I think of myself as a fairly organized person. I’ve always been able to discipline myself to finish whatever task is on my list without a lot of outside prodding. I even finished my degree through a few online courses that were offered through my university after my oldest son was born and I thrived in a self-paced environment. Then I started working from home and all semblance of organization and self-discipline went out the window.
More often than not, I feel like the dog on the Disney movie UP who is focused and on top of things until, “Squirrel!” . . . except at my house it’s usually little boys getting into things they are not supposed to or demanding attention when I need to work that is distracting me. So what’s a work at home mom to do?
Your To-Do List is your Best Friend
You can’t stay on task if you don’t know what you need to accomplish. I’ve heard moms joke that every time you have a baby you lose 25% of your brain function. I’ve had 4 kids so I think that means I’m in serious, serious trouble. In all seriousness, between sleep deprivation and balancing all the daily demands of motherhood, it’s really no wonder if we forget a few things here or there.
Keep an updated to-do list so you remember what you need to accomplish. Check it often because a to-do list doesn’t do you any good at all if you don’t know what’s on it. I like to use Cozi’s to-do list feature so I don’t lose my list (which really makes it hard to remember what I need to get done) and it has the added benefit of allowing me to add items to my husband’s to-do list so I can delegate).
I tend to get more done when I actively use my to-do list because I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I can finally check something off. I’ve been known to actually write something down that I already finished just so I could check it off. Yes, I am that big of a geek.
Use a Timer
Time is a sneaky little bugger. It gets away from you faster than a 2 year old in a public place. I’m sure nearly every work at home mom has had the experience of sitting down at the computer just to check a few emails before getting down to the real work of the day only to look at the clock and realize that half the morning is gone.
Use a timer to keep yourself on task and set clear goals for what you want to accomplish before you start working (I like this timer from Polder that switches back and forth between a timer and a clock so it’s perfect for your work at home office). I like to set my timer in 15 minute increments and have a clear goal in mind for that chunk of time. That way, if I start to get distracted I know that the clock is ticking and I’d better get back on task.
Give your Task a Name
To be productive as a work at home mom, you have to find a way to organize your time well. There are many demands on your time and it’s easy to get side tracked when your office and your home get tangled up together. It’s not enough to sit down at your desk and say you are “working”, because that what can start out as work can easily turn into organizing the folders on your computer, aimlessly surfing the internet, or catching up with high school friends you haven’t thought about for years on Facebook.
I have to start a task with a specific end goal in mind. If I tell myself what I am working on, it prevents me from getting side tracked by seemingly urgent tasks that are not helping make progress towards my primary goal.
Distractions can conquer even the best of us. Clear your desk of clutter. This is an ongoing task so you may have to take periodic breaks throughout the day to clear clutter but this will do wonders for your productivity. Close unused windows on your computer so you aren’t tempted to surf the Internet. If your current project doesn’t require the use of the Internet, you may want to disable the Internet from your computer all together until you complete your task.
If you like to listen to music while you work, keep the volume low and choose music that will encourage productivity rather than distract from it. Upbeat music that lifts your mood is a good choice as is classical music.
I don’t like to think of my kids as a distraction but dealing with the constant needs of your children is a reality for work at home moms.
If your children are younger, occupy them with an activity or toy before you start working. My kids can occupy themselves for hours if I pull out the Play-Doh (I keep it on a cookie sheet with a rim to minimize the mess) and I try and rotate their toys so I can pull out a box they haven’t seen in a while if I need to get something done. If all else fails, you can always work while your kids nap or hire a part-time mother’s helper.
Staying Focused is essential if you want to be successful as a work at home mom and it’s an important skill that your children can learn from you if you set a good example.
What tips and advice do you have for staying on task?