If you’ve ever tried working at home as a mum, you know it can be almost impossible to feel like you’re actually being productive.
With my first daughter, I went back to working at home when she was 6 weeks old. With my second, I was a little more prepared and started when she was 8 weeks old.
Living in a remote area meant no access to childcare and my partner worked long hours 6 days a week. So, I was a one woman show, juggling a toddler, baby, the housework, cooking….oh and running my own business!
What was the biggest lesson I learned?! (Apart from coffee is a gift from above?) It’s impossible to do it all! After a few stressful, periods of guilt and self loathing, I realised that some things just had to slip and that was ok. However, along the way, I did learn a few little tricks to make life a bit easier.
Working at Home With a Baby
Get your baby (and you!) on a schedule
Just like working at an office, set hours for work, eating, and sleeping for you and the baby. Once your baby is a few weeks old they are old enough to start getting on a feeding and sleep schedule based on the number of feeds they need per their age.
Plan on doing your work after baby has eaten, played and been awake for a bit, and is down for a snooze.
Of course, your baby is not a machine and there will be inconsistencies, but eventually, your baby will get into a feeding and sleeping schedule and become predictably hungry at sleepy certain times (just like you!).
This also allows you scheduled times to eat and sleep, which is very important as your health your primary priority as a mum.
Are you a new mum? Take a look at our post on new mum loneliness!
Carve out a designated workspace
I don’t’ know about you but working on a kitchen table full of clutter or a sofa loaded with piles of laundry gives me anxiety.
Find a desk, or a small table, or some surface that is solely designated for you to work on. Make an effort to keep it uncluttered and wiped off so that you actually enjoy working there.
If you have space and want to take it one step further, claim a bedroom as your office. This is nice for your spouse too (if you have one) as now there is a dedicated space for your computers, papers, and other documents.
Having an office makes working from home far more productive because you can close a door and “go to work.”
Plan your work schedule
Look at your workload for the week and plan out a designated time for you to work.
For example, if you think you’ve got 15-20 hours of work that week, plan one to two hour chunks throughout the day to get work done.
With a baby, it’s almost impossible to sit down for more than an hour at a time, and realistically that’s only possible if they’re sleeping. When my kids weren’t in school, I did two hours while they napped in the afternoon and two hours in the evening after bedtime – after dinner and family time.
Don’t work when the baby is awake
Trust me on this one. You may think you are superwoman and can meet a deadline while balancing your laptop on your lap and keeping an eye on the baby at the same time, and it may work sometimes, but it is not a consistent way to plan your workload.
Babies require so much emotional and physical energy even when they’re awake and just sitting there.
Trying to juggle both work and baby at the same time is very stressful, unproductive, and will make you feel guilty that you’re not giving your baby as much attention as you’d like.
You can take advantage of some bonus chunks of free time if the opportunity arises, but see them as bonuses and not dependable sets of time to work.
Nope, this isn’t a typo. You need to find a way to schedule some exercise in your day if you want to be the most productive for work.
After you and baby have eaten breakfast, put baby in a baby chair, a swing, a stroller, down for a nap, SOMEWHERE off of you so you can stay healthy and get those endorphins flowing.
Even if they fuss the whole time, remind yourself that they are fed and dry and it is ok for your baby to cry – they voice their displeasure at change just like we do and crying is their only way to voice their opinion! Trust me, they will get used to being put down for periods of time.
Not only will exercise keep you healthy, but it’s something productive you can do while baby is awake that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower.
In fact, exercise helps clear away those sleepy cobwebs. You don’t even need to pay for a gym as there are lots of free videos on YouTube or reasonable subscription workout programs.
Working at Home With a Toddler
Tips for working at home with a toddler is very similar to working at home with a baby, but with a few minor changes:
Adjust feeding and sleep schedule
This schedule will adjust to just one nap during the day versus the multiple times a little baby needs, but stay on a schedule with your toddler just like you did with a baby.
The times the baby would take little snoozes throughout the day you can replace with them watching a show or independent playtime.
Start Independent Playtime
You can actually start this with your toddler when they are babies! Starting with 10-15 min, create a space and a time for your toddler to play by themselves.
Let’s say you want an hour to work while your toddler isn’t napping. A week before you want to start implementing this, prepare a safe space where they can’t hurt themselves and start talking to them about how they’re going to have time to play with toys by themselves.
Put on some music, set them down with some toys and books, and walk away. I used a wi fi camera or a baby monitor so I could still watch them when I wasn’t in the room or area, but you could just go around the corner if you are worried about being too far away.
They’re probably going to fuss, no doubt about it, but most kids get used to it after a week or two and you can start extending the time 5-10 min at a time as they grow to get better at playing alone.
It’s a skill to learn like anything else, and it gives you valuable time to work or do other chores (or relax!).
Take a look at our post on toddler independence next!
Only work when they’re asleep or in independent playtime
Same tip as when you have a baby. In fact, this tip is even more applicable for toddlers as they are far more active and hard to keep an eye on!
Save yourself some stress and do not plan on working when your toddler isn’t asleep, playing alone, watching T.V., or being watched by someone else.
When the Kids are in School
Ah, sweet freedom! Now that the kiddies are in school you have some breathing room to get more work done, but you’ve still got to manage your time. Here are a few new, and not new, tips for productivity.
Get a day planner
Believe me when I say you may think you’ll have more free time when the kids are in school, but it’s amazing how much time those after school activities take.
Not to mention, if you are dropping and picking kids up, the amount of time you spend in a car is unbelievable. Get a calendar to schedule kids’ activities and the time you plan to work.
I use the one on my phone but if paper ones are more your style you can buy one at almost any store.
Plan your work schedule
The kids are in school the house is quiet, hooray! Now I have so much time to work, you say, but first let me clean this or fold that or prepare dinner or shoot I need to walk the dog, etc. etc.
Protect your time by still planning your work schedule for the week, as your household will compete for your time even when the kids aren’t there. Now that the kids aren’t in your hair you can carve out longer uninterrupted chunks of time to work but make an effort to work the same time periods each day just like you would in an office.
This is also nice because you have a consistent time you can receive work calls or video chats.
You hoped I would forget this one, didn’t you?
Get off your behind and schedule your exercise time in your fancy new day planner you just bought.
Since kids are in school now you can even wrangle another mum friend to join you certain days for that extra kick of motivation.
Remember exercise is not about being skinny- it’s about getting endorphins flowing and keeping your body strong and healthy so you can be there for your family for years to come.
Clean off your workspace (or office)
Not had the time to clean your office or desk? Now you do. Take the time to declutter your workspace and make it somewhere you actually want to spend time at.
Plan one day a week (or a few hours) to work outside of your house
If you have a coffee shop in your town, plan one day a week where you get out of the house to work.
The kids are in school so why not take advantage of your freedom? I picked Friday as my work from the coffee shop day as my reward for working so hard during the week.
Getting a change of scenery and a delicious coffee or tea does wonders for the soul and shakes up your routine a bit so you can get fresh inspiration.
I personally am guilty of not getting dressed to work from home, especially when the bus comes to get the kids.
However, when I plan a day where I know I’m going to work at a coffee shop it makes me get dressed. I enjoy the opportunity to put on my favourite pair of jeans or any outfit that makes me feel good.
Plan some free time
You read this correctly. Plan some free time in your workday. Watch an episode of your favourite show, go thrift shopping, grab lunch with a friend (maybe on your work from out of the home day!), call your mum.
Just step away from your computer and take a breather.
Study after study has shown that breaks actually increase productivity because human beings are not robots and our brains need to switch gears to work at their best.
Just don’t get sucked into more than one episode!
Take a lunch break
Your kids take a lunch break at school and so should you. Plan a 15-30 min lunch break. This could also coincide with your daily free time.
Surprisingly, I actually found it was kind of hard to work at home once the kids were in school.
When they were home, I had no choice but to focus super hard on work during the couple of time chunks I scratched out for myself because working when they were up and running about was impossible.
When they were gone, that urgency wasn’t as strong and I found myself getting sucked into the social media scroll or wandering to the fridge more often.
Put a time limit or lock on your phone for certain apps during the time you schedule yourself to work. Sometimes, work requires social media so of course, this doesn’t always work but the idea is to set yourself up for success during the time you do have to actually work.
Keep your goals in mind
Working from home is still hard work. Remind yourself that you are awesome and you get to make money from home and not have to deal with a commute and office drama. You are a great mum no matter what!
Looking for a job? Check out our post on the best jobs for work at home mums next.