I love being able to work from home. It allows me to contribute to my families income, be here when my kids need me to be here, and do a job I really love doing. I love the flexibility, the opportunities to travel and do other cool things, and…the dress code is pretty sweet, too. No one looks at me weird when saunter up to the Keurig in my holey sweats because most of the time, I’m the only one home during my work hours and my cats don’t care what I wear as long as their dish has food in it. My biggest challenge as a work at home mom is organization. I love the idea of organization but it is the biggest thing I have struggled with all my life, in all areas of my life. The start of a new school year is almost like the start of the new calendar year for me. There’s a desire and an inspiration to start fresh without the pressure of resolutions. This is the time of year when I focus what I want out of the rest of the calendar year and for some reason, since it’s a shorter span of time than 12 months, it works. I sat down last week and really thought about what I want to get out of the rest of this year and being more organized needs to happen if I’m going to achieve my goals. With that in mind, I’ve put together some tips on how to stay organized as a work at home mom.
This is an updated post originally published in 2018. Things have…um…changed (Hello Pandemic) but these tips are still valid. I’m just utilizing them in a different way.
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How to stay organized as a work at home mom
1. Get at least one planner…
…and use it. I feel like I needed to throw in the “and use it” part because I’ve bought a ton of planners because I either thought they were pretty or I was on a “I’m going to get organized right now” kick and failed to use them. I need to find some Pinteresty perfect way to repurpose old planners that I wrote in for one month and then dumped because I have a lot of those.
I think it’s important to find a planner that really fits you. I’ve used Erin Condren in the past and decided recently to make a switch. I’m still using my Erin Condren products for the remainder of 2020 and here are the two I ordered for 2021:
I’ll let you know how I like them. I use two planners, one for my business and one for personal and family things. Sometimes they overlap and I write personal things in my business planner and vice/versa, but having something separate works for me. I also like having a notebook that compliments or coordinate with my planner to make lists and set goals.
I ordered a new notebook for myself as a birthday gift. It’s a little sweary (so you were warned) but you can see it here. And, if you’re born in some other month besides September, they make those, too.
2. Make lists…
…and use them. A post about how to stay organized as a work at home mom telling you to “make lists” might seem like kind of a “duh” but don’t overlook the obvious. A good organizational routine should be pretty basic. If it’s overly complicated, you probably won’t stick with it.
I make a list each evening before I go to bed of things I need to get done for my business that next day, or at least I really try to! Some things have gone off the rails since everyone has been home and I’ve not been quite as on the ball with organization.
I might have gotten a little carried away on ordering organizational tools from Amazon:
I really try to not put personal things on my work t0-do lists. If I have a heavy “mom life” day, I put less on my work tasks list and I make sure I prioritize them with what absolutely has to be done that day, or else. What doesn’t get crossed off of today’s list probably goes on tomorrow’s list, depending on what it is.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as “work life balance.” I hate that phrase because it implies your work stuff and your rest-of-my-life stuff are supposed to be in balanced and that you should spend equal time on each. It just doesn’t work that way. The scales are always going to tip on one direction or another and we’re constantly adjusting and pivoting.
I also do other lists…sometimes I do generic “things I need to do this week” lists or “blog posts I need to write” lists. Since I travel so much in (or at least I did before COVID-19) one of my most valuable list-making tools is lists of “things I need to do before I leave.” Those lists have pretty much saved my bacon since my normal work rhythm is altered during and right after trips…as much as I tell myself I’m going to work on the road, I’m terrible at it.
See also I miss traveling all the time.
3. Set office hours…
…but give yourself permission to change course, if you need to. I put this one on the list with some trepidation. One of the reasons I’ve chosen to be in business for myself is because I like the idea of being flexible. If I need to stop what I’m doing and go to a school event or deal with a sick kid, I can. Restricting myself to preset hours makes it less…well, flexible.
Before the pandemic I typically didn’t work between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. This was the window between picking up my kids and their bedtime and I’m hoping things get back to that rhythm soon and I’m also hoping to make the “after hours” working the exception, although I do kind of like that quiet time at night.
Even though I work for myself, I do a lot of freelancing and contract work, which means my world is very deadline driven. Sometimes, my laptop is sitting on my kitchen counter while I make dinner and, while not ideal, it sometimes gets things done.
4. Acknowledge that work from home means work
I know…again, pretty obvious, but hear me out. You might encounter neighbors, friends, family, other moms in your neighborhood that think working from home means you’re available to do whatever.
“So, you’re home all day, so can you…”
“Jenny is sick, since you’re home all day can you watch her?”
“Why can’t you come to lunch/volunteer at the spring carnival/do the thing I want you to do? You’re home all day!”
I’ve stopped trying to convince other people work from home actually means…you know…work. There was a time where I felt I had to justify the “So…what do you do all day?” question with a laundry list of tasks that would prove I was gainfully occupied. Like any other worker, I start my day with a long list of things I need to do and limited time to get them done. Just because my office is in my home and I wear comfy leggings or sweats doesn’t mean I’m not working. I know it…if someone else chooses not to acknowledge it, not my problem.
Batching means dedicating blocks of time to similar tasks. It takes some doing to get used to, but it’s a huge time saver once you do. I dedicate chunks of time to writing content, answering emails, editing photos, and so forth.
Right now, I assign a particular day of the week to a particular type of task. Monday is social media, Tuesday is email catch up, Wednesday is content creating, and so on. It doesn’t mean I only do emails on Tuesday but Tuesday is the day I go through and delete things that I don’t need hanging out in my inbox and make sure I answered all of the non time sensitive things that came in during the past seven days.
One of the biggest enemies of successful batching is social media and email. When you’re doing a specific batch task, stay off of social media and don’t look at your email, unless you’re expecting something extremely critical to come in.
6. Give yourself some grace
Working at home requires some trial and error. If things didn’t didn’t work out the way you planned, don’t beat yourself up. Adjust. Because you can. Because work at home moms are flexible like that.