When you're working from home with a family, there are many moving parts to keep together. Whether you have babies, toddlers, teens, or a mix (and regardless how many you have), working from home requires an interesting balance act.
Having an arsenal of time management tips for the home front will help you stay on track.
Working from home as a mom of six
I have six kids, from toddler to teen; there is never a dull moment around my house. I've experimented with a variety of ways to add to the family finances over the years, working outside the home, working from home, and a combo of the two.
I can't possibly tell you that I have it all together. (Who really does!?)
But over the last several years, I've developed strategies that help me simplify life's processes so there is more time to focus on work.
And more time to enjoy family life. That's the whole point after all, isn't it?
When I don't follow through on these tips, things fall apart and working from home feels like it isn't possible. When I do take the time to implement them, home life and work life run much smoother.
Basic areas of life to streamline
There are some basic areas of household life we all need to manage: food, chores, and the schedule (all those errands, appointments, practices). It's easy to complicate them unnecessarily.
If time is managed more effectively, by reducing the time it takes to complete tasks, reducing transition time, and eliminating non-essentials, there is more time in the day to concentrate on working and living.
Here are 18 ways to keep the basics under control so you can get to work:
1. Make keeping everyone well-fed (including you) your top priority!
You don't need anybody “hangry” while you're trying to get your work done.
“What's there to eat?” is the most common question in my house. (Three teenage boys, 'nuff said). If there isn't quick food ready to go, that's a guaranteed loss of productive work-time, but if meals and snacks are covered, everything else falls into place.
2. Schedule a regular time for meal planning, shopping, and prep
The longer you make your meal plan for, the better. We meal-plan on Saturday, and then grocery shop and food prep on Sunday afternoons.
Lisa Tanner, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and mom to eight creates an annual meal plan for her family. Now that's impressive! She uses meal rotation, and it's much simpler than you might think. (Following her method is on my to-do list).
Some people outsource and use a service like E-meals to do their planning. I've never tried it, but if meal-planning is something you don't like to do, I think it would be worth the time savings.
Don't forget to take the list with you to the store! I did that last week. (Bags full of cereal and snacks; three days worth of meals.) Just don't do it.
3. Think basic and quick
Simplify your food choices when you're doing your meal planning. I think of it as reducing it to the lowest common denominator.
An example: if you're planning potatoes as a side, what's the easiest method of preparing them? Mashed potatoes require scrubbing, peeling, boiling, mashing, dirtying a cutting board and a pot; baked potatoes are scrubbed, stuck with a fork, and microwaved. Save mashed potatoes for special occasions.
What makes a basic meal for your family? For us, the basic building blocks of a dinner are a protein and a vegetable. Throw some chicken legs in the oven and steam-in-the-bag vegetables into the microwave, and there is an easy base for dinner. Fish is an even quicker option for the protein.
4. Always buy (and make) extra
It's better to have too much than too little, yet this one can be a struggle if you're really frugal. Nothing wastes time like having to run back to the store.
When I get off-course in the food department, it's usually because I tried to shave money off the grocery bill and end up having to run back out, spending more money anyway.
Making extra gives you leftovers, which are your new best friend. They will save you time and money (bonus!). Learn to appreciate them! If they're not eaten in a day or two, freeze them in individual-size containers, and you'll have easy lunches and dinners on the fly.
Some people make a ton of extra using one day a month to make freezer meals. In theory, I love the idea, but it was too overwhelming for me when I tried it. What does work for me is doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling something when I'm making it for dinner, like taco meat, then freezing the extra for next time.
5. Use a slow cooker or counter-top grill
The best plan is to use a slow cooker with a throw and go recipe, and check dinner off the to-do list before you even start your work day.
If you're derailed and the slow cooker doesn't get started in the morning, a counter-top grill makes another great option. Nothing is easier, or quicker, than throwing chicken, pork chops, or burgers on the grill.
Action Step: Schedule regular time for meal planning and grocery shopping into your planner. Don't re-invent the wheel; rotate favorite basic meals instead.
6. Prioritize your chore list
All chores are not equal. Some things can be let go; others can't. If the dishes are undone, that's a recipe for instant overwhelm.
Make sure you're doing chores in an order that makes sense! If you run out of “chore time,” and have a work priority that must get done, your house will be under control.
7. Keep cleaning supplies handy in each bathroom and the kitchen
Having supplies right where you need them makes it a breeze to tidy up as you go, instead of it being an ordeal.
8. Create a quick daily cleaning routine
Building cleaning routines into daily life comes naturally to some people. For some of us, it's a struggle. If that's you, Flylady has the best system I've seen for building quick cleaning routines into everyday life.
9. Do at least one load of laundry every day
Staying on top of the laundry by doing a load every day keeps the mountain from piling up; delegate to share the workload if you can.
Laundry is one chore I'm decent at delegating. (You can read about trying to do it all yourself in the first time-management post). My oldest kids either wash their own, or at least help with daily laundry.
Then everyone puts away their own clothes. It's up to them if they fold it, which they don't. Hubby is the only one unwrinkled around here, because he folds, hangs up, and irons when necessary.
The rest of us are slightly wrinkled, but clean.
10. Pick one or two key “clean-up” times per day
Instead of picking up recurring messes over and over again, like the toys, choose “clean-up” times. Before lunch, before dad gets home from work, before bed, whatever works for your family.
Otherwise, you're just creating extra work for yourself.
11. Get rid of the excess
The fewer things you have-toys, clothes, dishes, knick-knacks-the less time it takes to keep your house clean.
Think about getting down to the essentials. Rachel Jones of Nourishing Minimalism has an awesome chart for decluttering.
12. Outsource or delegate
Take a look at your to-do list. Whatever jobs don't have to be done by you, try to figure out a way to let go of the reigns and share the workload.
- Can you hire someone to mow the lawn, or someone to do deep cleaning once a week?
- Are you kids old enough for chores?
- Is it time to re-negotiate the chores with your husband? Sometimes all it takes is asking.
Action Step: Evaluate a typical week of chores in your home, and identify any areas with room for improvement. Write down a plan to conquer.
13. Block time for errands
Try to schedule appointments and extra running for a certain day of the week, or batch errands for times when you already have to run out.
Start a carpool to and from school and any practices your kids have.
Connections with other parents can save you, and them, so much time. Having a network of supportive parents you can trade favors with, like the carpool, makes such a difference.
15. Order online whenever possible
If you can save yourself a trip to the store and order online instead, do it! Consider signing up for Amazon Prime for the time savings and simplicity if you haven't already.
16. Clear the schedule
Sometimes we simply need to say no more often. We don't need to attend every event, volunteer for everything, or have the kids participate in every activity. Be very deliberate with what you say yes to.
Action Steps: Decide on a day for “errand day.” Also, take note of the times you feel overwhelmed by the schedule, and evaluate what could have been done differently.
17. Let go of perfectionism and focus on self-care instead
You're trying to do a lot, mama! You can't do it all, all the time. You'll need rest and support from others in the family.
Give yourself a break when you need it.
Sometimes you will need to make hard choices about your time. I used to make all my own cleaning products, coupon, and do all the cooking from scratch. It's not possible anymore.
It may not be ideal, but for this season of life, I'm giving myself a break.
How can you make it easier on yourself?
- Steam-in-the-bag veggies?
- Pre-cut fruit or veggies?
- Paper plates?
- Pizza night?
It'll be okay. Opt for self-care instead of perfection.
18. Keep looking for new ways to optimize
Always be on the lookout for ways to optimize your systems by:
- Reducing the need to make decisions (and the resulting decision fatigue)
Right now, I'm on the lookout for ways to eliminate the extra trips to the store.
I choose not to fill up my house with random excess, extreme coupon-style, but I am going to create a list of the things I can't do without, the items I find myself running to the store for if we run out. Toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, trash bags. (Um … coffee, chocolate. Stuff like that).
Those are the items I'm going to stock up on from now on. The rest can wait for the weekly trip.
(Written by Stefanie Williams)
Do you have any time management tips to keep things running on the home front so you get more work done? Let's share and optimize our systems!