As a stay-at-home-mom who also owns a business, I’m constantly struggling to make enough time for work. Even as I come up with solutions, a nap time changes or some other wrench is thrown into our schedule. The most important mindset I’ve learned is to go with the flow- not easy for someone like me who plans out every detail of every task beforehand. So as my time ebbs and flows, I’ve tried coping in a lot of ways. Some tactics work together over time, and some are just little tips I’ve tried along the way.
Side note- I was browsing through my husband’s golf magazine a few years ago (ya know, before kids when I had time to do anything nonchalantly). There was an article whose premise was “How to make excuses to skip out on family time so you have time to play 18 holes.” This is not that kind of article. I won’t tell you how to get away from your kids. I will give you some ways to make the time that you do have to work more productive so ultimately, you’re spending more time with the babies.
With that said, here’s my list of time management techniques for working from home with kids:
1. Get good project management software.
When I went solo, I transitioned from working remotely for an agency. One of my tasks at the agency was researching, choosing, setting up and deploying project management software for about 25 people. You can imagine that I was pretty invested in the software by the end. Once I started my own business, I know I had to keep using the same platform because I thought it was the only one that met all my needs. However, they had a minimum number of users and wouldn’t let me pay for a single user. I paid $70/month like a crazy person, because I was so attached.
Fast forward to having my last baby when I lessened my workload. I was bringing in less per month that I had in a long time. On this shoestring budget, $70 seemed insane. I somehow came across a different project management system called ClickUp that met all my needs. It was rays from heaven exciting. I used the free version for a few months before I needed the Time Reporting option, and now I just pay $5/month. So. Worth. It. The company is always coming out with new features, and you can easily submit your own if there are features you need.
The great part about having project management software is always knowing your priorities. As soon as you wake your computer up, you can check what tasks are due, which would be nice to get done, and which can wait until another day. I also use it to keep track of ideas I have for other projects. If I’m ever brainstorming, I check my #ideas tag and see if there’s anything that pertains to what I’m looking for. Project management software also has the benefit of being able to close out tasks, which is just as great as crossing something off a paper to-do list, without the pesky pen and paper.
2. Pay money for tools that help.
I’m always hesitant to spend money on things I can do myself, but being short on time has taught me to think differently. I pay monthly for software and memberships that allow me to spend my time more wisely.
- Project management software helps me stay organized and on-task, allowing me to get more done
- Paying for accounting software allows me to do quarterly taxes and end of year taxes myself, saving me money on hiring an accountant. You can read more about what accounting software I use here.
- My GSuite subscription lets me send email from my domain. I save all my files in Drive and do all my document/spreadsheet creation in Docs and Sheets. I never have to worry about version control or losing anything if my computer crashes. It even lets me back up my desktop, or any folder for that matter.For $5/month, just….wow.
- I even pay more for web hosting because of the security, backups, and customer support they provide.
On the flip side, I use the tools I have for as long as I can before shelling out for something more expensive. I used Power Point for “graphic design” for longer than I care to admit. Since I just needed to do quick text overlay and image manipulation, I didn’t want to pay for an Adobe subscription ($$$$$….$$$).
3. Schedule your tasks into batches.
By grouping similar tasks together, you have all the logistics in place to do a specific task. For example, If you schedule one segment of time for admin tasks like finances, you’ll have your software website open, your receipts envelope out, your bills out of their folder and in a stack, and you’ll be ready to work through them all without interruption. If you enter every expenditure the moment you get a bill, you have to do all those things every single time.
Something that I batch is client meetings. I only schedule clients meetings on one day a week, when I know my kids will be with their grandma. That means I only have to look like a decent human being one day a week (kidding… kind of). I don’t have to scramble for child care on other days of the week. And if they’re local clients that I’m meeting in person, I can stack them back to back so I’m not wasting time in the car going back and forth from my house.
An added bonus to batching is that you’ll be in the frame of mind to get the tasks done. If you do all your copywriting together, your brain will be in writing mode once the first piece is complete. If you’re looking for images online, you will be thinking more visually and be able to search for multiple images instead of one by painful one.
Helpful hint- The Chrome extension Toby is really helpful when you batch your work. It allows you to save groups of open tabs that you need for a certain project. Working on a client website? Open up WordPress, your client login sheet, website spec sheet, and old client website up in one click.
4. Get stuff done on your phone instead of playing
While working with my friend and coach, Danielle Dittberner, at Reach4More coaching, I was complaining that I just didn’t have any time to work. Of course, she wouldn’t let me groan about any issue without helping me figure out a way to get past it. My biggest time-suck was nursing my (then) 8 month old. As an attachment parent (I think?) I love being able to nourish my kids and soak up all of their little squishy baby love. But lets just say, it was getting excessive.
Danielle suggest pairing the two for a great solution. Instead of playing on my phone while nursing my life away, I should do work. That’s pretty obvious, but the hard part is in the planning. A few times a week, I have to spend a little time setting aside work tasks that are able to be completed on my phone. Spreadsheets and writing is usually out. Researching software, competitor research, email organization and social media moderation are great tasks to conquer on your phone.
To do this, you need some sort of organizer or note taker that you keep open on both your computer and your phone. I use the free Google Keep because of its simplicity. I’m actually typing this now on my phone in Keep. So meta.
I find being signed into Google Chrome on all my devices useful for this too. If I’m researching a topic and come across an article about another aspect of my work, I bookmark it to a certain folder named “Mobile Work”. Then, if I’m on my phone and bored, I open that folder and have something productive to read. Apps like Pocket and Evernote do the same thing with more bells and whistles.
If you love what you do like I do (see #15 below), you won’t even miss your Twitter feed full of anxiety-ridden political news that’s turning you into a prepper. Oh, that’s just me?
5. Audio everything
In order to make the most of my time doing housework, I combine it with something I enjoy listening to. When my husband is with the kids and I’m making dinner, I’ll play my favorite podcast on Stitcher. Same with folding laundry. I get to immerse myself in something I care about and I’ve got an empty laundry basket at the end of it.
6. Write everything down
Being a parent is full of enough task-switching to make anybody dizzy. I also know that one of my weaknesses is remembering facts and ideas. That’s why I write everything down. I keep a notepad sitting under my computer monitor for a running list of tiny little changes that are needed on websites I’m designing. I use Google’s Inbox Reminder widget to enter quick reminders into my phone. I use the same Google Keep app to create lists and organize my crazy ideas.
7. Think outside of the box for childcare options
Every few months as the kids go through a different stage and have different needs, or my husband’s work schedule changes, I have a mini freak-out about how I’m not getting any work done and that I’m just going to put the kids in daycare. Then I research daycares and realize that the time I would gain by having someone else watch my kids would be quickly overtaken by the cost of daycare. Holy paycheck, man. Thanks, I’ll keep my hard-earned cash and be there to help my kids learn the alphabet. But how? It takes some creative thinking, but at this point of my freak-out, I’m willing to try anything. A few things that have worked for us:
- I used to pay the high-schooler next door to come sit with my infant for a few hours while I got video calls done a few rooms over.
- A friend and I trade babysitting time once a week so the other parent can work, rest, or get some me-time.
- One grandma picks up my oldest to go shopping for a few hours so I can stay at the house and work.
- My oldest spends the night at his out-of-town grandma’s house once a week, giving me 24 hours to spend with baby, go to appointments and work, work, work.
- My husband plays forklift/dumptruck, races cars, watches TV, reads books, and puts said oldest to bed if I’m on a deadline. Some days I’m not there to send him into dreamland, and that’s okay.
- Sometimes babies just want to be held, and that’s okay. If No.2 won’t stop fussing, I strap on my baby carrier, stick her in, and sway away at my computer to keep her happy.
- For awhile I was getting up at 4am to get in a good 3 hours of work before anyone else in the family lifted an eyelid. Time goes by so fast in the morning and I got loads of work done. I actually can’t wait to start getting up early again. Right now my infant is in and out of sleep until about 10pm, so this isn’t an option for me at the moment. Like I said- you just have to adapt.
I always think there’s a way to make something happen if you’re determined enough. You’d be surprised at the number of people in your life who may be open to helping or trades. Does your local yoga studio trade babysitting for classes? (My friend does this!) Do you have friends who are taking their kid to gymnastics and wouldn’t mind taking yours along? It never hurts to have a conversation.
8. Systemize Everything
While working, I always try to look forward and ask myself what kind of impact my task could have in the future. Then I take a few extra minutes to make future me’s life easier.
- If it’s an email I find myself writing a lot, I create a canned email template.
- If it’s a single piece of information that is part of a bigger picture (that I’m going to forget) I start a spreadsheet to document it. Examples are API or License keys, software expiration dates, login information, even shopping lists.
- If it is a process that I repeat a lot, but have to look certain things up every time, I write down my workflow and create a project template in my project manager. Next time I have a similar project, I just duplicate the template and follow my instructions, updating the template for next time.
It pays to put the time in up front to make your systems run smoothly. It’s also the best way to be able to delegate in the future. Should you ever want to hire a virtual assistant, you won’t be stringing together instructions and resources as you go.
9. Be picky about your projects and clients
I went to breakfast once with a woman who saw an article of mine in a local publication and asked me to coffee. She wanted to build websites, but one of her concerns was having to work with awful people. My advice? Don’t.
You have to like what you do if you want to keep your momentum up in running your own business or freelancing. The quickest way to get burnt out is by letting others make you miserable. If you’re like me, you just replay the conversations and situations out in your head hour after hour. You can’t work or enjoy your free time when that happens.
Don’t be afraid to quit a client or a job.
Now, you will always have communication challenges, even with the best client, and especially if email is your only form of communication. I’m not telling you to bail when things get tough. But if a client is constantly disrespecting you or crossing boundaries that you gave, it’s time to set that little birdie free.
Same goes for taking clients/customers/jobs on in the first place. If you sense any red flags, you need to move on. This one is especially difficult for me. I’m excited to be able to work with local business people. And I avoid confrontation like the plague. This made it difficult to say no to potential clients initially. The truth is though, there are lots of reasons to not work on a project. The customer could be looking for services that you don’t specialize in. Yes, you could probably provide them, but it would take twice as long since you’re not an expert. Maybe their budget doesn’t align with yours. Get them on a payment plan, pare down your services to meet their budget, give a discount for bundling other services, but don’t reduce your fee.
It’s okay to say no. Practice saying no. Say it firmly, unapologetically, and kindly. You’re doing others a disservice if you know you’re not a good fit and say yes anyway.
I love my clients, and it’s because I’m picky about taking them on in the first place.
10. Set limits and boundaries
Decide what works for you and stick to it. When I quote a project, I have an idea of how long it will take and how many back and forth emails to expect. At first I just assumed that the client could read my mind and know those expectations. Tens of revisions through back and forth emails made me realize (duh) that wasn’t the case.
Type out every expectation you have for the amount of money you’re charging and include it in the contract. One round of changes in one email? Great. Reachable by phone only by appointment on a certain day? Fine. If you want unlimited changes and phone access, we may be able to work something out, but my time (and childcare) have to be accounted for financially.
Both you and your client/customer/boss will be happier if the expectations are set up front.
11. Decide on a schedule with your partner
I love that working from home gives me the flexibility to work outside of normal business hours, when it suits me and my family best. When child #1 came to be, I had to learn new ways to prioritize my time. Not only was I working, I had to put in the emotional labor to get those chunks of time to work. It was double the work. If a parent works outside of the home, it’s a given that they will be unavailable for a certain amount of time on certain days. For this to happen when you work from home, your work times have to be recognized by your partner as well. Have that conversation early. Put a calendar on the fridge or use a shared Google calendar on your phones to keep track of the time you need to be working. Do whatever it takes to make that time recognized as your work time.
12. Find a private spot.
Our house isn’t huge, so finding a private place to work isn’t easy. I have my desk set up in my bedroom where I can at least shut the door. Set your expectations of privacy with your partner in this regard too.
Some work-from-home-parents I know have to leave the house to be sure they have the quiet they need. Don’t be afraid to drive down to the neighborhood coffee shop, library, or friend’s house for a few hours. I also read about a trend of putting an RV in your driveway to have a separate home-office. Expensive, but creative nonetheless. Do whatcha gotta do.
13. Get a stand-up desk
The desk I use is an antique that my grandpa built from an old wooden table his own grandparents brought over on a boat from Germany when they immigrated. My dad was able to help me build an extension that lifts the top up to the exact 41″ that I need to work comfortably. I’m obsessed with it.
I’ve seen research that goes both ways, but having a stand-up desk makes me feel like I’m getting more of a workout than just sitting there. Since pushing a stroller is the only “workout” I can get in the months after having a c-section, every little bit of activity (or non-laziness) helps me to feel stronger. (Go pro- Stand on one foot for short bursts of time to increase core strength and balance.)
14. Create your own daily planner sheet
I was inspired to make my own planner when I found out about bullet journals. I can’t draw, but I cherish Excel, so I decided to make mine in Google Sheets. Once my own weekly scheduling sheet was done, I realized that it wasn’t a bullet journal at all, just a customized scheduler that took into account my needs at the moment.
For all upcoming events, I use Google calendar in my phone to schedule them. Every Sunday, I sit down and transfer the coming week’s activities onto the paper Weekly Schedule. Any activity that gets added to our schedule after Sunday, gets put on the paper Weekly Planner instead of Google calendar. I know some people can function with digital calendars, but it helps me stay off my phone throughout the day if I can glance at my clipboard and see what’s happening.
I highlight events and tasks once they are complete and cross them off if I didn’t get them done or they were cancelled. That way, I can look back and also have a record of what happened.
The planning sheet has taken on several different looks and features as my family, time, and goals have evolved.
Here’s a post that shows examples of what my weekly planners look like in detail. You can get your printable or editable copy for just 3 bucks. I encourage you to use mine as a template or create your own that has space for all of your activities and goals.
15. Try to find work you love
Being a stay-at-home parent is a job in itself. I believe each parent should have the opportunity to do work they love, if possible. My main desire in life is to be home with my kids while they’re this young. That’s my job. I also love the work that I do with digital marketing. I love learning all the time, making my clients happy, and knowing that my skills won’t be out of date when I do go back to work full time. Digital marketing is what I want to spend my time on. I also realize that I’m very privileged to be able to say this.
Anyway, my point is that all these tips will just make you more unhappy if you hate your work. I’m not advocating for parents to work themselves silly for the sake of feminism or staying in the latest SUV. We’ve had to pare down our spending because I’m not making as much as I would be working full time.
Another thing- don’t fault yourself if you don’t get as much work done as you had hoped. You are keeping other humans alive and happy, and that’s the hardest job you’ll ever have. Know that every year gets a little simpler and there will be a day when you can get to all your pet projects and crazy ideas. (And you’ll have them documented in your project manager so implementation will be a breeze.)
I hope these tips give you some inspiration for finding solutions that work for your family. Don’t give up, get creative, and allow yourself to change with the circumstances.
Have your own tips you think I should add to the list for other parents? @ me and let me know! @ydmasmallbiz