I, like so many others, work from home. The majority of my day is spent in my house. I didn’t always work from home, and one of the biggest problems I find myself facing is separating my day. Generally when one works outside the home, we have our commute to switch focuses. It becomes an automatic process that takes our main focus off of that project that is due to tonight’s dinner or the kids activities.
But now, I don’t have that automatic switch anymore. I find myself exhausted by dinner time when I really don’t feel like I have gotten that much done, in any category of my day. Could it simply be because I am bouncing between all these different categories all day? Both physically and mentally. I think it was.
So how do us, work from homers, find a balance, find a way to focus our attention on one task at a time?
Dedicated Work Space
Regardless of what it is you do from home, having a place to use as a dedicated work area is key. We have an office set up in the basement, as well as a school room and hang out space for the kids. The office is nice if I need to spread out, and where I store my supplies and the majority of my work related stuff. Unfortunately, I’m not always comfortable working down there. We needed a large space. I have a lot of stuff, and my husband is also self-employed and between the two of us there is even more stuff.
To solve this problem, I refinished an old family secretary and put it in an unused corner of the family room. It has a few shelves that work great for my most referred to books. Little cubbies inside for small supplies and I use the drawers below to store binders and current files. My laptop fits perfectly on the fold out work space, and the best part is that it is all contained to a few square feet of space.
My dream is to have a two-story library study with floor to ceiling shelving. A place where I can escape whether it be to read or to work, but until then this little few spare feet of space works great.
Where do you currently work? Is there a spot you find yourself consistently going even if that isn’t the place you intended to? If so you may want to consider switching some things up like I did. I really thought I’d spend most of my working time downstairs. But I ended up on the couch or at the kitchen counter. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, could you repurpose something to create a little work haven? If you do have the space to completely rearrange spaces you may want to consider that as well. We have done that in the past, we completely rearranged our old house around. Literally, people traded bedrooms, the dining room became the family room, the family room became the office and the office became the master bedroom.
I know most of us probably already have a schedule. Sticking to and even checking that schedule may be a different story. My day was supposed to go follow this general schedule: kids up and ready, do school, lunch and clean up, freelance work, personal work, dinner and family time. It never went that way. I found myself multitasking, and not very well.
But multitasking really wasn’t the worst problem. It was the unexpected or the tasks that didn’t really fit into another category. Grocery shopping, paying bills, having a nice day and deciding to take the kids to the park for P.E. and not to mention those projects that pop up and need to be completed.
Realizing that a general schedule like this wasn’t really practical for my life, I set about to change it. But how?
I still have a general plan. I tried to think back and figure out when different tasks were completed best. The kids do better with school in the morning, I tend to be more efficient with work in the early afternoon, and so on. Not to say that we always stick to it either. The stores are usually emptier in the morning, so I try to go grocery shopping early. If an idea is viciously nagging at me, I might work first and school later.
But now the first thing I do everyday is plan that particular day out. I go over our curriculum plan and make sure it is still on target for what and where we are. Check my editorial calendar and make a to-do list for work. I also include home and family related things. Since I know I can’t work with a mess around, I do my portion of the cleaning while the kids are having breakfast, the kids do their chores after lunch. This is still a challenge, depending on what chores they have for the day, and also since my oldest goes to high school and is not homeschooled, his chores aren’t done until he gets home. So sometimes I have to do my best to ignore any messes while we do school, and sometimes when I’m working.
Anyway, having a more fluid schedule allows me to switch things up based on what needs to happen that particular day. But having an overall general plan helps make the daily planning easier to plan.
Regardless of where you decide to work, and how you schedule your time, finding switches, those moments or tasks to switch your focus may just be the most important. I guess, these might be considered habits or mini-rituals. When I fill my coffee cup for the second time, I grab my planner. After I help the kids get started with lunch, I get myself set up at the secretary. Basically instead of changing focus in the car during my rides to and from work, I’m creating a different kind of commute. When my oldest gets home from school, if possible, I stop working.
But what about all those interruptions we encounter? If you’re a parent and your kids are home with you during the day, it’s guaranteed you’re going to face many of these every day. If there are naps involved you might be able to get a few hours each day where you know you can crank out work without child interruptions. I think kids are the biggest interrupters, not that other people/things can’t interrupt. I don’t care how old a child is, if you tell them you are working, but they can see you, it doesn’t matter much. You’re physically there so therefore you are literally there as mom (or dad), and that’s that. I just try to remind mine what I’m doing, and even though I have very little patience, to teach them to have some.
Deciding how to deal with those types of interruptions has more to do with your parenting style and the ages of your kids. I could give you advice about what I do, but if it doesn’t make sense for your family then it’s pointless. There is only one piece of advice I can give at the moment: It’s literally about choosing your battles. Sure you can make sure you have talked to them about the importance of what you are doing, give them something to do to occupy their time too. It may limit interruptions to an extent, but they still come.
Sometimes it’s more simple, a phone call for example. We basically have to decide if we need to take that call now, or if it can be returned later. There are times when we need to decide before we begin a task that the only interruptions we are going to accept are ones of dire need. Life and death! Easier said than done, but with practice this can get easier. If you do choose to have set times each day that you will be doing something you prefer not to be interrupted, let friends and family know. They should be able to respect that.
There isn’t a foolproof way to limit or deal with interruptions, the idea is to really deal with each one as it comes. While trying not to lose the focus. I try to keep my mind going on what I was doing. Basically multitasking.
Working from home isn’t always as wonderful as it sounds. Although it definitely has it pluses. There are plenty of issues that come into play that make keeping that same focus we would have commuting to work difficult. None of these tips are foolproof, none of them are guaranteed to help solve all your problems. But I would really like to hear any tips you may have. It’s a process, finding that working grove, that will take time and effort to get.