I’ve been a work-from-home stay-at-home mom with kids in and out and all around during my work day for the past five years. For many of you this is your first experience with a long-term work from home arrangement with your family in the background. We’re all trying to co-exist and keep up with life as normal while being cooped up with our loved ones 24/7. Here are some tips I’ve learned about how to be more productive while working from home.
Make A List of Priorities To Crank Out During Your “Quiet” Time
Any stay-at-home mom knows that uninterrupted time is limited when kids are around. Having a plan for what needs to happen during your “quiet” time is the key to maximizing your efficiency. When my kids were preschool age, my quiet time existed only during naps so I had to fit in everything I couldn’t do with kids at my feet during that two-hour window. I’ve found that my school-age children only have about three hours of schoolwork each day so I know I have to use those three hours as efficiently as possible before the stream of interruptions begins. I’ve found it’s easiest to plan my priorities the night before so the minute they are settled and occupied with their school work I am poised to focus on my priorities.
Keep A Clean Workspace
Before I sit down to work at the start of my day, I do a quick five-minute clean-up. A tidy workspace helps me focus better. It doesn’t matter if you sit at a proper desk with your computer and papers on the table in front of you or if you kick back on your favorite chair with your computer on your lap (as I do), the tidiness of the space around you is like a brain-clearing activity. The less clutter around the more I feel centered and focused on what I am supposed to be focused on.
Make A List of Thoughts
I am easily distracted. The ping from my phone notifying me of a new text to the random thought that pops into my head, anything can steer me off course. When random thoughts come in I write them down on a notepad next to me so I don’t forget them. These are usually important ideas or things to do that I want to get to — if I ignore them I worry that I will forget later (and then I’m distracted by my worry). If I address the thought in the moment I have trouble getting back in the groove of what I was doing and lose a lot of valuable time. Plus there’s the likelihood that it will lead me on a trail of other distractions. You see the dilemma. Writing my random thoughts on a notepad is a mental release for my brain so I no longer worry about forgetting an important thought and I can maximize my productivity with the task at hand.
Turn Off Notifications
That pesky slider at the top right corner of my computer can do a lot of damage to my focus. New email? What does it say? I must know right now! Patience and curiosity get the best of me. I recognized a while ago that these are avoidance and procrastination habits. It’s a mental break from what I’m doing. Switching to another tab makes it more likely, however, that I will open three more tabs before I get back to what I was working on. The solution: turn off your computer notifications during work hours. You can do the same for your phone. I usually place my phone just out of reach to eliminate the desire to reach for it. Also, keeping my “to do” list on a pad of paper next to me and not on my phone (point 2 above) helps. If you are anything like me, the moment I reach for my phone I forget why I reached for it in the first place. I see all of my new texts, emails, and social media notifications and I’m off in la, la, land.
Work Smart and Batch Your Work
I used to fly back and forth between my tasks: making phone calls, trying to write, and fitting in the minutiae of life like planning rides for my kids and scheduling appointments. I thought I was being productive zooming through my to do list but I found that I am actually more efficient when I group my tasks together. To the extent you can, batch your work into time blocks. This might not be possible for you depending on the type of work you do, but if you are in control of your schedule it looks something like this. Scheduling an hour to make all of your calls. If you need time to write a legal memo or to write or think freely, schedule a two hour window where you focus exclusively on that. Since a task like writing or creating needs more focus schedule that time during the block when you anticipate the least amount of interruptions from kids or your spouse. Schedule calls later in the day when your might be around but you can walk into another room if you need a quieter space.