Old and new Diet Coke cans.
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How to cope with working from home with kids and a spouse.

My day generally starts out simply.  I wake up at 6:45 a.m.to get my older daughter on the bus.  Once the bus has come and gone, I either go back to sleep until my younger daughter wakes up if it was a late night, or start my morning pages and various other writing projects.  I try for the latter because that part of my day, when nobody is awake or home to ask me for help, is by far the most productive part of my day.

Once my younger daughter is awake, there is breakfast to make, videos to start, preschool work to do, errands and many other demands.  If I manage to quiet her down, my husband wakes up and then there is preparation to make so he can get out the door to work.  If I’m not careful and don’t get the littler one down for her nap before H. gets back from school, I can potentially have no free time until after they’re all in bed.  On a bad night, that’s not before 11 p.m.if naptime was too late.  This I try to avoid at all costs.

If your life is anything like mine, you might wonder how you are ever supposed to do anything when there are only 24 hours in a day and you occasionally like to spend one or two of them sleeping.  It definitely isn’t easy.

One thing you can do, which I already mentioned above, is to wake up before everyone else.  Having time totally to yourself is invaluable.  It gives you planning time so you know what you are looking to do that day.  It gives you time to review your long-term goals so you can remind yourself why your daily tasks are on your list and make sure that what you are doing helps advance those goals.  Taking time in the morning to have a cup of tea (or coffee or, in my case, Diet Coke) while you gather your thoughts is in itself a terrifically productive way to start your day.

I do, however, realize that many of you have no way of having time to yourself in the morning unless you start setting your alarm for 3 a.m., and I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that.  So what else can you do?

Having a door on your office is a great idea, particularly if you have one that locks, but it is not always practical.  I had an office until we found out I was pregnant with my youngest daughter.  I was out one office so we could have another bedroom.  My “office” is now in the kitchen on what was the breakfast bar.  The setup works well because it is centrally located, but it doesn’t allow for much privacy or alone time.  Even when I had an office it wasn’t possible to just lock myself in there and let my kids run wild unsupervised in the rest of the house.

Another solution is to schedule writing time.  There are various ways to do this.  I work during nap times.  I have a babysitter (named Grandma) come in twice a week to watch M. while I work.  When it’s nice she takes M. to her house and I have quiet as well as free time.  On the days when she watches M. at our house, I often leave.  I can work in a café or the local library and have a lot more real work time than I can at home.  I work after the kids are in bed (if it isn’t too late), especially on nights when my husband is working late or out with friends.

One thing you absolutely need to be if you are working from home is organized.  I don’t mean that your house should be a clutter-free museum to organization, although that might actually be ideal for some.  What I mean is that when you have work time scheduled, you should not be on Twitter.  Or Reddit.  Or Facebook.  Or texting friends.  You need to be sticking to those things that you put on your “To Do” list to carry out during your work time.  That is of the utmost importance.  I cannot count the number of wasted days I have spent “working” only to realize later that I accomplished nothing but catching up on my favorite blogs.    All of those things do have value in their own ways.  All I’m saying is that if your time is limited, you can’t afford to spend all of it doing tasks that are not directly work-related.  In my case, reading blogs and Reddit and keeping up with people on Twitter does have value from a social media standpoint.  Emailing or texting friends and family keeps me sane(ish).  But if I’m not leaving time to write, I’m not much of a writer am I?

Working from home often comes down to discipline.  When you work at an office or store or some other outside site, there are people there watching.  Your boss, your co-workers, your customers—all of them will notice if you show up late or if you spend your day on Digg.  They’ll notice if your work doesn’t get done.  When you are at home, you are your boss.  You are your co-workers.  You are the one who knows if you aren’t keeping up.  If you can’t manage yourself, you are the one who suffers.  Yes, other people can cause interruptions, but if you don’t learn to work around them you won’t accomplish anything at all.