Over the past few weeks you’ve probably heard me mention that I’ve been going through a “balance overhaul” in regards to my schedule.
In July I reached a point of overwhelm and I knew something needed to change.
For those of you who don’t already know, The Balanced Life is my full-time job. I work from home to keep this site running and also teach in a studio/train in-home clients for a few hours per week. It was always my dream to get this site to place where I could stay home with my kids and also build a business that I’m passionate about. I’m thrilled that it’s worked out but to say it’s been easy would be a lie.
Before I had my daughter I had more than enough time to work on the online side of my business. Once Blake arrived I took 3 months off which was a wonderful time to rejuvenate and re-focus on where I wanted my business to go with my new role as a mom.
When Blake was a little baby (before she started moving), working from home was a dream. I was able to work on blog posts and coach my clients while she slept in her swing next to me or laid on her back and wiggled her little limbs. It was rather idyllic and my schedule felt perfectly manageable.
I knew that would change and I know it will change again with each new season of life so I’m learning that in order to successfully work from home I’ll need to continually re-evaluate what’s working and what’s not.
Now that Blake is running around the house in a constant blur, I am unable to work while she is awake. I’m holding off on TV as long as I can (even through I REALLY want to give in!) so the only time I am able to focus or get things done is while she is sleeping or while I have help.
The Balanced Life really took off this year. And it happened on the same curve as Blake taking off in her abilities, needs and overall busy-ness level. Hence, the overwhelm that struck back in July.
All of a sudden, everything was off-balance and something really needed to change. I was stressed out all the time, working late nights rather than connecting with my husband, and frustrated during the day by my inability to keep up with work which led to a less-patient mom. It wasn’t good.
So I sat down and re-evaluated what was working and what wasn’t. I had to make choices that were hard to make. I hate letting people down but I told my dear clients and colleagues at the studio that I would no longer be able to teach on Fridays. My babysitter changed schedules and the stress of finding someone new/re-arranging our whole routine for a few hours of teaching wasn’t going to help in removing stress from the week.
Around this time, Blake also dropped her morning nap. I was holding on to it as long as I could. Although we still do “quiet rest time” most mornings I can no longer count on that hour and a half in the morning to get caught up on emails and ready for the day. So, as a result, I’ve added early morning work hours to the routine. A few days a week I get up at 4:45 and head to Starbucks. It may sound crazy but I’m actually kind of loving it… (more on this soon).
All this to say, after 16 months of working from home with a baby here are a few things I’ve learned…
11 Tips For Work-At-Home Moms
1. Get your baby on a schedule.
I know this is fairly controversial in the parenting world but if you plan to work from home I can’t stress the value of a schedule enough. Blake was never on a strict time-based schedule, but she has had a very regular routine since she was about 3-months-old. We followed Babywise and she fell right in line with the natural routine (eat, play, sleep – and no I never ignore her hunger or sleep cues). Knowing when she was going to sleep and when she needed to eat was imperative to being able to return to work and maintain my sanity.
2. Create rituals.
One could easily argue that I spend way too much money at Starbucks. And while I would agree, I’ve come to accept that it’s a part of my routine that has helped me build my business. I learned this from my cousin whom I greatly admire. She’s a very successful work-at-home mom and after dropping the kids off at pre-school in the morning she would swing through Starbucks as a ritual that marked the transition from being mom, to being at work. Your ritual doesn’t need to include Starbucks, it could be a mug of tea, changing clothes, turning on music, etc. The key is to find something that helps your transition from “home time” to “work time” during naps.
3. Keep a running To Do list with daily action items
I keep a running To-Do List throughout the week. I add to it continually and let the list get really long. I actually keep two: one personal and one work-related. But each day I select 3-5 action items which are the things that I truly need to get done. If I can get through more than that, great. But most days there is really only time for the top 3 pressing items. You’ll be surprised how efficient you can be when you narrow your focus each day. Read more about my To-Do list strategy here.
4. Set timers
This is a new practice I started to make the most of the nap time hours. As I mentioned, we’re down to 1 nap in our house so those 2 hours are like precious gold. Social media is a big part of my job, as is email, and both are easy to get sucked into for longer than necessary. So I set timers. 20 minutes on the clock for social media posts and responses, 35 minutes for email, 65 minutes for writing/bookkeeping/program creation/video editing/etc. It’s a great tool to stay focused.
5. Make use of drive time
Schedule calls when you know you’re going to be in the car. I’ve been known to leave early and take the long way to library story-time to take a call on the way. It’s much more efficient than using precious nap time hours to take a call.
6. Schedule walking meetings
Thankfully, I am my own boss so I can run my business however I like. I get to decide which things I include my daughter in and which times I leave her at home for the sake of professionalism. Often, when people ask to meet for coffee I suggest getting coffee and going for a walk instead. It allows me to have meetings without needing a babysitter, and personally I prefer walking and talking anyway. It’s more natural and better for our health. 🙂
7. Wake up early
As I mentioned, now that I’m down to 2 hours of work time during the day, I’ve instituted a new system of early work hours. 3 days a week I wake up at 4:45, roll out of bed and head to Starbucks for a 2 hour work session. So far, so good. Although I don’t enjoy getting out of bed that early, it feels amazing to start the day on top of my inbox and ahead of the game rather than watching work pile up until nap time. My stress levels are down, my productivity is up and my after-dinner hours are now open to connect with my husband. You may not feel you need to leave the house but I do. It keeps me focused and since my daughter is still breastfeeding I can’t be in the house if she wakes up and expect to continue working.
8. Only respond to emails that truly need a response
This is a big shift I’ve made recently. I love, love, love, receiving emails from readers and other bloggers and used to respond to 100% of them. Unfortunately I’ve gotten to a place where I just can’t do that anymore. I found I was doing it at the expense of being with my family or taking care of myself and my needs. Which does not reflect my values and doesn’t exhibit balance in my own life. So now, I have a form email response for many inquiries noting that I do have a program that includes unlimited email interaction/coaching and at this time in my life my time and energy needs to go to those valuable, committed, paying clients. Don’t let this scare you away from emailing me though! I still love them and respond to as many as I have time for. 🙂
The same goes for other inquiries that you many not be interested in. Every email doesn’t require a response. It’s okay to choose wisely. Your time is valuable. Also, unsubscribe from junk mail.
9. Prep on Sundays
Anyone who has gone through The Pilates Body Program knows how big I am on Sunday prep time. Grocery shopping, meal planning and food prepping set the week up to be healthy and stress-free. I make lunches and prepare snacks on Sunday afternoons so that I don’t have to spend extra time in the kitchen during the week. There is a silly amount of cooking and clean up that happens for a 1-year-old who hardly eats, so saving time on myself is super helpful. When lunch time rolls around I just open the fridge, take out my dish and I’m good to go.
10. Hire help
It took me too long to realize the value of help. Hire help when you need it. Sometimes you’ll need a babysitter to meet a deadline or attend an important meeting. That’s okay! It’s good for your child to have time with others and good for you to have a break.
I’ve also begun outsourcing more technical/design parts of my business because it takes me a ridiculously long time to figure out what I’m doing. The saved time and frustrations is well worth the money. Another part of my balance overhaul was to hire a housecleaner. The time and more importantly, annoyance that was relieved by doing this has been significant. I no longer beg my husband to help me and I don’t feel guilty when I haven’t cleaned the bathroom in weeks.
11. Remain flexible
A good friend of mine told me that she’s found she needs to shift her routine to reflect her kids’ changes every 2 months. So really, once you hit your stride things begin to change. I’m learning how important it is to remain flexible. Some days will go as planned, but most won’t. And the routine will continually need to be tweaked and adjusted as Blake grows and our family grows. Some seasons will be easier than others. Moms who are ahead of me already know this and know that 2+ kids changes EVERYTHING once again.
These are just a handful of the things I’ve put into place over the last few weeks to create more balance in my life.
While I wish I had more dedicated work time, it’s nice for me to know when Blake is awake, I’m mom; email is closed, the phone is away and it’s time for me to be present. We read, go to the park, go to story time, run errands and get stuff done around the house.
And when she sleeps, I’m at work. These clear-cut lines and rituals have really helped me to stay on top of my work while also caring for my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, some days are still really hard. It’s a continual learning process. And I know it’s only a matter of time before I have to change things around again, but if you’re trying to balance work, life and productivity I hope some of these tips will help.
If you have any of your own to add I’d love for you to share them in the comments!