People who don’t work from home tend to romanticize it.
“Isn’t it great to work in your pajamas all day?”
“You must have so much free time to work out!”
If you work at home, you know the answer is not so much. Here are my best tips for ignoring that pile of laundry and digging in so that you can maximize your work time.
Getting dressed in the morning helps signal your brain that you are ready for your day. You’ll find me dressed down (but dressed) most days. When I have a day when I really need to rock my schedule, I dress up a little more—maybe its an awesome necklace (I’ve been obsessed with statement necklaces lately) or boots with my jeans instead of flip flops—just a little something extra to get me into productive work mode.
Hold your work hours sacred.
This is probably the firmest rule in my work world. My most focused time is when my kids are at school or with a babysitter, and I don’t do housework or errands during that time.
My kids gets get a cartoon after school while I do a quick kitchen clean up. Win-win. You could also include your kids in household chores. There’s nothing wrong with your kids seeing—and helping with—the work that goes into keeping things running for everyone in the family. So lose the guilt and work during your work time.
Also, just because I work from home doesn’t mean I am free in the middle of the day. I’ve gotten pretty strict about meetings for volunteer activities, and even socializing during my work day. “Grabbing coffee” in the middle of the day really cuts into my productivity. I try not to be a total hermit, but I have to think about my limited work time strategically.
Have a plan.
If not letting other things eat up my work time is my number one rule, having a plan is number two. A plan helps make sure all the key projects for a given day get taken care of. It also saves time thinking about what should happen next.
I use a highlighter to mark out the time I have each day to ‘work’ after I fill in client calls, team meetings and kid pick ups. If a day has a lot of highlighted space, I can plan to accomplish more tasks. Not much yellow? I don’t plan to get too much off my to do list that day. It helps me be more realistic and not beat myself up for not getting it all done.
Here’s another key: make sure you schedule your non-work tasks too, like doing the dishes and grocery shopping. That way you know those things will get done, and you’re not tempted to slip them in during your work time.
Use timers to stay on track.
When I make a plan, I assign times to each task. This not only helps me make a realistic plan for each day based on the time I have available. It also keeps me from getting bogged down in tasks that are, shall we say, a little more open-ended.
Picking colors for a new brand, searching for just the right inspirational quote for your e-course, checking in with Facebook groups. All these things can eat up a LOT of time. That’s where a timer comes in. Give yourself a certain amount of time. Set a timer, and when it goes off, be done.
I use timers to motivate me too. Can I get this blog post done in 25 minutes? How many social media posts can I prep in 10 minutes? For added accountability, post in one of your work groups (like The Mama CEO Club) that you’re doing a work sprint and see if anybody else wants to join you for an hour. Then check back in when the timer goes off.
Create an inspiring place
My family of four lives in 1006 square feet. I lost my office after kids were born and for years I worked from a combination of my dining room table and coffee shops. Needless to say I was always hunting for my computer charger and my prized stack of post it notes and the day my toddler spilled his milk all over my laptop (because I had left it on the table during dinner), I knew it was time for a space of my own. But finding an extra inch of space in this house meant I had to get creative. I started by replacing my bedside table and mounting a 2 foot shelf at desk height and stashing my printer under my hanging clothes in my closet. It was delightful to feel like I had a place to land.
Last spring I out grew my bedside office and upgraded to the garage (yes, I know that doesn’t sound like an upgrade.) But a trip to goodwill with garage clutter, a trip to IKEA for new office furniture and a hardware store run to create some faux walls and I am in 9 x 6 feet of all-mine heaven. I LOVE it. My husband calls it my grown up fort…but I call it Megan Flatt Consulting Headquarters. I have a window, a door and I whole drawer devoted to post it notes.
So whether its a dedicated basket that holds all your work stuff in the dinning room, a whole room or clearing out the nook under your stairs for a desk, having a dedicated work space makes for more productive work.
Give yourself a break.
All of my other tips were about being super focused and Getting. S*#t. Done. But nobody can be productive glued to the computer or their phone for hours on end.
Get up from your desk and stretch. Take a walk around the block. Turn up some tunes and dance around the house (a little praised benefit of working from home). Eat lunch.
I’ll admit it. I not good at this part, but I’m working on it. I hate giving up even one minute of my work time, and I bet you do too. But most of us are more productive with a break here and there, so instead of trying to force through one more hour, stop. Move your body, fuel up, then get back to it, mama.
Let’s help each other out. Share your best or most surprising tip for being productive working at home in the comments.
One *huge* time saver that I recently enjoyed this week is a meal ordering program like Blue Apron. For me, I’m usually cramming every inch of time into my work hours. Often, when 4:30 or 5pm rolls around – I then think, “Ugh, what am I going to make for dinner?@#$” The fact that I’m no longer thinking of the meal, searching Epicurious for recipes and then trying to squeeze more time in for shopping – Ah! Blue Apron has been an absolute God send for me. So easy, super fresh, super delicious food, delivered to my door stop. While eating the first meal I made, my 7 year old raved, “Mama, this is the best meal ever!” I cooked a “Star Anise & Soy Glazed Cod” dish and good grief, he even ate all of the Asian greens & went back for seconds. Done. Done. Done!
How do you always say just the right thing at just the right time? Thank you for this post!
One thing I’ve recently started is using my Grade A Time for content development. Using my most productive time of day to do my most important piece of work means that I focus on priorities first. I learned this trick from you too, so thank you!
As a new mama, I love your tips, Megan!
I’m slowly starting to work again and trying to balance work with precious cuddle time..your tips help! And I dig your new office space.
So true! I just learned to keep my schedule and work time sacred! And now my business is going to the next level! 🙂
Great tips Megan! I love this idea of highlighting time that you have to work so you can actually see how much time you have to work!!! *light bulb* I’m curious what planner do you use? Or do you just use google calendar?
I would love to see pictures of your workspace especially when you were in the bedroom. We are also a family of 4 and live in 1100 square feet but it’s an apartment so no garage to upgrade to please I have preschoolers so I work odd hours.
I love the idea of dressing up more when I need to be more productive. Yoga pants are comfy but you’re right – they do NOT make me feel like it’s time to work!
I lost my office a couple of years ago, and I’ve been floating since. I do need a better place to keep my stuff organized (the backpack I carry my laptop in when I go out to work isn’t quite cutting it). I think I’ll set a time this afternoon to work out a plan.
For now, Grade A time—setting a timer for my first writing project of the day.