If you have a family, you know working from home can be a challenge. Kids get underfoot, spouses interrupt, telephone calls disturb, and friends stop by at the worst possible moments. It seems like you’re always playing catch up to get work done or feeling guilty that you’re not spending enough time with your loved ones.
Even if you’ve trained your loved ones to respect your work hours, there’s still the challenge of maintaining good work-life balance. With good organization you can have the best of all worlds: a balance that fits everyone’s needs and a smart schedule that gives you the right amount of office time—and some playtime.
1. Start Scheduling
Grab a blank weekly calendar and start penciling in family activities and obligations. Beginning with these gives you the opportunity to work around your life—and avoid feeling that life revolves around work.
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As you start building your schedule, be realistic and honest about how much time each activity takes from your day. People forget to factor in the time it takes to drive to activities or settle the kids in before starting to work, which means they have to work extra hours to catch up.
2. See What’s Left
Once you’ve scheduled your life activities into your calendar, look over it and see where the empty blocks appear. Here’s where you can see whether you have enough time to get all your work done or need to rearrange life activities to give yourself enough room.
Remember that you can also hire help to free up some work hours. You don’t have to do it all, and it’s often well worth it to pay someone else for certain tasks so you can free up time to earn income.
Watch for patterns in your days, too. You may notice that you’re productive in the mornings but a sloth in the afternoons—so use the morning time to get work out of the way and take care of less strenuous tasks in the afternoon.
3. Expect the Unexpected
When adding to your calendar, it’s a good idea to book in an hour of “unexpected” time every day. This block of time is a free hour that lets you deal with any unexpected delays, events, or interruptions that might arise unexpectedly.
And if nothing occurs in your day that you need to dip into that hour of “unexpected” time, well, you just gained an hour to do whatever you’d like.
4. Be Your Own Bulldog
Guard your time like a bulldog. Those hours are your office hours, and your family and friends need to know that so that they can avoid disturbing you. It’s best to set regular work hours people can rely on so they can easily remember when you’re “in” the office and when you’re free. Post your office hours everywhere.
Setting regular office hours for yourself is also great for customer—they know exactly when you’re available and can get in touch with you, and you won’t feel pressured to check your email every 15 minutes when you’re off duty.
Help family and friends respect your work hours, too. Don’t get up for every interruption. With a smile, cheerfully remind them of your work hours and tell them you’ll come to see them as soon as work’s over. They may not like it at first, but your family will soon come to respect your work time because you respect it.
5. Get Focused
Treat your work hours as sacred. Let phone calls go to voice mail, close your email and stop Twittering and Facebooking when your time’s up.
Balancing work and life means being effective with the time you have to work, so don’t waste it on distractions and interruptions.
Working with young children at home is more challenging. So be creative and try to make your office hours fun for them so that you can focus on what you need to do. Set an egg timer for 30 minutes and then find a fun activity that will keep kids busy.
6. Break It Down
Before you begin working, start by breaking down your time into small chunks of tasks. By planning bite-sized tasks for your work hours, you can maximize your time and get a lot more done. Sitting down without a plan usually results in spending your time picking away at a bunch of things that don’t get you anywhere.
Get focused. If you have an hour of time to work, use the first 30 minutes to clean up 10 emails. Use the next 20 minutes for social media networking. Take 10 minutes to call a client. And use the last 30 minutes to write a draft blog post.
7. Take Care of You
When you made your schedule, did you remember to pencil in free hours and playtime? Probably not. Book an hour each week for a long bath and a good book. Block out 30 minutes each evening to read a story to your kids. Schedule a movie night with your partner. Don’t forget to schedule in a good eight hours of sleep every day. Shortcutting on sleep can have detrimental effects on your work productivity.
Heather Allard is a mother of three kids, Hope, Grace & Brendan — and one big dog, The Dude. She’s also the founder of TheMogulMom.com, a website for moms who run a business, raise a family and rock both. You can find her on Twitter at @heathALL.