It is no secret that being a mom is not an easy job. There is so much that needs to be taken care of every day that it can be hard to get everything done. And that’s before you even start thinking about trying to get work done for your actual job! If you try working from home while looking after your kid, it takes about 30 seconds to realize that you’re going to need a whole new system in order to get any work done.
In order to make a work-from-home career a reality, you don’t just need dedication. You need smart strategies, flexibility, and patience while you figure it all out.
One of my favorite examples of a mom who’s grown her business from home alongside caring for her daughter is Janis Rodriguez from Mi Trabajo Mi Casa (My Work, My Home). Janis had her daughter at 18 and quickly realized that she needed to figure out a way to make money from home so that she could look after daughter while also providing for her. After working at a call center, she started working as a freelancer and then later found success starting her own blog.
I asked Janis for her top tips on how to grow a business while working from home and caring for a kid, and here’s what she says are the keys to her success.
If you’ve got a toddler running around, it’s nearly impossible to find those 4 hours of pure focus where you can sit down and make real forward progress with your business. But it might not be so hard to find 20-30 minutes of quiet here and there where you can complete small tasks without disruption.
If you have a list of tasks that take 4+ hours each, you’re setting yourself up for interruptions and distraction, which doesn’t just make your job harder. It makes it take longer, too.
Did you know that it takes an average of approximately 25 minutes to get back in the flow of a task after being distracted? That’s according to a study on digital distraction from Gloria Mark at the University of California, Irvine.
Janis says that 25 minutes is literally the length of each task on her list. While other people were getting their focus back, she just finished a task.
Instead of just making a list of all the things you need to do, make a list of 25-minute tasks that move you towards your goal. Then every time you get that 20-30 minutes, you can knock something off your todo list.
What I’m talking about might sound familiar if you’ve heard of pomodoros before. The idea is that you work for 25 hyper-focused minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Do that 4 times, then take a longer break.
Janis says that in all honesty, she doesn’t always manage 4 pomodoros in a row before something comes up and she needs to take a longer break. But she says she does stay 100% focused on the task for each pomodoro she completes, and that’s the key to getting things done.
With so many little things (and kids) demanding your attention, trying to maintain focus long enough to finish anything is a challenge. You’re always around your stuff, and there are always a million things that need to be done.
Sticking to 25 minute pomodoros will let you block out the distractions for long enough to get something done. Complete several of those every day, and you’ll find that you’re having productive workdays, even if your work schedule looks disorganized at first glance.
Try to consider where you are doing your work. Your brain associates different parts of the house with different activities. If you hang out on the couch to watch TV then sitting there and trying to work is going to be distracting because your brain is not used to focusing in that spot.
Setting up an actual home office may help you to get into the right mindset. You can restrict the things you surround yourself with to ones that will help you do your job. It will make you feel more professional, and this will make it easier to stay on task too.
If setting up a home office isn’t an option, pick a spot in the house, such as a particular seat at the kitchen table, and make it a dedicated work zone. Don’t sit there at other times, and make a point of sitting down there every time you go to work. Your brain will start to associate it with focus, and you’ll find yourself slipping into “work mode” more easily every time you sit down.
If you’ve only got 30 minutes left before naptime ends (or before your kid gets bored with his/her current toy), the worst thing you can do is spend the first 10-15 figuring out the how to spend your time. Always have a list of short tasks that need doing which will move you towards your goal. Then when that 30 minute countdown starts, you can kick into high gear and make real progress.
If you don’t have a list of short tasks ready to go, spend that 30 minutes writing out your todo list and breaking all your big tasks down into small steps so that the next time you get a moment to yourself you’re ready for it.
When your child goes down for a nap, that is a perfect time for you to get some real work done. Likewise, you will also be able to accomplish things once he or she goes to sleep for the night or early in the morning. Don’t expect to be able to work the way you used to, and be ready to take advantage of the free time that does come your way.
Part of this will depend on the type of work that you are doing from home. If your work requires silence, then you will likely not be able to do it while your child is awake. If you have a job that is a bit more flexible, then you can try to grab every spare moment. Either way, just try not to stress yourself out. Look for the most opportune moments to accomplish some of your tasks and be patient with yourself while you find your groove.
This is a hard one for a lot of people, and there are a few ways to take this advice. If you are lucky enough to have family members in your life who can help you out, then it will be very beneficial to make use of them. If your parents or family can help look after your child for a few hours, then that will give you some time to really get your work finished up.
Sometimes you can set up playdates for your child with other kids as well. If your friends with kids are willing to help for an hour or so, then it can make a difference.
If this isn’t an option, think about how you can get more help with your work tasks. For example, if you run a blog, a lot of your work will be similar from day to day, so you can create systems to outsource the work and get twice as much done.
For some people, the cost of this might seem prohibitive at first, but Janis says she really recommends considering it, since it can make a big difference in your output and how much you earn. Janis says in her experience, the cost of outsourcing is usually well worth the gains.
It is also important to not bite off more than you can chew with a work-at-home job. Your responsibilities as a parent are going to take up a lot of your time. Sometimes you’ll get tired and need to take a break in order to be more effective the next time you sit down to work.
Try not to commit to doing more than you are actually capable of accomplishing. As you get used to finding the right balance between your work life and parenthood, you need to be able to figure out just how much you can really do in one day.
Keep your expectations reasonable and always try your best. Worrying about whether you’re doing enough or doing well enough will end up stressing you out and making it harder to focus in the long run, so just relax. Try the strategies I’ve listed, and give yourself time to figure out the system that works best for you.