Monday, March 10, 2014

WAHM Organization: Working from home when there isn't enough time in the day

Every now and again, I get questions about how I manage my time working from home with a child (Riley is 7 months old) and a husband, who is working full-time and in grad school.

After a few years of working from home, I do feel like I've worked out a lot of the kinks that cropped up when I first started. First, let me give you a little background:

Before I began my life as a WAHM, I worked in Human Resources for a manufacturing company at their largest facility in Tennessee. I frequently worked on cross-departmental projects that required a lot of organization and time management, so I got a pretty good base in handling a variety of projects at the same time. While I was working in HR, I was also freelancing as a graphic designer, so that added another layer of multi-tasking.
When my husband and I decided to move back to Mississippi so he could continue pursue his Masters of Nursing, my company asked me to stay on as a telecommuter part-time as I started my design business. At the time, we didn't know that our family would be growing so soon. Now, I'm glad that I had the chance to get comfortable working from home before Riley came home.

Here are a few of the things I've learned while working from home:

1.) Structure is key, but it has to be the right fit:  When I first started working from home, I got up early in the morning and went into the office, so I could be accessible to my teammates during their normal working hours. Because we were spread across two time zones, occasionally, my day would start at 7 a.m. Eventually, as I transitioned out of HR and into my design business, I started working at crazy hours of the night while my husband was on shift at the hospital and pretty much every day. It didn't take long to realize that I was burning myself out and losing a work/life balance.

 Now that our son is here, I have found that it is much easier to work throughout the day as he is playing or napping. I only work at night if I have a time sensitive project. I also try not to work on the weekends anymore, but this means that during my busy seasons, I need to work daily. I try to stay on top of my incoming projects instead of letting them build up like I used to. By staying on top of things, I can prevent myself from going into a work binge and losing critical family time. Some people find it helpful to assign "work hours."

2.) Work where you are most productive:  I used to have an office before we adopted Riley, and frankly, I felt stifled working in there. I wasn't comfortable. I didn't like sitting in an uncomfortable desk chair all day. I hated the quiet. When we converted that room into a nursery, I started working in the living room with access to the stereo and TV. I liked the ability to have some sound going on, but it still wasn't a good fit working at a desk.

We recently purchased a Macbook Pro to prevent computer traffic jams with my husband working on schoolwork, and wonder of wonders...I LOVE working in a more mobile situation. Other designers are out probably there hissing and boo'ing that I don't work with a ginormous monitor and my old design set up, but frankly, for most projects, I find that I don't miss it. If I run across something that I need the dual monitors for or a more powerful set up, I just move to the desk. I will say that my productivity has increased ten-fold since "allowing" myself to move to where I am most comfortable.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box. If you're not comfortable working where you are, then you're not going to work, which will really kill that whole structure thing.

3.) Don't put off until tomorrow what you can get done RIGHT NOW: We've all seen it. The email inbox overflowing with customers and orders and requests for quotes. I know, I know...None of us REALLY like to dive into an inbox bursting at the seams, but it's a necessary evil that gets just plain unmanageable if I keep putting it off.

I check email a few times throughout the day, and I respond to customer emails immediately, even if it's only to say, "Let me put together some information on that and get back to you." Delete old emails. Sort important ones into folders.

In regards to other projects, if you have a project that you're putting off. Stop. Just as soon as you do that for one or two things, you'll get slammed with twenty new projects tomorrow. Take ten minutes and knock out what you can. With kids around the house, I know it's tough. I kill my to-do list during nap times and when Riley is playing, often working in short bursts throughout the day. Some days you just DON'T want to work. It's okay to give yourself a break, but don't give yourself a break for a week unless you want to scramble to catch up. (And if you do that, COMMUNICATE with your clients. Tell them you're taking a "vacation" and wrap up as many things as you can for them before you go off the grid. That's just good business.)

4.) Treat it like a real business:  I know this seems so common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people WON'T treat being a WAHM like a business. Pretty frequently, people tell me it must be nice to "not work" and stay home with my kid all day. Well, it's amazing to have my kid with me all day, but I work, I assure you, AND I do it while caring for my 7 month old. Some people just can't make the connection that you CAN have a successful business from home and be a mom/dad at the same time.

I've found that it's incredibly important to introduce processes learned from working in a traditional office to lend legitimacy to my business and give me some sanity. I have a work-only email address. I have a work-only Facebook page and website. When work is really insane, I also use a business phone. I give people notice when I go off the grid. I treat customer service with the highest importance. I spend time filing and organizing using project management software and an agenda. I have processes that tell me how long it should take to design/order/deliver a certain product.

And DO NOT minimize what you do. If you minimize your business, other people will too. If you treat your business like a hobby, it IS a hobby.

5.) Use the right tools for the job: Find an agenda/organizer that works for you and your business. Use it. Are you tracking your accounts payable and receivable by sticking receipts under your keyboard? Stop that. Get a ledger/excel spreadsheet.  Are you keeping track of how much time you're spending on work? Download a project management app that allows you to track time spent. I guarantee you that you're probably working more hours than you think you are. If you're using a notebook to write down projects, and you're losing track of what's going on. Try using one page per client/per job, or switch to a spreadsheet or other productivity application. I track projects by creating a folder in my project app and then a folder on the desktop of my computer. Everything pertaining to that job in regards to initial sketches, illustrations, mock-ups, everything goes in that file labeled by project title and date. After a few weeks/month (or whenever the project is completed), I move them to an archive.

The important thing is to find a system that works for you and makes sense to at least one other person. My former boss used to call it the "get hit by a bus" back up plan. Who will step in and help you if you get sick? Your spouse or best friend or mom?  Then make a system that makes sense to other people as well as functions for you.

Organize. Organize. Organize.

Now, tell me. What works for you?  What do you struggle with working from home?

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