If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the more than 10 years I’ve worked at home, it’s that it’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s pretty hard. Working at home isn’t all work when you feel like it, do other things when you like. It takes an effort to be productive despite all the distractions at home, whether or not you have kids. Here are just a few of the things that can make it hard to work at home, and tips on coping.
Kids are the reason many moms and dads want to work at home. It’s a chance to save on childcare while still earning an income. The only problem is that kids are distracting little rascals, especially when they’re too young to go to school. Babies, toddlers and preschoolers have very different needs, and usually need it right NOW!
If you take them to classes, it can be really hard to work. My youngest attends a three day a week, three hours a day, parent participation preschool that seriously cuts into my work time. It’s a great class, but doing this class with her means I have to be very careful with the time in the day that I have left. It’s lunch time by the time we get home, and not that long before to get my son from his running club. If I don’t watch it, that time gets away.
Not that it gets that much better when they go to school. School age children have homework they may need help with, plus there are requests for volunteers at the school, sick days (how the kids can bring bugs home, wow!), pick up, drop off, and time with their friends, sometimes at your house right when you need to work.
My first tip for dealing with kids as you work is planning.Figure out what times of day are best for your productivity. There will be some times that are better than others. Take advantage. The times you can work when kids are at school are obvious – when they’re gone, get the stuff that’s harder to do with the kids around done. Do the less focused work when they’re home.
That’s harder with kids who are home all the time. You may find it easier to work early mornings or late nights, when the kids are sleeping. Do whichever comes more naturally and effectively to you. I’m a night owl, and if I tried to get up early for some work hours, it simply wouldn’t work. I know other people who are just the opposite. Do what works for you.
Take advantage of any help your spouse, family or friends can offer. You may have to ask. I sometimes have to remind my husband to give me quiet work time, but he’s good at it when I say I need to work… although sometimes he comes to talk about things which could be discussed later in the middle of a good work session, and I have to give him that look that says “I need to work now.” Grandparents who want to babysit are handy too, especially if they’re up for overnights, and you can get time with your spouse out of the deal also.
Of course, you also need to make sure that you’re there for your kids when they need you. Make sure your days include time for them; otherwise you may as well put them in that daycare.
We don’t have any furry pets right now, but I know very well how distracting they can be. Fish, not so much, and that’s all we have right now. But I’ve dealt with cats and computers before, and I know well the distraction a cat wandering in front of the monitor, trying to stand on your keyboard, or wanting to purr on your lap. Dogs have been less distracting in my experience, if only because most of them are big enough that they have to stay on the floor.
Some ways, it’s harder to be firm with a pet than a child. They don’t understand why you can’t pet them right now. They may try repeatedly to get into a position you keep removing them from. Often enough, the best and simplest solution for a pet who won’t let you work is a closed door. It may not stop them from noisily trying to get in or get your attention, but they can’t get directly in the way.
For cats, you can also try having a nice perch for them near where you work. A carpeted shelf or tall scratching post can give your cat options for being near you without being right in the way. That’s not to say that they’ll always take it, but it improves the odds.
3. Household Chores
The house is calling. There are dishes to be done, laundry to fold, and toys everywhere. When you need to work, sometimes it’s all too easy to fall for the lure and do housework when you should be earning money.
This is one of those things you have to prioritize. A perfectly clean home doesn’t mean as much as having the money to provide properly for your family.
I prefer to clean when it’s more difficult to be productive with my business. Even toddlers can help with basic chores, and you can play with them a little as you do others. Taking potential work time to load the dishwasher? I’d rather not, unless clean dishes really need to be the priority at the time.
You may want to think about the best times for some chores. I prefer to do laundry all in one day, for example, while others prefer to do one load daily or every other day. Do whichever works best for you.
Of course, household emergencies mean all bets are off. The day I found out the pipe from the garbage disposal under the kitchen sink had disconnected was not a productive day in the business sense. I was far more concerned with getting a plumber out to fix it, and cleaning up the horrid, stinky mess that had been sitting since the night before. You do not want to see how fast food that has gone through the garbage disposal can go even more bad if it’s allowed to sit in water overnight.
So many people think working at home means you get a lot of leisure time. In my experience, that’s really not true. There’s always something you need to do. No four hour work week or watching TV and eating bonbons. Rely too much on such notions, and you probably won’t succeed in whatever you’re trying to do.
Think about the leisure distractions you allow. Many people like having selected background noise as they work, but for most, music is less distracting than television. Have the TV on, and you’re too likely to watch it.
Then there are the distractions that are harder to get away from, especially if you work online like I do. Take control of your online socializing and other less than productive activities. Don’t fool yourself into thinking of all of it as a part of your work day; really think about what things you do that make a difference to your income.
You should absolutely take some leisure time, but don’t overdo it. Figure out how much time you need for you and your family. Odds are you’re working at home in part for the flexibility to be there for your family, so make sure you have it.
Start by accepting that there will be some times of day that you won’t be as productive as others. These, if they work with other parts of your routine, are good times to take it easy. Maybe there are too many distractions, maybe you just aren’t a morning person and it takes a while to get yourself going.
I like to include one day each week that is absolutely family time, usually a weekend day. This way we can all have fun together. Now, if a business crisis comes up, the leisure time goes away, just as work time goes away if a home or family crisis comes up.
The more you take control of the distractions when you work at home, the more likely you are to succeed at it. Are there any distractions you find particularly important to deal with that I haven’t covered here?