Work at home advice from a long-time work-from-home-mom

I have been a work from home mom since 2015 and a homeschool mom since 2017. Before I worked from home, my son came to work with me for several years.  While balancing work at home is new for a lot of folks, I’m no stranger to this.   Today I want to offer a few tips I hope will help.

Productivity Tips for Working From Home

Working from home is not as easy as folks think it will be.  In the past couple of months more and more people join this life, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends asking for advice. In addition to the tips you see like establish a workspace, don’t get sucked into working 24/7 just because you’re at home, and make an ergonomic workspace- here are a few things that help me:

The Pomodoro Method

I learned about this first in Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Grahm (yes, Gilmore Girls Lauren Graham) and it’s changed the way I work.  I don’t fully understand *why* it works but I see a marked difference in my productivity, focus, results, energy, and family with this method.  

Set a timer for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break when it is over.  Some folks do a longer session, like an hour.  During that time, focus on one thing. 

When the timer goes off, stop where you’re at- mid-sentence, middle of graphic design, mid-Instagram caption- stop and walk away for 5 minutes.  Ideally, that 5-minute break will be off screens. 

Every 4-6 sessions take a longer break, 20-30 minutes.  For me, this can be lunch, a walk, yoga, etc. Something off screens and ideally something active and/or outside.

There are Pomodoro apps that will track how many sessions you complete.  Some sync to a To Do list so you can plan more and see how much time you spent working on different tasks.  I started out using one but now I use this fun timer.  It doesn’t have a 25-minute setting so I set the 30-minute setting and use the first 5 minutes as my break and then start back to work. 

I love this timer- we use it for school, cooking, and chores too

This is also helpful for my family.  Living and working from 210 square feet is interesting.  I can’t shut a door and be left alone.  I work in front of our door and my family is coming in and out all the time.  When I used an app they never knew when my breaks were.  

Now that I use a timer, they can look at it and know when I’ll be on a break to ask a question, take a walk, etc.  I try to mostly when my husband is home so I can be around with J but that’s not always a possibility.  Hubby and J know to look at the timer before interrupting my work- unless it’s an emergency. J writes on a dry erase board or piece of scrap paper if he has a question or something he’s worried he’ll forget before my break. 

Loop Schedule Cards

This is my “secret sauce”.  I got the idea from loop scheduling, a concept popular among homeschooling families.  To say it has been revolutionary for me is an understatement.  I have one loop for work and one loop for breaks.  

I work with 3-8 clients per month for my business.  I also launch books, run an online community, am a ghostwriter, do homeschool consulting, and, of course, have this blog & Instagram.  Not to mention the whole being a wife and mom thing.  I work best with a lot of variety and I wear a lot of hats on any given day! These cards are how I keep it all together.

The cards are made out of paint samples.  I hole punched them before I wrote on them so I wouldn’t punch my text.  On each card, I wrote a work task such as “social media for X client,” the name of a client, or a task for one of my other responsibilities.  I also added cards for checking my personal Facebook because I was finding it to be a time suck.  I even have a card for cleaning, a card for household tasks, a card for hope*writers, and a card for the online class I’m taking.

My schedule cards

After I wrote my cards I separated them by type. My writing task cards, book-related tasks, social media management tasks, home tasks, etc.  Then I organized them up so I wouldn’t have two similar tasks next to each other.  I like the variety.  If you tend to like to knock out all of your writing at once, you could keep all your writing cards together. Then I put them onto a binder ring.

I have another ring of break cards. I based this off the idea of Rest & Reward from Sacred Ordinary Days.  These have things like: breath work, a short meditation, thymus tapping, stretch, write a note to my husband or son, review my neural retraining work, etc. 

How I combine these two methods together for productivity

There are a handful of tasks I do daily.  These are things like social media and DMs for clients and email.  I do these twice a day- once after breakfast before we start homeschool time and once at 3pm.  Otherwise, my work schedule is based on Pomodoro + schedule card loop. If I have an urgent task a client needs, I’ll adapt but that almost never happens. 

When I start my work day I grab my two sets of cards and set my timer.  Whatever card is on the top of the “work” cards is what I start with for the day.  I devote that Pomorodo session to the task, client, on that card.  If my client doesn’t have a current project for me I may check in with them during that time, brainstorm ideas, study trends about their industry or move on.  If I finish a task before my timer has gone off I move on to the next card or to another task for that same client. 

As soon as the timer goes off, I walk away for my break.  If I don’t have anything my family needs, I complete the short task on my break card or go outside and say hello to the sun 🙂 

I can choose to do another session for the same card or flip to the next card.  Unless I’m working on a big project or a deadline, I never do more than 3 sessions on the same card.  I’m much more productive when I have variety.  

At the end of the day, I leave my cards set as they are.  The next day I start back up again with whatever is on the top card on my loop. My To Do list is in bullet journal so I check my list for each card.  I don’t assign specific tasks to specific days ahead of time unless there’s something I know I have to do on a specific day.  

I have 25 work cards and 12 break cards.  I make it through the work loop about three times a week. Most days I work 5-6 hours and I binge work on my hubby’s day off and work more like 8-10 hours. Some of the tasks on my work cards take 5-10 minutes and others I only need to complete a couple of times per month so that helps too. When I get to a card that has a shorter task on it I usually set myself a 15 minute or 5-minute timer and then do a 2-minute stretch break in between. It usually takes me 2-3 days to make it all the way through my break cards.  

With this method, life can happen and it doesn’t interfere with my business, my family, or anything else I’m involved in.  I used to schedule specific clients and tasks to specific days.  With a chronic illness, homeschooling, raising a child, and a husband whose work schedule is different almost every day- this was frustrating.  There would be a day where I didn’t feel well or a friend wanted to go to the beach but I felt stuck because I had to do work for X client of that exact day.  

This way I get done what I can get done in a day and there’s no setback when life happens. I don’t have to play catch up.  I’m not bound to a schedule of “complete this at this time” or ‘complete this on this day.”  Using the timer allows me time to check-in with J on a regular basis and to give my body a break from being on the computer! 

I have been working this way for about a year and a half now and I haven’t missed any deadlines or tasks yet.  In fact, it’s allowed me to be much more effective than I was before when I kind of worked at random or worked based on deadlines.  This has helped me establish good work/life boundaries, get more completed in the same amount of work hours, and helped me make sure I’m completing the tasks I need to do for home and my other duties as well. 

Don’t Sit

The last tip I have is don’t sit when you work.  Get a standing desk or makeshift something like I do.  There is compelling data on the health effects of sitting.  All of that aside, I am SO much more productive when I stand up.  Plus it serves as a visual cue for my family that I’m working when I have my work station set up- and it tells my brain that now it is time to work.  When I do personal social media or fun/relaxing tasks, I sit back down. I’ll probably do another post in the future on this tip! 

Hopefully these tips will help you.  Feel free to reach out i you have any other questions.

I also suggest checking out The Next Right Thing podcast episode #124 called Reimagine Your Work Day for a few more great tips from hope*writer co-founder and a woman well acquainted with working from home, Emily P. Freeman.

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