Being a work-at-home mother can be hectic and stressful, especially with multiple children under school age. But I find the rewards are sweet when I get to the end of the day and realize I met two major deadlines and got to spend the entire day with my amazing kids. I have found that the key to working from home with little ones is time management, prioritization and preparation.
It is near impossible to keep a strict schedule when young children are involved. Because fevers, play dates and sugar rushes can easily throw a child's schedule way out of whack, they often end up telling you when they are going nap, eat, and bathe. This type of living is hard for control freaks such as me, but that is one of the great things about having children; they end up wearing you down until you give up some of that self-defeating control. That is actually a good thing and often serves as a lesson in patience. Accepting this reality is part of the process.
That being said, it is still essential to have a general schedule to follow if you want to get anything done. Here are some good ways to stay organized while being flexible, so you can be there for your kids and your clients.
ESTABLISH A SCHEDULE
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For you and the kids. This helps you know to when it is time to eat, play, run errands, and work. Do not be too strict with the timing. For example, instead of planning to eat breakfast at 8:30 and clean up at 8:45, plan to eat and clean up anywhere between 8:30 and 9 or 9:15. That gives you some wiggle room, alleviates undue stress, and makes time for the inevitable crises involving going to the potty, diaper disasters, refusal to eat anything green that day, you get the idea.
At the beginning of the day or even the night before, it is essential to make a list of everything you need to accomplish during the day, both personally (grocery shopping, ATM, cleaning, etc.) and professionally (emails and phone calls, deadlines, etc.).
It is way too easy to put too much on this list, which will leave you disappointed at the end of the day when it is not all done. Only include what is most important and what you know you can complete before you go to bed that night.
KEEP BUSINESS AND CHILDREN SEPARATE
Literally. I have tried laying my laptop down on the floor amid the building blocks and toy cars. The overwhelming feeling I got from trying work within clutter was enough to stress me out, let alone my children trying to type on mommy's "puter'' or yelling into my ear while I was trying to type an important email to a client. It simply did not work.
Putting my computer in a separate room did not work either because I need to be able to supervise my children (ages 8 months and almost 3 years) almost constantly. So, I created an area in the living/play room on a table with no toys around. This provided me with a workspace that was very close to the kids, but separate with its own purpose.
KEEP DESIGNATED WORK AND PLAY TIMES
My baby needs much more attention than my toddler, so I reserve most working times (except for an email or call when it is urgent) for when he is sleeping about two hours in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. And, of course, I make sure I reserve special time for my toddler when neither the baby nor work are distractions. This makes her know she is significant and mommy still has time for her.
OPTIMIZE TIME WITH KIDS
Reserve times to do dishes and clean up at the end of the day, or perhaps once midday and then at the end if you have a brood of super messy kids. The same goes for work. This helps with that nagging "always something that needs to be done'' mentality, which robs you of the simple joys of just playing with the kids. At the end of the day, you will feel like you made the most of your time with the kids instead of blew them off just to do laundry or work.
If you know you will be super busy tomorrow with a play date, laundry, and a project deadline, make sure you prep the night before once the kids are in bed. Have meals planned, snacks packed, clothes laid out, laundry sorted and be clear about exactly what you need to get done to meet that deadline so you can get busy when they kids are down for naps. These little tasks can take a lot of undue stress off your shoulders when activities are back to back throughout the next day.
There will always be things on your to-do list no matter how hard you work to accomplish everything. Moreover, while it is important to try to keep a schedule, toddlers and babies often have other plans. Just remember that it is impossible to be Super Mom (trust me, I've tried), but with smart organization, prioritizing and planning, everything becomes more manageable and your life as a work-at-home mom will become a joy.