I don’t know about you, but as a full-time working mom my first impulse when I’m home is to get stuff done. “Get stuff done” includes everything from cleaning up the kitchen (which usually still looks like a disaster from getting everyone fed the night before) to folding the laundry (which has probably been sitting in the chair at the foot of my bed since I pulled it out of the dryer on Saturday) to getting the baby to take a nap so I can have two seconds to rummage in the fridge for lunch. But as a full-time, work-at-home mom most of that “stuff” I would like to get done while I’m home has to wait—and forcing it to the side takes some serious skills (if I do say so myself ☺).
Working at home has an unmistakable glamour about it. Almost everyone is convinced they would be so much happier and life would be so much easier if only they could work at home. But the dirty little secret about working at home, or telecommuting, is that it can be downright difficult—especially if you’re new at it! Though I’m no expert (you did, after all, just get a peek at the state of my kitchen and laundry), I’ve pulled together a few strategies that work for me—and hopefully they can help you make the most of your work-at-home situation too!
Practice Makes Perfect
Even if you haven’t already landed that work-at-home job, these strategies help you be more effective as you’re studying at home too. Treat your schoolwork like a job, and by the time you’re ready to start working you’ll already have the habits in place to make the transition as smooth as possible!
It’s also important to remember that just like any other learned skill you may not be great at working or studying at home right off the bat. Remember—this is a skill set that you’re developing, and with enough patience and practice you can find the groove that works best for you and your family.
Develop a Schedule
Contrary to popular belief, telecommuting does not give you the freedom to lounge on the couch and leisurely getting your work done during the commercial breaks of your favorite daytime soap. In fact, when you’re working from home it’s just as important (maybe even more so) to have a work schedule as it is when you’re working on site.
Whether your employer assigns your work-at-home schedule or you create one yourself, scheduling designated work time is key to maximizing your productivity. A work schedule sets limits so that next time you’re tempted to throw in a load of laundry, chat with the friend who just called, or really do anything other than work it’s easy to sit back and say, “Wait a minute. I’m working right now, I’ll do [insert activity] when I’ve finished or take a break.” So schedule your work time, and stick to it.
Find a Workspace
When I first started working at home, I just set up camp on my dining room table. That didn’t last too long. Right about when I was getting depressed from the daily struggle of working while trying to ignore the dishes and never escaping the feeling that I should be working because my “office” was an almost permanent fixture on the dining room table, my husband suggested we set up a designated workspace for me.
Having a specific spot to keep my laptop, all of my papers/scribbles, and everything else that comes with my job not only contains the mess, but it also helps me focus. It’s much easier to block out the day-to-day responsibilities of my house and family and just concentrate of getting my work done in my little “office.” (And don’t think you need a separate room to have an office… mine is a little tiny table with a filing cabinet next to it in a corner of our basement.)
Set Daily Goals
When I realized I was working an extra hour to hour and a half every night (and my husband started jokingly referring to me as “the workaholic”) because I was trying to get EVERYTHING done before I signed off for the night, I started setting daily goals. Every day before I start working I ask myself what I need to get accomplished that day. I choose a couple projects I think will fill my time and tell myself that when I’m done with those projects I can be done for the day. (Of course, if you’re an hourly employee your strategy may be little different, but setting goals will still help you focus on getting the most important things done first.)
I love my daily goals because I’ve been able to eliminate the guilty “I-should-be-working feeling” that used to stick around and I’ve actually become more productive because I’m more focused on what needs to get done.
All of these strategies come back to focus. Telecommuting can be so difficult precisely because in our homes there are so many other things vying for our attention. The trick is finding ways to block out all of those other distractions for a little while. Whether you use these strategies that work for me or develop your own, it all revolves around finding ways to maintain your focus.
What works for you? Share your go-to, work-(or study)-at-home tips below!