It’s 3am and, despite what the Matchbox 20 song may suggest, I am not lonely. Rather, I’m burning the midnight oil, working on several projects for work. It’s not because I’m behind or facing an 8am deadline; I simply had an “a-ha!” moment in the middle of the night, and decided to put pen to paper (or, more accurately, fingers to keyboard) before the idea disappeared.
When I left my career in TV news, this wasn’t how I envisioned my days – or nights, for that matter. I thought working from home would give me the luxury of time with my kids while also earning money on the side. I thought this was finally my opportunity to have it all, be everything to everyone, and stop feeling guilty about my work schedule. Thinking about my work-life balance never factored into the equation; I figured working out of my house would make that unattainable concept a way of life.
I figured wrong.
Set boundaries to achieve a work-life balance
While the freedom of being a work-at-home mom is liberating, it can also be debilitating. Yes, it’s nice to be able to work whenever I feel like it, but not having a regular schedule – like I did during my 9 to 5 days – can make it difficult to set boundaries. With that in mind, I’ve set these rules for myself:
- Set aside time to work. If you aren’t focused on your work, it will show in the product. My work time is daily from 11am-1pm, which coincides with my younger child’s naptime (my older child is at school); I work during these two hours without fail, even if I’d rather be watching something on the DVR or taking a nap myself. If I’ve got a pressing deadline, I’ll add in a third hour of work a day after I put the kids to bed at night.
- Limit your work time. As a freelance writer, I take on as much work as I’m comfortable handling at any given time. I know my schedule only allows for up to 15 hours of work a week, so I’ve had to learn to say “no” to some projects – even if I’d like the extra money – because I know I don’t have time for them.
- Decide on a work week. When I first started working from home, I’d work any – and every – day of the week. This pleased my editors, who loved knowing they could count on me in a pinch, but it drove my family crazy. Now I only work Monday thru Friday; I also take off all federal and religious holidays, so I have quality time to spend with my husband and kids.
Create a “work-only” space
Once you’ve decided on a set schedule for your work, the next step to achieving that coveted work-life balance is finding a place to do it. Laptops and smartphones have made doing work on the go easy, but they also allow your job to infringe on your personal life. I’ve ameliorated that by creating a dedicated “office” space in my home. No longer do I work on the laptop while sitting on the couch in front of the TV; instead, I’ve got an official-looking desk tucked in a corner of my master bedroom. Even this, I’ll admit, isn’t ideal; our bedroom door doesn’t have a lock, so I can’t prevent my kids from wandering in from time to time, interrupting my work.
You can carve your work space just about anywhere. I have working mommy friends who’ve converted walk-in closets into home offices, while another actually works in part of an unfinished attic! The goal is to physically separate your domestic sphere from your professional world.
Working Mom: Don’t forget “me” time
Despite setting a work schedule and defining a work space, my life as a working mom still felt out of balance. After some soul-searching, I discovered why: between working, parenting, and managing our household, I’d left no time for me.
It’s easy for moms to put themselves last for the “good” of everyone else. But if you are not in balance – physically, spiritually, emotionally – you’ll never reach your potential. For me, this means carving out a few hours a week for exercise; maybe for you it’s time for a good book or a walk through the woods, whatever it takes to make you feel centered, grounded… because, as we all know, if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.