Tips on how to get through the workday without running ourselves into the ground.
By the end of the day, I could only laugh. A snow day in Seattle and everything—and I mean everything—was canceled. Administrators canceled school. Childcare workers canceled childcare. Community centers canceled playtime. With a 2000-word article and a two-year old who decided to try and potty train himself that day, my sole response was laughter.
Because how am I supposed to get done all that needs to get done when I work from home? Is it legal for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to babysit my children for upwards of five, six hours on snowed-in days?
I know I’m not alone. Just recently, The New Yorker produced a satire piece on the foibles of working from home, and The New York Times featured a piece on the perks of companies offering flexible work hours for women. For work-at-home mothers, the conversation is critical: How do we successfully navigate the divide between home and work, when work is home, and home is work? We yearn for boundaries, but we don’t necessarily know how to get there without running ourselves into the ground, a basket case of stress by the end of the day.
Sound familiar? Here are eight ways to create boundaries when you work from home:
1. Learn your tendency
Popular blogger and author Gretchen Rubin created an online quiz for determining tendencies. Knowing your tendency can help you determine how respond to outer and inner expectations, to better juggle work and home responsibilities. Jess Kennedy, director of operations for an independent app developer, is an “upholder”: noises, crowds and general levels of craziness tend to affect her strongly, so she creates order in at home in order to get work done.
2. Install a social media blocker
Oftentimes, the biggest distraction as I work from home is social media. Kayla Berg, a virtual assistant, creates boundaries with her clients, for her family: “When I’m not working,” she says, “I do not check email and my computer is tucked away. I also put my phone in my nightstand drawer from 3 to 7 p.m. every night.” Her clients are laid back and understand if she can’t answer an email immediately. Lack self-control? Install SelfControl or Freedom onto your phone or computer.
3. ‘Batch’ responsibilities
For many work-at-home moms, batching individual responsibilities is key. Adriel Booker, writer, speaker and cofounder of a community-based NGO, batches as much as possible. She tries to only answer emails one day a week, just as she attempts to separate the technical side of blogging, blog writing and book writing from each other. By grouping single obligations to one day a week, she’s more productive in her various roles.
4. Prioritize the big projects
Feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants? That may not be such a bad thing. Health coach Julie Akwabi-Ameyaw plans out her schedule on a daily and weekly basis, but with two small girls, flexibility is key. “When I have an idea of what I’m trying to accomplish,” Julie said, “I can keep on top of priorities and adjust as needed.” Likewise, Jerusalem Greer, an author, speaker and pastor, knows that her brain works best when she leaves room for fluidity. Nothing stresses Greer out more than feeling contained, so she gives herself permission to prioritize pressing needs. She’s happier and more responsive as a result.
5. Schedule breaks
While it may seem counterintuitive to productivity, taking a break is oftentimes your best option. In an article for Home for the Win, blogger Anne Bogel writes, “Taking a break from your project gives your mind the chance to rest, and you might even find that you are able to easily think up fresh ideas that eluded you an hour earlier.” Shut your laptop and sit on the floor with your children. Bundle up and go for a walk with the dog. See if the incentive of taking a breather helps you better create boundaries around your many responsibilities.
6. Consider block scheduling
Many work-at-home moms swear by the concept of block scheduling. Co-hosts of the Sorta Awesome show recommend “The Life-Changing Magic of Block Scheduling” from the organizational blog guru, Penelope Loves Lists. The method helps prioritize goals and work toward building in large blocks of time in your schedule, so you can achieve those bigger goals. Heather Ryan, CEO and founder at Special Agent Heather, felt like she was so much more productive in a traditional office setting—but block scheduling has helped ease the transition.
7. Get creative with childcare
I know I’m a better mom—and a better employee—when I get a break from my kids. If funds allow, consider hiring a babysitter or a mother’s helper a couple of days a week. See if a gym or grocery store near you has free childcare, or do a babysitting swap with another mama who needs some solo work time, too. Rachael Cook, an entrepreneurial coach for women, suggests asking nearby family for help or employing “Daddy Daycare”—or “Mommy Daycare” if your work roles are reversed—as an option.
8. Take a Sabbath
However you work from home, you are still a human being in need of rest. Take a day off, so you can be present with your family and more productive when you do return to work obligations. In an interview with MORF, author and speaker Shauna Niequist reveals that while she loves her work, “I want to make the work part of my life smaller so I can really soak up these moments with my kids.” She takes seriously her Sabbath day and encourages her readers to do the same.
Above all, give yourself heaps of grace. Remember, it’s not the end of the world if Daniel Tiger watches your children one afternoon—but if the burden of working from home has you down, consider creating boundaries for the betterment of you and your kids.
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