When you decided to become a work from home mom, you imagined how productive you would be. Not only would you be able to throw a load of dishes into the dishwasher, but you’d be able to fold clothes while on a telephone conference call, too.
Now that you’re actually working from home, not only are the dishes piling up in the sink, but you haven’t done laundry in two weeks, either. And the clean clothes? Forget it. They’re in an ever-shrinking pile in the corner of your bedroom.
So what happened to being organized? Ironically, it’s harder to be organized when you work at home than when you’re in a traditional office job. But there are ways to stay organized and be productive when you work from home. Read on to see how—and to see when you should really be washing your delicates.
Create your workspace. If you don’t already have an office space or an extra bedroom that you can convert into an office, you should take a walk around your house. Pick a spot that is not smack dab in the center of the action—like the kitchen counter—and where you won’t be fighting with mops, brooms or other household items. Choose a location that can be yours indefinitely, and make that your dedicated space.
Set your hours. If you don’t already have a schedule set by your boss, it’s a good idea to come up with one. Having regular hours ensures that you can get your work done in a timely manner without working over your allotted hours. It also keeps you on track—and focused—by giving you a deadline by which to complete your work each day. If you work a little here, and a little there, you might end of stretching an 8 hour day into a 10 or 12-hour workday—and your mind will be scattered.
Make a list. In order to stay organized, a list (or four) is essential. When you make the list is up to you—you can carve 15 minutes at the end of your day to assess what needs to be done for the next workday, or you can write it all down the next morning while your computer is loading. A list is extremely helpful because it is a tangible reminder of what you need to get done during your day, before daily distractions interfere.
Be semi-formal. When you worked in a traditional office, you had to wear a suit every day…even during summer Fridays. By far, one of the major perks of a work at home job is that you can show up to work (i.e. your desk) wearing whatever you want. But that doesn’t mean you should work in your jammies all day, either. Showering, changing out of your PJs and putting on something professional (yet comfortable) is a key step in helping you to mentally transition into work mode. After all, if you look and feel sloppy, it can cause you to be disorganized in your thoughts—and your work as well.
Find your peak hours. Everyone has a time of day when they feel their best. Perhaps you’re a morning person, capable of getting most of your to-dos done by noon. But you might be a night owl, coming up with your best ideas—and increased productivity—while the rest of the world slumbers. Figure out when you have the most energy, and then adjust your schedule accordingly, giving yourself tougher tasks to perform when you’re at your peak and feel the freshest.
Avoid doing housework. You innocently slip downstairs to put your bedspread into the washer when you notice that the kids have left their breakfast dishes in the family room. As you put the dirty dishes in the sink, you replace the paper towel roll and wipe down the counter. Without realizing it, 20 minutes have passed—and so has your deadline. While it makes sense to do some housework when you work at home, it can be one of the biggest distractions. It may not be the most exciting way to spend your lunch hour, but organize your household activities for your break times instead.
Clear your desk…daily. At the end of each workday, clear the clutter from your desk. File important papers in folders and shred the rest. Wipe down your desk (including your keyboard, mouse and screen) and remove any lingering coffee cups. The idea is to leave your desk as you would like to see it the next morning, clean, neat and organized. That way, you will feel energized—and not deflated—when you sit down at your desk tomorrow.
Screen your calls. Your family and friends all know that you work from home. So why does your Aunt Linda constantly call you at 10:30 AM, right when you’re in a mid-morning work groove? People who don’t work from home have a hard time understanding that while you are home, you are actually working. So it’s a good idea to clarify to your callers that you can’t be interrupted during certain hours. But if your bestie keeps ringing your number, it’s best not to pick up the phone. That way, your clamoring callers will get the hint, and you won’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.
Take breaks. It may seem counterintuitive to take breaks when you’re trying to stay organized and maximize productivity, but you’ll be far more successful if you take mini breaks throughout the day. To help add order to your day, try to take your break at the same times throughout the day.
Focus on one task at a time. Sure, everyone wants to consider themselves master multitaskers, but the reality is that humans can really only do one thing at a time effectively. So shine some of that laser-like focus only on one project, and do it really well. After all, if you have 10 windows open on your two computer screens, are on a conference call while you write that press release that was due an hour ago, you’re going to do a bad job at all of it. Like everything else, it’s about quality, not quantity.
Be flexible. You may have done everything possible to ensure a distraction-free day. But then your child became ill and had to come home early from day camp. The thing is, when you are a work at home mom, things happen. And since you’re most likely the manager of your home, it’s up to you to handle it all. So don’t beat yourself up if your day isn’t as productive as you might have liked it to be. One of the beauties of having a flexible schedule is that you can—and must—be adaptable. When your sick camper hits the hay, you can always jump back on the computer to complete your work—and get it all done.
While working from home has so many benefits, it can be an ocean of distractions if you don’t know how to navigate it properly. Stay focused to keep a clear, organized workflow, and watch your productivity soar.