8 habits to stay productive when working at home

work at home

“It must be a dream not having a boss.”

Or how about this one: “You’re so lucky to have so much flexibility.”

Or better yet: “You probably get to catch up around the house.”

Or perhaps my all-time favorite because it incites so much mama guilt: “You must get to spend so much time with your kids.”

If you work at home – as a mama or not – you’ve likely heard at least one of these at some point. Last month, while at a family function, I got to hear three of them within the first 30 minutes of entering the front door.

I love to work at home.

I always have, which is why I’ve taken advantage of the work from home options offered at each of my former employers. And, that was well before kids. Yet, working at home – be it leading your own company or as a flexible option through your employer – is still plagued with this archaic, completely outdated idea that when people work from home they actually do very little work.

As a work at home mom, or WAHM as social media calls me, this idea gets on my very last nerve.

Yes, working from home offers me plenty of opportunities and freedoms that I may not have been afforded if I was working outside of the home for an employer. But, I work hard – every day just like I did when I went into the office every day. And, I know so many other mamas who are working equally hard from their kitchen tables.

Yet, working hard at home isn’t easy.

In fact, it can be downright hard at times. Like, for example, when a new season of Orange is the New Black is ready to be binge watched.

It’s not only diversions like Netflix or laundry of sick kiddos. Working at home also comes with judgements and pressures that I didn’t face when I was working for an employer. Some wonder – aloud and in my presence – why I don’t spend more time with my kids when I’m at home with them. There are others who pity me for giving up on my career ambitions to stay at home with my kids.

In response, I try to mumble a defence, but never with any conviction.

I also spend countless hours and days listening to my inner voice ask me who I think I am to have a babysitter to stay with my kids while I’m locked in my office trying to get a few more hours of work into the day. Or, I battle the inner demon who demands I take on more work to show everyone how successful I can be even if it means I have to work evenings and weekends.

If you’re working at home and struggling to stay productive and focused, and less stressed to boot, here are the 8 habits you need to adopt:

1. Create a ritual

As parents we hear a lot about the importance of routines for our kids. It establishes important habits (e.g., brushing your teeth in the morning), sets up a structure to follow through with activities and creates a sense of certainty and security. Good things, right? But, it’s not just kids who can benefit from rituals. Adults, especially those working at home, need rituals to identify when it’s time to start working, when it’s time to stop and even for mid-day breaks.

My office is steps from my bedroom, but after dropping my girls off at school I take a 10 minute walk so it feels like I’m going to the office. It’s a mind trick to shake off the morning craziness and gets me into work mode. My evening routine is nowhere near as peaceful. I’m trying to rush through one last thing while the girls are clamouring for my attention.

2. Establish working hours

Setting office hours and break times is essential to separating home and work – even though you do both in the same building. When it’s time for work, it’s not time for laundry. That wouldn’t happen if you were working out of the home, would it? And, when it’s time for home, you need to shut it down – step away from the computer, put down the phone or whatever other tools you need to get your work done. This is time for hanging with your kids, doing laundry or making dinner.

But, it’s not just office hours you need to schedule – be sure to set a time aside for lunch, midday breaks, or even 15 minutes to hug your girls and check in on how their school day went. The schedule can be whatever you want it to be and it can be shaped around nap times or school schedules. The key is to find a schedule that keeps you most productive while tending to your other demands at home.

3. Review your calendar the night before

Before heading to bed, I do one last stop into my office. I look at the next day’s calendar to see what meetings are scheduled and what projects need to be submitted. I then plan out how I’ll spend my day within my set office hours and what I plan to get accomplished. If there are personal things that need to get done – bills or camp forms, I add that to the list and designate time in my day to get it done.

4. Get dressed

When I first set up shop at home, I thought the ultimate luxury would be to wear pajamas or other equally comfy clothes to work. I tried it. It didn’t work. After several weeks of living in PJs and yoga pants, I realized I wasn’t very productive during the day. So, I decided to get dressed as if I was going into the office. I wouldn’t wear suit jackets or pencil skirts, but I did put care in assembling an outfit left me feeling good. Plus, I no longer feared running out for an impromptu meeting. When I dressed more seriously, I also started to take my business more seriously.

5. Dedicate space

Perhaps more important than clothing, you need a dedicated workspace. Sure I can talk about how working in a disorganized closet, like I did for 18 months, can create stress and chaos, and put a real dent in your productivity. Having a dedicated space allows you to create boundaries within your home. When it’s time to work, I’m in my office. When it’s time for home, I shut the door and walk away (admittedly, I need to learn to shut the door more often).

6. A place away from home

Yes, it’s important to have a dedicated space in your home. It’s also wise to have a go-to place where you can work should things go awry at home. I live in a neighborhood that is prone to electricity outages. I’ve also had my fair share of losing WiFi battles. Plus, there are many days that even when their babysitter is here, my girls call on me incessantly. Those are the days, I pick up my laptop and head to one of the coffee shops in the area. Do a search of the ones near you and find the one that best meets your needs – best coffee or tea, best scones or perhaps the most comfy chairs. Wherever you decide be sure they welcomes laptop squatters and won’t ask you to leave after an hour.

7. Hire help

Despite our unfounded beliefs, humans cannot multi-task. Sure, I can chew gum and walk. There just is no way I can make a snack for my girls and listen attentively as they chat about their day while also consulting a client on the phone or writing a report. I’ve tried and it never worked. Finally last year, I hired a babysitter to come in for a few hours a couple of afternoons a week. This way I was able to wrap up any work or attend meetings outside of the home, and my girls were being tended to.   

8. Redefine success   

Before working from home, I had a pretty rigid idea of success. I also had very specific markers to identify when I was doing a good job – a high performance rating, kudos from managers and colleagues, a promotion. All of that was wiped out when I started my own business. The only thing I was measuring was my client hours, so I quickly became obsessed with putting in longer and longer hours each month just so I could outdo myself. Client hours don’t equate to success and they don’t leave someone very happy.

So, it wasn’t too long ago that I decided to take a step back and redefine what success looked like for my life today. I’m still working on my definition, but I now have new markers that tell me things are going well for me that have nothing to do with billable hours.

What habits do you have that keep you focused, productive and less stressed when you’re working from home? Let me know in the comments!



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