Working from home has definite advantages. The hours are flexible. You get to spend more time with your family. The coffee is always just the way you like it. As a parent, it’s a great deal. But all of this freedom can be a burden during school breaks.
During the Holiday breaks, the disruption isn’t that large. For most of us, there isn’t that much work to do around the holidays. Those breaks are fairly short and used to visit family and friends. But for work at home parents, summer break can cause a serious change in our work schedules.
You’ve got the kids at home, play dates, and trips to the park. There are countless activities that both you and your children want to do. Somehow, in the middle of this, you also need to get some work done. It sounds impossible, doesn’t it?
What follows are a few of the tools I use over the summer to help myself (and my family) stay sane through an extended period of togetherness. They may not all be suitable for your life, but I’m sure that you will benefit from at least half of these suggestions.
Have a dedicated “office”
If there is one key to getting things done while working from your home, it’s having a dedicated office. That isn’t to say that you need a separate room that’s all your own to work from, but you need to have a space that’s yours alone to get your job done in. I know that many of us don’t have the luxury of a spare room or closet we can use as an office. You may find that you have to work from the kitchen table or the coffee table. Where your “office” is located is not really important. What is important is that you use the same space for work every time you’re working.
Having that one place where you work has several benefits. First, it’s a visual cue to other family members that you are working. This will make interruptions less likely. Second, you can leave that space a bit of a mess until the end of the work day without worry that someone will come along and shuffle your notes. (Though if you’re working on the kitchen table, it’s a good idea to tidy up by suppertime.)
Be warned though, if your office does have to be at the dining table, it’s not the place to play Candy Crush Saga. If your family members find that you’re playing in “your office”, then they won’t respect the space as much. If you want to hit Facebook, take the laptop to the couch and chat with the kids while you’re doing it.
Take regular breaks
Breaks are important in any work environment, but they are crucial for the work at home parent over school breaks. You need time to get away from the keyboard, stretch, walk and clear your head. Your family needs to know that you’ll be available for them. If you take breaks at a set interval or at certain times of the day, you can use the time to both recharge your batteries and play a game with your kids. If you’ve got smaller children or infants these breaks may need to be taken more often, but don’t worry, you can still get a full work day in, even with the occasional 15 minute break.
It’s also important to break for lunch at the same time every day. This gives you and your family a set time to sit and talk. To plan the evening’s activities and to come together. It’s good for the kids and for you, especially if the other parent works outside the home.
Focus your time
In the months of school break, writing and research time are diminished. You’ll need to shift gears to make the most of the time that you have. Instead of a solid four hours of no kids in the house, you might have two in the morning and then a bit more time once the kids are in bed. During both of these periods you should focus on producing content, rather than doing tasks that can be done in a shorter mount of time.
I leave researching to the moments that I have in between “Dad!s” and focus my writing time to those precious moments of silence that I do get. By using only times when you won’t be interrupted for writing, you ensure that this time is productive. Email, twitter and RSS readers are shut off. All of those things can be dealt with in the hit and miss schedule of the rest of my day. Quiet times are for writing. Period.
Research in short bursts
Unless something you are researching is a very in-depth subject, you can generally research in bursts. Not only does this give you time to mull over what you’ve read in between dealing with everything else that demands your time, but it may just lead to ideas you wouldn’t have explored if you were buried neck deep in just one topic. Researching in small, focused bits of time also causes you to remain focused on what you’re doing. Minor distractions are just that. Minor. if you work from home you have to learn that there will be times that your attention is pulled from what you need to get done.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
The little things can’t be allowed to bother you. Yes, they will stop you from writing a 600 word post in the middle of a hectic day, but they won’t stop you from laying out all the notes you need to complete that project as soon as the house quiets down or in the morning when it is still quiet. If something comes up during research time, jot a note, go deal with the interruption and get back to research as soon as possible. Don’t get frustrated with it. Interruptions are a part of the work at home world. Those who deal with them and can get back to it are the ones who succeed.
Keep goals reasonable
Don’t set goals that will sabotage you. Set reasonable, attainable goals for your work sessions. nothing will undermine your confidence or productivity faster than setting goals that are nearly impossible to complete. Keep your spirit high by breaking large projects into easily finished segments. That way, even if you don’t have a lot of time to put into your larger project at a single stretch, you still have the satisfaction that comes from finishing what you set out to do. Trying to accomplish more than you can reasonably attain is a sure fire path to frustration.
Working from home (or even in certain office environments) can be stressful. The methods above can help minimize the chaos a bit. Keep in mind that even monstrous projects can be broken down into much smaller and achievable tasks. These can usually be completed in a relatively short amount of time. Know what your day has in store and remember, I managed to get this piece out by focusing my attention to each point. The actual post took several hours and was written in-between lunch, picking up kids from sleepovers and dealing with an active three year old.
If I can do it, so can you.