How to be a Work at Home Parent

March 15, 2020

Some advice from a mama who has been doing it for the past three years!

In light of the chaos of the past week, I thought now would be a great time to share some tips on how to work from home while also being the primary care taker of your kiddos!

I have been working from home since I graduated college in 2013, and a “Work at Home Mom” since my daughter Dylan was born in 2017. Every stage has come with its own unique set of challenges. Adding in a second baby last year was a little bit insane… yet I have been able to continue to work and provide valuable income for my family. My primary job is a professional photographer, but in the past year I have also been running the social media account for a small business, I created an online photography course, and I took care my home + daughters with no daycare or babysitters other than the occasional grandparent helping out!

First, let’s start with some advice for working from home…

Establish a routine. Wake up at the same time everyday, start the day doing something non-work related (maybe exercise, reading quietly with a cup of coffee, etc, just give yourself time before diving in to your work). Oh, and be sure to change into something other than the pajamas you slept in so that you are work-ready, even if its just a pair of sweats 😉

Write down your schedule for the week. Putting pen to paper makes all the difference when it comes to planning out my week. Start by writing down deadlines, appointments, or anything else that needs to be completed on a specific day.

Figure out the next day’s to-do list the night before. Instead of waking up and diving in to a stressful situation of “what do I need to do??” plan ahead and have your list completed at least the night before. I would recommend no more than 5 tasks in a day, depending on how detailed they are.

Turn off distractions. Yep, this means your phone!! Put it on do not disturb, or leave it in another room while you work. Set a designated time that you will allow yourself “free time” on your phone- maybe during lunch?

Create a designated work space. It can be tempting to work from the couch with your favorite Netflix series on in the background (and some days my “work environment” does look like this 😉 ) BUT when you need to focus and accomplish tasks quickly, having a designated work space can make all the difference. If you don’t have a desk, find a quiet space in your home where you at least have room for your computer and to-do list. Maybe the kitchen counter or dining table?

And at the end of the day… Sign off. One of the biggest challenges about working from home is knowing when it is time to quit. Maybe you are working set hours like 9am- 5pm, but in a career like mine with projects that flow from one day to the next it can be difficult to shut down your computer for the day. Choose a time or a point of completion to shut down your computer, put it in a bag, and clean up your “office” so that it returns to just being your home. Keep it closed until your day starts again tomorrow. The boundaries between home + work are important to establish early on!!

Mental breaks are so important. I know that if I stay inside all day, I become less productive and feel unhappy. So I look for opportunities to go for a walk, visit a coffee shop, run an errand, etc. It may seem like those take away from my work/ home time, but it actually helps me do more because I fill my cup (literally and metaphorically) and then have the energy + right attitude to accomplish everything I need to.

And now let’s add in the chaos of kids at home while you are working…

While the advice above is great for someone that only has work to focus on, adding in kids is a whole new ball game! You will need to balance their needs, giving each task the appropriate amount of attention, and figuring out how to multi-task when possible. I don’t want to be dramatic, but being a work-at-home mom is the HARDEST thing I’ve ever done!

First of all, create a schedule for your entire family. I’ve found that planning the entire day hour by hour helps me accomplish more than just “winging it” and trying to squeeze in work when I can find a window of opportunity. Schedule specific tasks, whether that is emails, creating documents, phone calls, etc, be detailed when creating a successful schedule.

This is what my daily schedule currently looks like with a 2.5 year old and 8 month old at home with me:

7:00am– Wake up, get myself ready for the day
7:30am– Girls up, play in living room
8:30am– Breakfast
9:30am– Morning walk/ move our bodies (**Sometimes during this walk I will make a phone call since this is the only time I can talk on the phone without tiny humans screaming in the background)
10:00am– Nap for baby
10:00- 11:30am– TV or quiet play time while I do simple computer work (answer emails, schedule posts, etc.) or chores (dishes, laundry, etc.)
11:30- 12:30pm– Play, errands, etc.
12:45pm– Lunch
1:30pm– Art time
2:20pm– 10 Minute Pickup
2:30- 4:30pm– Naps for everyone; get in my work time while they nap
4:30pm– Play time
6:00pm– Evening walk or TV time
6:30pm– Dinner
7:00pm– Bath (**If my husband is home I will have him do bath while I squeeze in another 30 minutes of work)
7:30pm– Bedtime

If I didn’t have a young baby that sleep has pretty unpredictable nighttime sleep, I would probably wake up an hour earlier and get some work in then as well. But my biggest tip is:

CREATE BOUNDARIES. During play time I do my best to give my girls 100% of my attention and not check my emails. When I am working, I am not scrolling through social media or cleaning the house at the same time.

Involve your kids in your work time. Okay, this may seem a little backwards but hear me out! Toddlers up to preteens can do “work” beside you whether that is sitting down to color, reading or writing, homework, etc. This is a quiet time where everyone has a task to accomplish but you get to do it together. Its a win-win: show your kids the value of your work by including them while putting in some hours. (I think its also important to note here the value of teaching kids to entertain themselves instead of always relying on you to be their entertainment! One thing that helps me with young kids is giving them unique/ new/ special toys to play with while I am trying to get some work done. These toys (or.. ahem.. sometimes tv shows…) are strictly reserved for these special circumstances.

Do the hardest thing first. You know that thing you dread? Maybe its laundry, calling a client, exercising, emails… whatever it is, doing it first thing in the morning. It will make the rest of the day feel much easier when you don’t have that task hanging over your head!

When all else fails, work when the kids sleep.

In all honestly, taking care of our home is the last thing on my to-do list these days! But I do what I can when I can. Here are a few things I do to keep my home running while also working and caring for kids:

  • 10 minute pickup- once a day, designate 10 solid minutes to put everything away. Make that your entire focus and you will be surprised how much you can accomplish!
  • Meal plan for the week and do only one grocery shopping trip. Make use of things like crockpots, meal services, and easy recipes. Husbands that do the cooking are also highly recommended 😉
  • Fold the laundry as soon as the dryer dings! Put the dishes away as soon as they are clean. Pretty much whatever takes just a few minutes, don’t put it off. Just do it now.
  • Ask. For. Help.

But most importantly… give yourself GRACE and accept the fact that you cannot do everything. This might mean that clean clothes live in the dryer, you order dinner a couple nights a week, or your living room is covered with toys. It’s okay.

I hope these tips help you during this “Quarantine” and your new, unexpected venture of working from home!