Home Office Management for Parents: 7 Tips for Managing Your Time
By Debbie Williams of Organized Times
As a working mother you can budget your finances, create whiz-bang proposals, and effectively maintain a client list. But when it comes to working at home with unauthorized personnel, those under twenty and less than five feet tall, your mind draws a blank. The thought of your three year old picking up the phone and sharing her philosophy of life gives you the shudders, and you're not quite sure how to balance family time with productive work time.
Use these seven tips for managing your time, and effectively limit interruptions from your own residential staff.
1. Set office hours and stick to them. Post this list on your fridge or bulletin board where your family can see it, and remind yourself to close up shop at the appointed hour. Being accessible 24/7 is not the road to success if you are spreading yourself so thin that your family barely recognizes you and your phone rings around the clock. Focus on work during office hours, and then transition into parent and spouse mode at the end of your day.
Performing a simple ritual such as closing your office door, straightening your desk, or making tomorrow's to do list will help you move from worker to parent in a simple but effective way, even if your commute home is just down the stairs or across the kitchen.
2. Close the door and walk away, or put up a decorative folding screen to block the view of works in progress. If you walk by your home office or desk piled high with reports, it's hard to focus on what your family needs from you. Although many of us can and do multi-task quite well, it's fairly impossible to concentrate on everything equally well -- something you hear and respond to will suffer in the process.
Mentally hang a CLOSED sign on your office door, and resist the urge to reopen for "just one more thing." Your family will thank you for it!
3. Establish boundaries: create a "do not touch" pile or "do not enter" zone in your work area. Determine how much input you need from the members of your family when it comes to work, and let them know what you expect from them. If you allow your four year old daughter to color at your desk so you can keep her nearby, then don't be surprised when she colors your sales report or presentation handouts. Consider making a niche or small desk for her to use as her own office, complete with office supplies. Be sure to instruct her in the use of your office, such as what is usable and what is not allowed so that there are no future misunderstandings.
If you do not want anyone in your work area under any circumstances, then tell your family your wishes up front. Don't wait until there is a disaster to notify them of the rules. One of my clients made her rules crystal clear by hanging a construction paper sign on her door: Stop Sign meant do not come in under any circumstances (work in progress). A yellow Smiley face meant come on in and keep me company- let's work together.
4. Create phone rules such as: no talking allowed, use an inside voice, or whisper when mom or dad is on the phone, screen calls during melt downs or family time, do not allow children or unauthorized persons to answer your business line or only with instruction.
Early in my business as a professional organizer, I instructed my husband and my young son to whisper while I was on the phone. Not only does this prevent unwanted background noises during a business call, but it also teaches them to respect your privacy when talking with a client. And since I work from home and often choose to answer my phone near them, I am respecting their need to carry on a conversation.
Screening your phone calls during temper tantrums (and we're talking about your kids here,
not you!) helps you focus on home matters when they need to be a top priority-- don't worry about the caller; if it's important, he'll call back or leave a message. Use caller i.d. to your advantage-- I have a unit on every phone in my house.
Unless you have older children or phone savvy spouses, I recommend that you don't allow anyone else to answer your business line. Even if your family member answers professionally, you may not be ready to speak with a potential client or answer an important question at the moment, and don't need to put them on the spot as a gatekeeper. When you're elbow deep in diaper changes or mediating a fight among siblings, the last thing you need is to switch gears and speak to someone wanting to sponsor your sales conference! Choose wisely.
5. Assemble a quiet Activity Box during special times such as phone calls, writing time, or during times when you need to really focus on your work. If your children are infants are toddlers, stash toys in a milk crate or wicker basket and pull these out before returning phone calls or sitting down to balance your checkbook. Preschoolers love looking at books or creating masterpieces with markers, and these should be used only during special times. Older children might enjoy watching a video or working with modeling clay, and that usually provides you with 15 minutes or so of uninterrupted time (if you're lucky).
If all else fails, just tell your little Junior Partner that Daddy needs a few minutes to finish working on a very important project, then set the kitchen timer and place it in view but well out of reach. When the timer rings, the coast is clear and it's time for some family time with Dad.
6. Use Kid Multiplication when all else fails: give them 10 and get back 20. It's amazing how perceptive our sons and daughters can be when it comes to sensing stress. Quite often, children are like barometers, and taking a break when they suggest it is just what the stress doctor ordered. If none of your tricks work, then it's time to just set the work aside, take a short break, and read a story or work a puzzle. Tell a joke, have a snack, or plan a slumber party. Your child will let you know when he's had enough, and before long will be back at building towers and fighting aliens. After a short kid-break, you'll be rested and ready to get back to work for a few more minutes. I've seen this magically happen time and time again, both with the clients I work with and in my own home. I guess it's fair to say that if you just can't beat them, join them.
7. Work WITH not AGAINST your kids' schedule by utilizing naptimes or when they are in school. This is probably the best advice I can give to anyone working from home, especially if you are just launching your home business. Trying to force your family's schedule to fit into your mold creates tension and upheaval. If your children are young, work when they are napping or after they go to sleep at night. As they grow older, you can do a little work when they are having a snack at the table or in their highchair. Then when the kids arrive home from school or your spouse walks in from a busy day at the office, it's time to take a break and become the best mom or dad you can possibly be.
When the kids are awake needing your attention and affection, it's time to evaluate your priorities and determine how much you will be available to cater to their needs and desires. This is something that every parent has to figure out for himself-- there is no magic formula. But I do know that eventually you will figure out the right balance for you and your family. You can choose the easy route, by keeping the lines of communication open and reassessing the rules on a regular basis, or take the bumpy road and work around the clock making your family resent you and your business. But the journey can be rewarding and filled with wonderful adventures- happy motoring to you!
Previous Columns by Debbie:
Organization On the Move
Automate your Life
Debbie Williams is an organizing strategist and founder of the online organizing forum, www.organizedtimes.com. She is the author of
Common Sense Organizing, from Champion Press.
Copyright 2001, Debbie Williams