In the years leading up to when my youngest child started school, one of my goals was to slowly create paid work opportunities for myself I could do primarily from home. My husband works long hours and I am the default parent. It’s the way it works for our family. I’ve found it better to find paid work I can do from home instead of entering back into the external work force.
When I started this blog, back in 2009, I didn’t even think it would become an income source, but opportunities opened up in that area and I capitalised on that. This blog isn’t my only source of income (through advertising, content creation and sponsored posts), I also find work outside the blog through these other avenues:
- Run monthly small business networking group called Good Conversations with Ngaire from Brisbane Kids.
- Write freelance articles for various online websites (outside of this blog)
- Manage Social Media for pages and provide social media strategy consulting
- Run workshops
- Develop creative content for brands
Freelancing from home is a dream, and yet I also find it challenging. Like most things, it’s a juggle. Below are seven tips I’ve used over the years to help productivity while managing the house, the family and my freelancing work:
My priority is to be a good Mum. And I often remind myself of this. That doesn’t mean that I always drop everything to be with my kids all the time, but there’s a focus there. I’ve learnt to pull myself up if I hear myself constantly saying “just a minute” and take the time to stop when I need to. You work from home. You have kids. It’s never going to be conducive to perfect working conditions but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a positive thing. It’s important for me to dedicate time to spend with my children and family without distractions or I always am caught up with writing “just one more email”.
2. Establish a work area (even if it’s in your head)
For the entirety of 2010, I had no designated work space. It was pretty much me and my laptop wherever I could find a bit of space. I’m blessed with a relatively large family so I don’t have a spare room, however I have created a small work space in a corner. This has been important for my productivity because everything I need is there where I need it, and I can pick up from where I left off at any time. I still work from my laptop anywhere and everywhere, but having a go-to station is important (even if it’s a small hall table with pens).
3. Do a little housework first
If I don’t do 30 minutes of housework before I do other jobs, the house doesn’t function well and, after a while, it impacts on the family. I’m not talking about a few busy days when you let the house go, but the commitment to running a harmonious family. And in the end, a harmonious family is helpful for my productivity anyway. I work best when I can focus without the I-haven’t-hung-out-the-washing weight hanging over me. So I throw myself into 20- 30 minutes of dedicated housework most days before other work so I can keep the house running.
4. Find your window of inspiration
This discovery has been huge asset to my productivity. You know when everything comes together and you get so much done? That’s your window of inspiration. Usually these sorts of bursts are few in far between. And for me, work is generally comprised of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Depressing? Maybe. But there is good news. Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern when I’m most productive and have learnt to capitalise on these times. I usually work my best mid-morning to just after lunch. About 10:00 am -1:00 pm. This is when work comes most naturally to me (after coffee has kicked in and tiredness hasn’t). It would make sense for me to work at night, after the kids are in bed, and I do, but I’m weary and – especially in terms of writing – I find it hard to think and put articles and posts together at night. So, I do the bones of my writing in my window of inspiration, and do other tasks when I’m not so fresh.
5. When do to what
Establishing my window of inspiration was the first step in being more productive. I then slotted tasks into my day. There are three steps to determine this:
Step 1: List all tasks and work out what tasks take up the most brain space. Brain space for me is a very precious thing!
Step 2: Categorise (and colour code) the tasks into three groups in relation to how much brain space is needed and an extra category for the general every day running of a household. When I’m at my best is when I plan to do my hardest (and often most important) work. This is a sketch of what it looks like:
Step 3: Then I break up my day into time slots in relation to my productivity and regular family. The example I have included below is from my weekday structure a few years ago when I still had my son at home with me. Now, it’s a little different but I still use the same principals to create a productivity skeleton.
Note: This is ONLY a loose skeleton, it never ran beautifully to plan, and none of it was fixed. It was about giving my day a little structure and choosing when to do what. Most of the work areas marked were interrupted…but mentally I prepared myself for those times to different types of work and made sure my son had an activity to do close by. Some days I wouldn’t work at all, and other days, when my son was at pre-prep, I worked longer and more solidly. It’s all a juggle and developing a general guide on how to structure my day helped me to be more productive.
Note 2: I have to research for Social Media and schedule posts as part of my job, so that is a clarification on those time slots.
Out of the 17 hours I’m awake, I have a window of 2 hours when I’m most productive. So during that time, I write. And focus. And push other jobs out the way.
Understand: I use this schedule as a general guide. Life never runs to schedule so I always stay flexible. However, having this system in place gives me confidence and freedom to find the time to invest in certain types of work when I need to. For example, if I have a deadline looming, I need to ensure I organise my day to take advantage of my window of inspiration. This means I may have to say no to a catch up with a friend or reshuffle an appointment so I can restructure my day.
6. Social Media Downtime/Stop Multi-Tasking
Facebook, Pinterest and other social media outlets are killers of productivity (unless social media is the work I’m focusing on). In my window of inspiration, I close down all social media channels so I’m not distracted. I call this Social Media Downtime. It’s done wonders for productivity. Another advantage of having a productivity schedule is to avoid multi-tasking during the peek working time and focus intensely on one task at a time.
7. Get out
One of the challenges about creating paid work opportunities from home is it’s always, always, always, always there! For me, this can make it hard to switch off. That is part of the reason why Ngaire and I run a networking group because it’s important to get outside of your own space, mix with other like minded people and share information and ideas.
I gain a lot of satisfaction from creating work opportunities from home, and it’s certainly worth the juggle for me. Having a productivity system has helped!
BrigitteNovember 29, 2014 at 3:32 pm
Thank you for sharing this post. It’s been a real reminder for me as to how to use my time more efficiently. Not only that but it’s also made me feel human again as “family time” for me takes up the same amount of time as yours so I can relax knowing it’s pretty “normal”. God knows how you get up at 5.30am!!! I find it soooo difficult these days now I’m not doing an ounce of exercise and I think I’m also still catching up on two years of waking every 1.5 to 2 hours in the night for a feed. 10.30pm usually creeps to 11.30/12 for me and one or two nights of that ends up affecting the mornings … and the whole day! I must admit, I got up at 6-ish this morning and snuck in some yoga before going into my 3 year old who was sitting there in her cot patiently waiting. God bless her!
Karin @ Calm to ConniptionNovember 30, 2014 at 6:26 am
Great post. I am working on my balance at the moment too and have had to realise that I am at home and first I am a Mum (just like number1). So easy to get swept up in it especially if you are having a very productive brain moment!
TonyaNovember 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm
Thanks Kelly. Looks like I’ll be doing some work with hubby next year and I’m pretty concerned about how I’m going to continue to balance my “at home” work with my “outside” work. I love your idea of identifying tasks that need more concentration and scheduling them into your best times. I fear I’m going to be writing blog posts at 5am when I’m alert – if I can only sustain that every day!
TaraDecember 1, 2014 at 10:15 am
Thanks for these tips. I’ve started working from home since sept and am finding balance and prioritising difficult. Your article has helped me get some perspective but also great ideas on managing my time so I’m not always feeling guilty that I’m not being mum enough or not working enough!
HollyDecember 1, 2014 at 12:07 pm
Thanks for a great post.
I especially liked the section on the window of inspiration and being able to identify when that timeslot is. Also, getting a bit of housework done before you start, I actually did that today and it’s a nice feeling knowing the dishes are in the dishwasher and it’s running. Never mind the ironing, the kitchen is a good start.
I often find myself feeling guilty, that I’m “meant” to be working while my baby naps, but if I’ve been up once, twice, three times the night before, I’m going to be tired and not at my best to get any work done. I find it hard to be as alert as I used to be before I had children, but I wasn’t coping with interrupted sleep back then either! I think this post for me was a gentle reminder to take it a bit easier on myself.
TierneyDecember 1, 2014 at 6:36 pm
This is good stuff. I also make sure that email doesn’t beep at me and turn my phone to silent if at all possible. I never look at email during writing time as it is an absolute time sponge.
I also find it helpful to have cut up a bunch of food like apples, carrot, cheese and celery, completely ready and on a plate in the fridge to snack on when I need to. Eating helps me to stay awake and focus, and I often don’t want to take time to make lunch. Making it at the same time as the kids’ lunches works for me. That way when I’m ready to start writing I don’t need to think about it.
I also have an App called “Things” which is kind of like an advanced diary, calendar and to-do list. I can put in “someday” jobs as well as the next task on a project and even due dates. It doesn’t beep at me, but does give me a list of jobs for each day on top of my ordinary stuff. When a project has more than 2 jobs to do then it goes in the ap so that I don’t forget it. Getting all the jobs out of my head and into a reliable list where they can’t be forgotten is a big key for me for achieving serious focus. If a job is bugging me then it means I haven’t planned it well enough in the ap. Also, reading a book called “Getting things done” has been really helpful. It comes as an iBook too and is worth the money.
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 1, 2014 at 8:04 pm
I always love your tips Tierney. So practical!
ReneeDecember 2, 2014 at 8:48 am
Thank you Kelly…. I’m finding social media a killer for my productivity, seeing how you break your day up, I am soooooo spending a few minutes today mapping out a daily plan. I have a deadlines list, but I’ve never broken my day into detail like this 🙂
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 8, 2015 at 11:02 am
No worries Renee! So glad you found it helpful! it really helped me to have a map in my head, especially for when I was most productive.
Maria @ Mummy Goes MadJanuary 7, 2015 at 5:58 pm
This is such a fantastic schedule/routine and great advice. Do you mind me asking when you made time to marriage/connecting/alone time with your husband. I have a 19 month old, 3 month old, trying to write my blog, social media, have just relocated overseas, about to move into our new house (living in temporary accommodation), trying to keep house slightly organised (fail most days), trying to learn about blogging and social media, dealing with the kids, trying to get out of the house and then also trying to just give myself time with my husband so that I don’t completely ignore him when he gets home. Oh yeah and also trying to figure out how to get more sleep as the kids are waking due to our overseas relocation. haha. Not sure how I am meant to juggle it all. Like you I’m in now rush to make my blog “big” or anything but I would like to build it and lear it in the right direction as I would like it to be my business one day when the kids go to school. I’ll certainly be implementing parts of your schedule to my life. Great advice on the half hour of house work also! I need to do that.
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 8, 2015 at 11:01 am
Ah, you sound like me! We are about to move overseas (in a week) and are living in temporary accommodation at the moment. So crazy! I feel your pain!
That’s a really good question Maria, and so important too. Making time for our marriage is a shifting thing, and this year especially, my husband and I have found it challenging to find time together because he worked away from home and so hasn’t stayed with us consistently. So in a way, my work keeps me busy and occupied. My husband’s job is always going to be very consuming, so I’ve had to learn to think very independently about my life with the kids and he slots in where he can.
Making time for our marriage is a priority though, and over the years here are some things that have worked for us.
– One year, when we lived in Toowoomba and near the hospital (where my husband worked), we would meet at the hospital cafe (so romantic #not) and have lunch together once a week. That worked really, really well, because we both won’t dead tired and we loved those times. in 2014, it wasn’t possible, but we are moving soon and it is something we are starting up again this year. Working from home makes this possible and I’m looking forward to once again, hanging out in the hospital cafe on a regular basis.
– We book babysitters sometimes to go out to the movies or for dinner. Realistically, this is about 3 times a year but we have a lot of in-home dates where we feed the kids and put them to bed, order some thai takeaway for us and enjoy each others company.
I think that’s the thing: you have to be flexible and find what works from year to year as things shift and change in your life…so for me it’s having it as a priority…something to strive for, that is the focus and not to become complacent about our relationship.