Being a work at home mum can be an exciting, flexible and liberating as well a challenging, sometimes lonely and even occasionally chaotic direction in which to point your career. Being a solo work at home mum can also be all of those things, but without an extra pair of hands to rely on when things get bumpy, messy and snotty as the combination of children, homes and businesses can sometimes get.
The lack of this extra pair of hands means that you’re the last line of defence in your home and your business. There’s no quick fix on-call if your children get sick in the middle of a new launch, there’s no one to calm that tantrum down while your chasing an overdue invoice or someone to throw dinner together when you’re on a deadline. But, it’s amazing how the humble human can adapt to their circumstances.
Since becoming a solo work at home mum, I’ve had less time than I’ve ever had in my career, and yet somehow I’m more efficient, I prioritise better, stress and guilt don’t wake me up in the middle of the night gnawing at my insides, and my work life balance is finally somewhere near balanced… well, in a circus tight-rope walker sort of way, at least.
So here are the top ten ways I’ve learned to find more time, productivity, calmness and flow in my day….
1. Set working hours that fit in with your most productive times
I work well in the morning and at night, so I set my most urgent tasks for the morning, use the afternoon to tackle easier or routine tasks and then do the bulk of my most productive work in the evenings. I know there’s no point sitting down to write an article at two in the afternoon; I’ll drag it out until it’s time to pick up my son from day care, but, if I sit down at 7pm, my desire to curl up in bed with my electric blanket will spur me on to complete that same task in half the time. When my son isn’t at day care, nap times become ‘power hours’ and I might squeeze in half an hour here or there to keep on top of urgent tasks and emails.
2. Embrace the ‘Ten Minute Tidy’
As you sit at your desk working on that task you can put off no longer, I promise that your dirty kitchen will call to you, and before you know it, you’ll find yourself furiously scrubbing the kitchen floor because it MUST be done that instant. If you don’t set yourself boundaries, this sneaky little time stealer will gobble up your day before you can say ‘Pass me the Windex’. I allow myself ten minutes per day to clean on a working day. I do it while the kettle’s boiling or while my lunch is cooking and focus on clearing the bench, the dishes, picking up the biggest chunks of food that my 19 month old has squished into the carpet and getting ingredients organised for the evening’s dinner. At the end I’m left with that happy house proud feeling with minimum precious baby-free time wasted.
3. Leave… Tha… House…Mumma
Being a solo work at home mum, it can be easy to let yourself get stuck at your desk, like FOREVER, but changing up your environment is a great way to keep motivated. The more motivated you are, the more productive you’ll be, and the more time you’ll find. It’s just like money, sometimes you need to spend it to make it. I get out of the house at least once a day. I head out to a yoga class, go for a run or grab my laptop and spend a couple of hours working at a cafe where there are people I can have a conversation with. It’s far too easy to forget about real people. Not people over the phone, not people over the internet, but real human contact with someone who has a face and maybe some nice smelling perfume, who can smile at you and perhaps even tell you how lovely you look today. Nothing boosts your motivation like a compliment and a good conversation.
4. Systems will set you free
Systems are the solo mum’s best time saving trick for work, life and play. After resisting them for years because I thought they weren’t worth the time it took to set them up, now systems save my butt every day, and they allow you to use less brain power on day-to-day tasks so you have more time to indulge in the spontaneous, enjoyable and interesting things. Systems can include things like meal plans, grocery lists, using direct debits for bills, online file storage, business process systems and holiday/overnight/day trip check lists. There’s so many ways that systems can set you free that I’ll be writing a whole article on it in coming weeks.
5. Clean out your email subscriptions regularly
Emails are time thieves. Unnecessary emails are the devil. If you haven’t read an email from someone you’re subscribed to in six months, it’s time to let them go. Last time I did this, I deleted nearly 50 subscriptions. Now they’re gone, I spend less time finding the emails I need to read and more time ticking them of my to do list.
6. Get dressed
When you first start working from home, the temptation to revel in the freedom of sitting down at your computer in your Ugg boots and PJs with hair akimbo every morning is just too much to resist, and fair enough too. You deserve it after years of slaving away at your desk wearing uncomfortable suits and stockings that ladder if you happen to even think about brushing past a filing cabinet on your way to the lunch room. But eventually, as the novelty and excitement of building your newly found empire starts to wear off, your mind-set is the most important thing that will keep you and your new enterprise thriving, and I’ve found that nothing is more unproductive than wearing clothes that make you feel like you should be snuggled up on the couch watching re-runs of Seinfield. You can still toss the suits and stockings if they’re not your thing, but even on a crazy day, a neat ponytail, jeans and a stylish cardigan (even if there are Vegemite stains on the shirt underneath), with a flowing scarf will make you feel a thousand times more like throwing yourself into work than your favourite ‘I Heart Cat Naps’ onesie.
7. Identify the need for back up plans
The biggest challenge I find with being a solo work at home mum is unexpected conundrums. My son doesn’t like me sitting at my computer, either he wants me to play with him or he wants to sit with me. If he gets sick and I can’t find a baby sitter, I can’t work, so each week, I try to do just a little more than I need. If I have a regular task I do each week, I do up enough for 3-4 weeks. And at the end of the week, I take a moment to spend a few minutes contemplating following weeks and creating a rough, yet flexible plan… ‘What would happen if I couldn’t get X done?’, ‘What’s the worst outcome if that happened?’ and ‘Is that so important that I need to create a back up plan?’.
8. Prioritise and let go
Every day I look at my to-do list and ask myself ‘Is this absolutely essential to achieving my key goals?’ If not, I dump it or move it to next week. If I’ve been really productive and find myself with a little extra time, then I get into those extra things. Don’t kill yourself. You can only do the best you can do in the time you have, and while quality and brand is important, there is a sweet spot where people can get the same value from your work if you can come up with a simpler/easier idea even though it may not be exactly the way you initially pictured it. As someone recently told me, ‘It doesn’t have to be perfect to be brilliant’.
9. Be portable
Everything on my desktop is also on my laptop – my bookmarked internet pages, image galleries, bookkeeping system and web mail, and all my files are synced through Dropbox. Essentially, I can work from anywhere. So if I do find my week’s grown a little more than I expected, or we want to head away for a few days on holiday, I can still sneak in a little extra work.
10. Use 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner
I know, I know, it’s sort of an 80s thing and not really the cool trend these days… but out of desperation to find a few extra minutes in my day, I tried it, and I can happily say, I’m now a convert.
How do you find those few precious extra minutes in your day? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page
About the author
Naomi is the editor of Lift e-Magazine and single mum to 19 month old Jim. For the last 12 months she’s documented her journey of single motherhood in her award winning daily blog ‘365 Days, a Diary of a Newly Single Mum’. When she’s not experimenting with new cookie recipes or planning her next trekking, climbing or snowboarding adventure, you can find her at her desk in the picturesque city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, weaving together solo mum stories… whether it be handy tips, triumphs, tragedies, exotic tales of travel or other tidbits to publish here. And before you ask, no, she doesn’t mind the freezing cold Tasmanian winters and yes, she had her second head removed years ago in an unfortunate accident involving a curtain rod and a drunk moose (and no, she’s not interested in hearing from anyone who doesn’t believe that drunk mooses exist in Tasmania… or those who may suppose that ‘mooses’ is not really a word).