Balance: to bring into harmony or proportion.
Isn’t that what we all strive for in our lives? I’m fortunate to be a work-at-home-mom (WAHM), and I’d like to share with you a little about how I got here and some tips for creating work-life balance. It’s important to note that achieving balance between work and personal life needs is a moving target, and each person has to work out her own unique solution. However, improving your circumstances is possible if you’re willing to make some changes and establish good habits.
Let’s be honest, working from home sounds ideal. You can control your own schedule, take your work wherever you go, and accomplish all of your work from the comfort of your couch while wearing yoga pants and rocking the messiest of messy buns. Meanwhile, if your child is sick, you don’t have to take a day off from the office or have to leave work in the middle of the day to pick them up. You are more available for your family. What’s not to love? Those were some of the reasons for my decision to leave my former career as a full-time teacher and enter the world of virtual assisting.
I am the co-founder and president of Patriot Advantage, and we have primarily military spouses on our team who work remotely for various clients around the country. My husband Brett and I are passionate about providing work opportunities to military families who are striving to have more balance and stability in their lives. We know first-hand what a blessing it can be and how it can improve the quality of family life.
When I have my initial call with each applicant I’m always very honest about the realities of working from home, especially when the family has young children. The two biggest challenges I’ve personally encountered, and many of my team must overcome, are having to establish our own unique work structure and coping with feelings of being overwhelmed.
Having complete freedom to work when it’s most convenient can actually make it more difficult to establish a routine, especially if you are accustomed to a structured work environment imposed by an employer or you have a chaotic schedule at home. Fortunately, there are some helpful techniques for establishing structure.
Failure to plan is a plan to fail.
Create a daily routine and use an online calendar that you review every Sunday for the upcoming week, then review and update it each day. Schedule every meaningful thing you do throughout the day. For example, my calendar includes events for waking up and getting the kids ready, travel time to drop off my daughter at school, time for exercising and completing my personal morning routine, and time for sitting down to focus on work. You will also find blocks of time when I am not available for phone calls and meetings, all of my children’s activities, and even my husband’s activities. A good idea is to also include your meal plan for the week. Both my husband and I use a Google calendar. I “invite” him to all the activities he needs to be aware of, and I add pertinent notes in the invitation.
Find your most productive hours.
Don’t do laundry and don’t wash the dishes when you’re most alert. If your mind works better early in the morning, make that your scheduled time to work. If you have young children who are not in school yet take advantage of nap time, or if they don’t have a nap time, establish a consistent daily “quiet time”. I strongly encourage not using technology as a way to distract them on a regular basis or for extended amounts of time. I get it, trust me. I have an eight year old and a four year old, and I’ve had my fair share of desperate moments over the years when I needed them occupied so I could work. It’s so convenient and easy to hand your child a tablet or turn on the TV in an attempt to steal away some uninterrupted time to focus. What we can’t ignore, however, is compelling data that doing this consistently and frequently is harmful for children. While a simple Google search yields many available resources, click here for one excellent article on encouraging independent play for toddlers.
Are you friends with another WAHM? An affordable way to have help during the week is taking turns with a trusted friend or family member who is also home with small children. Alternating a day of the week when you can each receive a long break and uninterrupted time to focus can be very helpful. If you don’t have that friend in your life yet, join mom groups and start networking! Join a local online community and attend meet-ups. If one doesn’t exist in your area, create one! It can be hard to put yourself out there, especially if you tend to be introverted, but it’s so important to have a small tribe of people who are going through similar life situations who can be mutually supportive with help and advice. Working from home can sometimes feel isolating. Leave the house, get some sunshine, and connect with others.
Coping with Feelings of Being Overwhelmed
Your client is calling you, the baby is crying, you have to make dinner, and you have a thousand other items on your to-do list that need to be complete by the end of the day. Sound familiar? Part of your normal schedule needs to be taking care of yourself!
I’ve listened to multiple podcasts, attended numerous conferences, and read blogs and books by different speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs that all give the same message: Start your mornings strong. This may require you to wake up before your family. I personally love waking up when the house is quiet and I can sip my coffee slowly. I read a devotional, set my intentions for the day, get myself ready, and listen to a podcast that nurtures my mind. If you’re able to throw in 30 minutes of exercise in the morning, do it! On the days that I stick with my morning routine it makes a significant positive impact. Establishing a new habit can be difficult. Creating a productive morning routine is one habit that’s been a game changer for me personally.
Set personal boundaries.
Don’t take calls before and after set hours. Establish your normal business hours and stick to them. As soon as you respond to a client during hours that are dedicated to your family or yourself you create an unrealistic expectation for your client that is not sustainable long term. Excepting true emergencies, be protective of your time.
Turn off notifications on your phone when you have “clocked out” for the day and don’t sleep with your phone beside your bed. It’s so easy to feel like you can’t truly disconnect from work if you constantly have notifications going off and you look at your phone before you go to sleep and first thing in the morning. Get a traditional alarm clock, or if you prefer use an electronic assistant such as Amazon Alexa to set alarms.
Many of us have a natural tendency to say “yes” when asked to do something because we don’t want to disappoint others. It takes a healthy level of self awareness to know, understand, and respect your limitations and the reality of your capacity. Learn what that capacity is and how to say “no” kindly but firmly. Set realistic deadlines, manage expectations, and be kind to yourself by setting aside time for rest and relaxation.
Celebrate all victories.
No matter how small! Give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself! We seldom celebrate our own successes and just keep moving on to the next item on our priority list. Slow down and recognize yourself for what you’ve accomplished. Call someone and share the good news! Treat yourself with a healthy reward and practice writing down your successes.
The competing demands working mothers face daily challenge us be there for our families, contribute some (or all) of the household income for material needs, and still have a modicum of time for ourselves. Getting the balance right is tough, but achievable. Are you a WAHM? What techniques do you find helpful for maintaining balance? What other challenges do you face?
-Mary Elaine Baker