I work from a desk in the corner of our kids’ small playroom. Full time. Usually more. For almost three years now. Managing social media, strategic relationships {and the website (in)courage} for DaySpring, a subsidiary of Hallmark.

It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

And while I wish I had a Martha Stewart style office, I’m learning ways to make life between the Legos and the baby dolls work for this work season.

Right now there is a curly-haired, toddler girl napping in the room next door and two boys who will need to be picked up from school and fed large quantities of food this afternoon. There is a hamster chugging circles on his wheel and last night’s dishes are still on the dinner table.

It’s a good day.

But it requires a peculiar kind of rhythm to make it work.

So here’s what I’ve learned from the last three years about working from home without losing your mind.


1. Keep regular office hours

I’m connected to our Internet Marketing team via an intranet. It’s awesome. It’s like I’m there in the office with them. I keep the same office hours as everyone because I’m part of a team.

Distance is diminished by instant, reliable connection.

I’m always there when they expect me to be. And we all like it that way.

Thanks to Skype and instant messaging, I’m only a click away and can easily pop a virtual head around anyone’s office door.

Even if you’re not part of an office team, regular office hours will set your body clock to the routine of a work schedule, which is the best way I know to tap every ounce of productivity.

2. Create a dedicated office space

Sure, my space may be a wee cluttered and colorful, but it’s me. And when I’m sitting at that desk all I see is that desk, my laptop and my white board to the left. My back is to the rest of the playroom {see “point 4 below: this is how I wear blinders”} and it’s my 100% work space.

I only sit at that desk when I’m working. Not for crafty activities with kids or letter writing or surfing the net or anything else in the relaxation realm. It’s for work and work only and it helps me get my game face on.


3. Trade up from sweats

I’m not talking suits here. And sure, comfy clothes are a big plus about working from home. But in order to have my head in the work game I need to feel like I’m in the office. And I would never wear my pajamas to the office.

What I wear is a large part of what I tell my brain I’m doing.

Running = sweats; girl’s night out = high heels; Sunday afternoon = pajamas;
work hours = business casual, usually with make up and sometimes with jewelry.

4. Wear blinders

The tricky bit about working from home is that there’s always something on the to-do list that isn’t work related. You can’t just close the front door on that stack of dirty dishes or overflowing laundry basket.

But here’s the secret: You can!

Just choose not to look. Keep the space where you’re working neat, tidy and productive. Turn your back on everything else.

If you don’t, then I promise your precious work hours will be a series of fits and false starts.

Working from home with kids

5. With young kids at home, help has proven essential

My kids are seven, five and two. I don’t homeschool. But Tsh has, and we talked about balancing full time work from home with school and kids in our recent podcast – did you listen to it yet? She has help, too.

My two boys are in first grade and preschool respectively. The baby girl is home full-time with me. When she was still immobile it worked out just fine to entertain her with strategically placed toys and peppy tunes. Now that she can walk and (baby) talk and get into everything, not so much.

I couldn’t do what I do without the greatest baby sitter on the face of the planet and a husband who totally gets and supports what I do, in word as well as with his schedule.

Tips for working from home

6. Online grocery shopping is a time & sanity saver

I used to watch those Peapod delivery trucks and think it was only for the rich and famous. Then I did some research and DUDE, it’s only a few bucks more for the delivery. And they’re always sending out fliers for free delivery specials. And believe me when I tell you that either way those few dollars more than make up for the time and exhaustion that adding grocery shopping with three kids onto an already packed day costs.

Hands down worth the investment.

Unless you’re like my husband and enjoy grocery shopping. Then by all means, get your cart and squeaky wheel on.

7. Take a lunch break

You need to eat. You will feel more human if you do so without tweeting, Facebooking and writing reports at the same time. This is something I must remind myself on a regular basis.

Sometimes leaving the house for lunch and interacting with other three dimensional people can recharge a whole day for the cost of a bowl of soup.


8. Make your peace with letting go of perfect

If I let every stray sock, every doggie chew toy, every stain and unwashed item and pile of unattended paperwork rule my days, I’d never get anything done. I’d be too busy beating myself up for not managing everything perfectly.

I’ve traded perfect for productive. And sometimes productive takes a bit of messy to make the most of a day.

I’m finally OK with that. It’s taken me about a decade, three kids, a dog and one hamster. True story.

9. Knock off at 5pm

Honestly, this one is the hardest for me.

The temptation is to just let your work spill over into your late afternoon and then your evening as you try to finish up “just this one last thing.” But having a hard “end” to your day is essential to give your head time to clear and readjust to family time.

With no commute home to clear your head, you need to manufacture the hard stop between activities to help you transition from “work” to “home.”

This can be even harder if you work in social media, which – as we all know – never sleeps. But, as I’ve said before, it’s impossible to be involved in everything and in fact, missing out just might be the better choice most days anyway.

Manufacturing reasons to actually leave the building helps too – like going for a run or picking kids up from school. This helps me delineate between my two chunks of day: work life and home life.

{Confession: most nights after kids are fed, bathed and in bed I can’t stay away from following up on all the things, but I try to fast from social media almost entirely on the weekends.}

Working from home office

10. Don’t start cleaning projects you can’t finish in 1 day

Sometimes, despite everything I said in point 4 above, there’s something in the house that starts to drive me bonkers. And much like anyone who works in an office needs to clean house now and again, that happens at home too.

But here’s the thing – try not to tackle anything that will immobilize your productivity. Save those big projects for weekends or holidays.

Work your way back into a peaceful state of mind, without multiplying the chaos, the way some housekeeping projects inevitably do.

11.Work out of the house on occasion

Mix it up some days. Work from the library or Panera or your favorite coffee shop.

You’d be surprised how much this can refresh your creativity.

12. Show your family what you’re working on

You may have heard of this awesome event that (in)courage is hosting called (in)RL {short for “in real life”}. It’s a free webcast talking about friendship and community and last year over 1,700 women tuned in from all over the world before meeting up with other local (in)courage readers to get to know each other better in real life.

(in)RL meetups by (in)courage

It’s a blast. A gift. An inspiration to be a part of.  And last year it took up 99.99% of my time to plan it in the months leading up to it.

By the end I felt like I was down to one brain cell and had forgotten what my family looked like. And if families are a team, the team needs to know what it is they’re all rooting for.

So as the (in)RL weekend progressed one of the best parts was sharing the (in)RL Instagram feed with my kids. They got such a kick out of seeing my face on many of the webcast screens participants were tuned into. And I could explain that this is the work mommy had been doing to encourage other moms. They loved it. And it helped explain my weepy, emotional state all weekend as a year-long dream was realized before our eyes.

13. Some days, despite your best efforts, everything will spiral into chaos anyway – that’s OK

Treat with chocolate.

Start over again tomorrow.

And you? If you work from home, what works for you? I’d love to know.