I got my first work-from-home gig just a few weeks after having Reese, and it’s been the biggest blessing for me and my family. It’s been awesome to make some money and feel like I’m doing something worthwhile even on days when Reese does nothing but destroy my entire house. I love the flexibility of being able to go swimming whenever we want, meet our friends and family for random lunches, and spend plenty of time (and money yikes) at Target. I especially love that I’m able to write, practice, develop my skills, and create contacts and a future for myself.
That isn’t to say it has been totally smooth and easy for me. I’m a year deep into this work-from-home thing and I’m still finding myself staying up till 2 am some nights to meet deadlines, or writing distractedly with a squirming mess of toddler on my lap. Since doubling my workload this spring I have had to get more serious about my schedule, and I’ve learned a lot.
Tips for Working From Home (with a Toddler)
- Plan, plan, PLAN. You had to know that was coming. I originally used a paper planner and Google calendar combination, but once I was tracking 3 different freelance jobs with a variety of projects & due dates, plus church obligations, personal blog posts, family plans, personal dates, appointments, chores, and all the stuff I wanted to do with Reese… it just wasn’t cutting it. That’s when I switched over to a Bullet Journal. I customize the pages and color code according to all of my needs and preferences.
- Make sure to track both weekly and monthly! A monthly list of your tasks and due dates is great, but it’s critical to break it down by week, too. For example I had a running monthly list of my posts and due dates for my freelance projects and I was just logging work hours when I had time. It hadn’t been a problem. Until one week I didn’t realize I had almost twenty writing projects due and the weekly calendar (which I only used to plan my personal life) was booked full of appointments, tasks, and a Harry Potter Book Club meeting. I was totally overwhelmed and got very little sleep. Lesson Learned: I now plan a week spread that includes ALL of my projects for the week, appointments, chores, tasks, everything!
- Sit down and look at your week. How many hours can you actually commit to working this week? Try your best to schedule them in and stick to it. The weeks when I don’t plan explicit work time are the weeks when I find myself staring deadlines in the face because I fell behind.
- If you want to work every day that’s great! I don’t. I do most of my work on Mondays and some on Thursdays and I plan my week around that. Monday I stay home and work, Tuesdays I run errands, Wednesday is for chores and meal prepping, Thursday is catching up on work and chores, and Friday is party day.
- Lower your expectations of productivity. I’m learning this every single week. I think I can get so much more done than I actually can. It’s a universal law. Your kid that has been taking magnificent 3 hour naps? Guaranteed he starts sleeping 90 minutes max. You’ll get sick on your busiest week. Your baby that used to play quietly on her own with books for an hour now demands to be held or watching Frozen youtube videos. You HAVE to have a contingency plan, and do your best to avoid procrastination. If you count on your kid’s naps to get work done – what are you gonna do when they don’t nap? What if the sitter falls through or your kids just WILL NOT play quietly to allow you to work? Be prepared with a backup. Mine is Sunday nap time – meaning I have to skip the nap. 🙁
- Set up Baby/Toddler play spots. Some books in the crib worked for Reese for most of her life. I also set up our Pack n Play with toys in it right in my office. The jumper/swing was a huge favorite too. I could pop Reese into these and crank out 30-40 minutes of work quickly while she had fun. Now it’s food pouches, The Octonauts, and her high chair while I work at the kitchen table. Do what works.
- Track like a professional. Learn how to write and send invoices. Make a financial plan for your income, and be prepared to take care of your own taxes if you’re a 1099 contractor (I’m still figuring this out but basically you set aside your own taxes and pay them quarterly). Document your work and back it up. You’re a professional and YOU’RE the boss. There’s no one to blame if the work doesn’t get done or there’s a huge mistake.
- Use the Pomodoro method. I do 15 or 20 minutes depending on the task, but basically you set an timer with an alarm, switch into airplane mode and CRUSH the task at hand. It’s SO helpful when you have a toddler and your work time comes in small bursts.
- Take Chore & Fun Breaks. I do it every other – 20 minutes of work/switch the laundry – 40 minutes of work/go to Sodalicious. I need frequent breaks from my sprint sessions, and I try to alternate them with chores and fun things!
- You aren’t a bad mom if you have to turn on the TV or hand your kid an iPad. Play with your kid, read them books, and their brain will not turn to mush from some screen time.
- Enlist help. Honestly what you need is a few uninterrupted hours a week to make a big difference. My mom has been a lifesaver; she comes and picks up Reese on Mondays and takes her around to run her errands while I do my conference calls and pump out as much work as I can. Trade babysitting with friends, family, or neighbors. Plan one night a week for Dad to be on duty while you duck out to a Starbucks or the library. It’s a game changer to have a few hours of quiet, direct work.
- Try early and late hours. When I had postpartum anxiety and insomnia I would find myself wide awake at 2 am with nothing to do. I’d finally retreat to the office to get some work done and I was amazed at how much I completed. Now I try to wake up an hour or two before Reese and crank out some work before I hear her little voice reading books in her crib. One hour a day while the rest of your family is asleep isn’t a big sacrifice to make, and can really lighten your load.
- Know when to give up. Some days your kid will refuse to nap and the internet will go down or your college roommate is in town and wants to do lunch or your husband comes home sick and work just isn’t gonna happen. That’s the benefit of working from home! You can blow it off whenever you want. You can do it from the living room while watching Netflix if you need to. If your kid needs a little extra attention today – give it to them. They’re only this little for a little while. We can work when they finally sleep.
- Communicate with your spouse. I learned this the hard way. A few weeks ago I was feeling very overwhelmed with how much work I had and how little I was getting done during the day with Reese. The house was a mess, Reese was a tornado, I was behind on work, and I desperately needed help. The Beard came home and burrowed into the couch for video games and the Red Sox game and I about LOST IT. I had told him before that my company was sending me more articles and that I had 4 new projects with my newest company, and I asked him to help out more with Reese and chores, generically. But as I melted down in front of his confused and terrified face I realized he didn’t understand. After only a few minutes of walking him through all of my projects and work, as well as all of the stuff I was trying to do around the house and with Reese, he was shocked. One of my very favorite things about The Beard is that he lets me fly – he stays out of my way and never tries to control me – and that’s all he was trying to do! I needed to communicate more clearly with him and ask explicitly for the exact types of help I needed – hanging with Reese for several hours a week to give me work time, contributing to our nighttime routine, and various specific chores around the house. As soon as he understood just how much I was trying to do, he stepped up and did what I asked. You gotta be a team!
- Say no to lower priorities. I’m much busier now than I was last summer. I can’t hit the gym 5 days a week. I can’t throw Favorite Things parties, showers, events like I could in the past. I can’t spend every day at the pool or splash pad with Reese (although we go as much as we can!). I’m lucky if, after getting all of my work and basic Reese obligations done, I can crank out 3 blog posts, 2 gym sessions, and half of my chore list per week. You can’t do it all, and if you’re serious about working from home you also have to be serious about streamlining your priorities.
- Get Ahead. This is obviously easier said than done but honestly the very best week this year was in March when I got well over 9 days ahead of my work. I thought I was going to be heading to Disneyland for a week (didn’t happen) but I worked extra hard to get ahead so I wouldn’t have to stress about it. When we didn’t go on vacation I realized just how much stress was alleviated by having the next due date almost 2 weeks out. I still got work done, but I felt like I had so much more time to do everything else. It’s always a standing goal of mine to get a week ahead of myself.
We’re still figuring this out over here. Every day is different; every week is different. I love the flexibility and control, but it also requires discipline and sacrifice. If you work from home and have other tips or ideas – please let me hear them! I feel like I’ve read every Pinterest article on the subject and I’m still looking to tweak and improve!