How to Be an Organised Work At Home Mum with Young Children

Working from home when you have young children is a bit of a logistical nightmare, to be honest, but there are ways to make it easier and ensure that everyone gets a fair deal. A lot of the time I am still pretty hopeless at this, so don’t think I’m sitting here in Smugsville, but there are some tips that help. Although disappearing to Costa for a few hours is still my default when deadlines are looming!

Here are my tips and suggestions to make your work at home and mum at home life easier and more organised:

1. Plan out your time

Have the week planned out in advance, with work time, family time and any other priorities clearly marked out. By demarcating children time, you won’t feel guilty for spending some of your time at home working. Think carefully about your other commitments, and question whether you need to/want to keep doing everything.

Plan work for when someone else is around if possible, even if it does mean cramming your work into evenings or weekends. At least that way you won’t be sat working when you could be playing with the children.

Put regular connection times into your schedule, such as games afternoons, family movie time, and make it a rule that everyone sits together for dinner, phones etc off. That way, even if the rest of the day has been a haze of passing ships, you all get time together before bedtime. We’re big believers in ‘special time’ too, where each child gets dedicated time one-to-one with a parent doing whatever they choose. Just 15-30 minutes a day makes a huge difference.

2. Plans and lists

Have a monthly and/or weekly plan that gives a rhythm to your days and weeks. Work out exactly how many hours you need to work and put them into your schedules. Most jobs will expand to fit the time available so be ruthless about the number of hours you will work and tailoring your to do list to fit those hours. Chances are you are working from home to spend more time with your kids, so don’t let work take over.

Be ruthless about what does and doesn't go on your plan, questioning every single thing you write down and comparing it your goals and aspirations will tell you if it deserves your time or not.

3. Plan, plan and plan again!

Meal plan, write to do lists, shopping lists, goal-oriented lists, calendars etc. Whatever it is, write it down, so it is (a) more likely to happen, and (b) less likely to slip out of your head! Plan each week meticulously, including time for work, time for kids, time for you, and stick to it.

Always have the next day’s tasks listed and organised before you go to bed, so when work time begins you can get straight into it. Work at times you know you are most productive and do the tough stuff first. Admin and e-mails can fit into smaller time slots, so when you have a block of time start with the big stuff, e.g. writing reports.

4. Take a break

Always take proper breaks for breakfast and lunch, and make sure you eat well throughout the day. Start with a protein-rich breakfast and keep your energy levels stable with nutritious snacks. Taking time out to sit away from your desk, preferably outside, to eat is essential for restoring motivation and replenishing energy levels.

Planning breaks into your work hours can also help keep you motivated. Putting off a task? Commit to doing just ten minutes on it and set a timer, when the timer goes off you can take a break or keep going. This also works well for time sappers, like social media, research and e-mail. Do full-on work such as writing for 30-60 minute, then set the timer for 10-15 minutes for time sappers, then give yourself a coffee break.

5. Walk

I’m a great believer in nature as a cure for most things, and a walk first thing in the morning or just after breakfast is the perfect start to the day. Get your clothes on and head out for a walk, preferably in woodland or near water, before even thinking about work. Breathe deeply and prepare yourself for the day. It’s a great habit to instill in your family, so get everyone involved.  Start with just 20 minutes a day.

Equally, during the day if things are getting on top of you, the stress is building, or you have hit a block, get up and get out. Take a walk, with or without kids, and get back to centre before returning to work later, or even the next day.

6. Embrace help

Don’t feel like you can do it all because you can’t, you simply cannot be in two places at once or dedicated to two things at one time. If grandparents are nearby rope them in for a few hours a week, or sit down with your partner and discuss how the week can work for both of you. Could he start and finish work earlier or later some days or alter his working days to make things simpler? Look at the situation you have and find ways to make it work better for you. This may mean less money coming in, but is time more valuable?

7. Plan for fun!

Make sure the time you do spend with your children is high quality. Turn off the laptop and phone and play or take them to a toddler group, just make sure you really engage during the time you have together so you don’t feel guilty later.

8. Accept

When you work from home, weekends are very very different. Instead of resenting this, embrace it. Make Monday or Thursday your big weekend day and make the most of all those activities that will be quieter while everyone else is stuck in an office. Soft plays, theme parks, farms etc are a joy mid-week!

Embrace working evenings with TV on in the background, or getting up earlier in the morning when the rest of the world is still asleep. These can be your most productive hours, dependent on your natural lark/owl preferences, so accept that 9 to 5 isn’t your norm any more and plan life accordingly. If your little one/s still have a nap, use that time well, don’t let it disappear in web surfing, housework etc.

9. Have limits

Have a cut off point beyond which you will not work, not even to check social media or e-mail. Whether it’s 8, 9 or 10pm, everything goes off at the time and you don’t look again until work time the next day. The same goes for days off and, yes, you do need them. Keep at least one day a week completely work-free. Make that the child day mentioned above, and turn your phone off all day. Same for holidays, leave the laptop at home and turn your phone off.

Impose limits on checking e-mails, social media and other time sappers during the day too. If you think of something you need to check, add it to your to do list rather than stopping what you’re doing to check now. Read and reply to e-mails at two or three set points during your work sessions, and turn all alerts on your laptop and phone off. Dedicate yourself to that task in hand with only the windows you actually need right now open. Multi-tasking is a myth! Less distraction means you will be far more efficient with the time you do have.

10. Keep work and home separate

Not always easy, but try to keep a dedicated space for working that you can shut up or walk away from at the end of your work hours. If it’s the kitchen table, invest in a trolley that you can store your work paraphernalia on and shut away in a cupboard at the end of the day.

Likewise, don’t do any housework during your dedicated working hours. If the washing machine stops, leave it; if you remember or spot something else that needs to be done, just add it to your lists, don’t do it there and then. Housework can always wait, paid work and, more importantly, ever-growing small people can’t.

11. Don’t beat yourself up

Freezer tapas for tea again? Laundry piling up? So what! As long as you are meeting any external deadlines, managing to keep your work ticking over and spending plenty of time with your kids, you’re doing brilliantly.

If it’s a temporary blip, this too will pass, if it’s been going on a while, maybe it’s time to re-think. Can your partner help out more or change their hours, can you ask for help from relatives or friends, can you take on less work, or is it time to outsource some of the simpler tasks, or take on a cleaner?

Work out where your time is most valuably spent. What can only you do? Make that your priority (clue: being mum is first!) and fit everything else in around that. Whatever is bottom of your list either needs to be got rid of or be done by someone else.

12. Be organised

There are lots of little things you can do to make your home run like clockwork that will also ensure things run more smoothly at home. De-clutter so you only have things you really need. Have an everything in its place rule, and stick to it. Get everything ready, clothes laid out etc, the night before. Make double quantities of dishes that will freeze and keep your freezer stocked up.

13. Remember you time

Do something for yourself every day. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a walk or a run, soaking in a bubble bath, knitting or crafting, whatever makes you feel relaxed and happy, make time for it.

On top of that, spend the last hour of the day, after you have switched phone and laptop off, relaxing. Your to do list is done, so now take some time to let your mind relax ready for sleep.

14. Give yourself a break

There will be days where you just don’t feel like you can go on juggling, days where you oomph has upped and left, days where you think a stint on the supermarket checkout would be easier than this. So give yourself a break, cancel everything and have a duvet day or take the kids out somewhere new and exciting for the day, you’ll be back soon enough with renewed energy, enthusiasm and creativity. Remember that old maxim, this too will pass, it will.

Try shaking up your work space by heading to a coffee shop or library, or even working outside at the park or by a lake. I regularly go to a local nature reserve and sit in the bird hides to work, it’s amazing how a fresh perspective can get the creative juices flowing.

15. Prioritise

Working from home is the ideal way to get more time with your kids while they are still little, but all too often we can let the work bit take over from the mum bit.

Remember why you are working from home in the first place and make the important things – kids, relationship, yourself – the top priority in every month, week and day. You won’t ever get this time back, so make the most of it while you can.

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