your kids is incredibly tough, unless you have magical perfect angel children from heaven. Someone is always gonna need something while you’re on the phone. Especially if your children are very young like mine.
We have a nanny who takes care of the kids about twenty hours a week, so I get a couple of uninterrupted days of work. I use the long stretches to get as much done as I can; that way, when little things come up at other times, it’s no big deal to do them quickly after bedtime or while my toddler pretends to nap but is really quietly dismantling his bedroom.
2. Dedicate a workspace.
Carving out a workspace helps your brain differentiate between “time to sit on the couch with the laptop live-Tweeting a Netflix binge” and “time to get to actual work.”
If you can’t find space at home where you feel productive, take your show on the road. I’ll stroll over to my neighborhood library or coffee shop when I need a change of scenery. Milwaukee also has a number of nice co-working spaces where you can buy a membership or even a day pass. I have loved my time working at Hudson Business Lounge in the Third Ward.
3. Establish business hours.
Most of my clients are out of state, and I used to be overly accommodating, taking calls whenever and wherever. Lately, I’ve been working harder to let clients know my business hours and to keep my calls and meetings in those windows. That way I’m better able to focus on both my work and my family.
It’s also really tempting to use my child-free time to do things like make long, leisurely solo runs to the grocery store. You know what ends up happening? I have to work well past the kids’ bedtime and mine to make up for lost time. Unless I’ve got a short deadline or a major project, I try to save my work hours for work and my home hours for home.
4. Don’t be afraid to work on your own terms.
When you’re the boss, you get to make the rules. So make yourself some business rules that work for you and your family.
I don’t have many rules, but they’re hard and fast. One of them is that I don’t work on spec, ever. My work hours are too precious to gamble on projects I might not be able to bill. Another is my clients have to be OK with the fact that there are times when our phone call is going to be interrupted by a toddler, because that is my life right now. If they’re not chill with a tiny voice in the background yelling, “I WANT SAMWICH MAMA,” we’re not a good fit.
5. Don’t confuse working at home with relaxing.
Sure, your wardrobe might be 95% athleisure (SAME, girl. Same). That doesn’t mean you’re not working hard. Your job might be in the home, but it’s still a job. Make time for yourself just as you would (or should) if you worked full-time outside the home or were a full-time stay-at-home parent. Personally, I do yoga so I can justify that growing collection of leggings and tank tops. Or as I like to call them, my work clothes.
Navigating the work-at-home life is challenging. These strategies work for me and my family right now, and hopefully these tips help other work-at-home parents find their balance.