Being a working mom was never part of the plan for my family. When my husband and I decided to have kids, we agreed that I would put my career on hold. I wanted to focus solely on our children. It was important to both of us. And, frankly, I was relieved to be quitting my job (I was working as an attorney then and hated it).
Unfortunately, six years into being a stay-at-home mom, my husband suddenly passed away. I was left with many harsh realities that I wasn’t prepared for. Becoming a working mom was one of them. With as much as my kids and I had lost, I knew I didn’t want to put them in daycare full-time if I could avoid it. So I have been working hard to make a living from my home. It has been an uphill battle, but it is still so important to me that I honor my husband and my plan to stay home with them for as long as I can.
Working from home or in an office as a full-time mom is tough. But it can be done! Here are some tips that I have discovered are very helpful in maximizing my time as a working mama.
7 Tips for Maximizing Time as a Working Mom
1. Establish reasonable working hours (and stick to them!).
There is no way I’ll log eight hours a day while raising a toddler and a grade schooler. For now, part-time is all I can do. It’s hard to get even those amount of hours into my schedule. I have found that I can only get any work done by setting a strict schedule. For instance, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I spend 2 hours editing. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I spend a couple of hours on legal work (yes, I still practice a bit) and writing for my blog. Some weeks I have to change things because life still happens (especially with kids around), but at least I have working-hour goals to keep me focused and motivated.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “No.”
After I started working again, I had a lot of trouble saying “no” to the things I used to say “yes” to. Like when the PTA asked me to join and help in the classroom. Or when my son’s preschool asked for help making Valentine’s Day gift baskets. Before, I would happily volunteer for things like that, but now I don’t have time. Recently, I have learned that as hard as it may seem, simply saying, “No, I can’t do that” without any further explanation (because you don’t owe anyone an explanation!) is the easiest thing to do. In my opinion, saying “no” has helped to save my sanity, which is more important to my family’s health than being a chaperone to the museum.
3. Set reasonable daily goals and write them down.
Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t stay organized without my day planner. There’s nothing better to help me remember to do something than physically writing it down. I have a very effective system (read: perfectionistic weird Type-A list-making) that keeps me organized.
My favorite planner is the Brilliant Undated Monthly/Weekly Planner (you can find it here on Amazon). I love it because it’s undated, so if I miss a week (oops!), I’m not wasting any precious planning pages. I also love that the week is set out on the open planner’s left side, and a blank page is on the right. That is where I keep a running list of to-dos. This planner system lets me quickly see how my week is laid out. Then, check off tasks on my list as I get them done (so gratifying for this Type-A list lover!). So, whether you like to use an app or a paper planner, start writing down your week and your tasks to help keep you organized.
4. Turn off social media and/or personal emails.
This tip is still hard for me to do. I will forget to silence my phone or close my personal email on my computer before starting work. Before you know it, I’ve been scrolling Facebook for 5 minutes or sending random funny memes to my sister when I should be responding to a client’s email. It’s hard not to get distracted by the fun stuff of life when you’re trying to get not-so-fun work done, but it will save your sanity if you force yourself to focus during your designated working hours.
5. Hire a virtual assistant if you can afford it.
I am not in a place where I can hire a virtual assistant to take on any of my tasks, but I sure do dream about that day! My sister, who started a subscription box company, recently hired a Virtual Assistant to source products to go in her boxes. It saves her a lot of time and allows her to focus on what no one but she can accomplish for her business. If you are in a place to hire someone and delegate some tasks, DO IT! This also applies to things like picking up your grocery order or running packages to the post office. If you can hire a responsible teenager or another mom looking for extra cash, that would be an even better situation to get some affordable help and streamline your weekdays.
6. Get good sleep.
This tip goes for every mom, working or not. Sleep is so essential to how well you handle stress.1 If you’re not getting quality sleep at night, you will be tired, cranky, less organized, and less able to handle everyday tasks. Try to improve not only how much you sleep (7+ hours is the standard recommendation2) but also the quality of sleep by incorporating these habits into your daily life:
- Avoid chemicals like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine four to six hours before bedtime.
- Make your bedroom a quiet, dark, and cool environment.
- Lighten up your evening meal.
- Don’t watch the clock.
- Establish a pre-bedtime routine that may include a bath, reading (best books for moms), stretching, or meditation.
- Set a consistent bedtime hour and stick with it.
7. Invest in “me time.”
If you’ve ever flown in a plane, you know that the airline attendants tell you that you are supposed to give yourself oxygen first before giving it to a child if the oxygen bags deploy. You know why this is, right? If you’re not feeding yourself life-giving air, you won’t be around to give life to those who depend on you. The same goes for scheduling “me time.”
I will be the first to admit that I didn’t appreciate the importance of “me time” until recently. Often, I burned the candle at both ends and refused to take a break for anything as silly and superficial as a time to myself, which caused me to burn out. I knew I would have to regularly invest in myself because my kids needed me to thrive instead of crashing and burning. These days, I regularly take hour-long baths and read. Or I’ll drop the kids at a sitter’s house so that I can go window shopping alone. I take time to meet friends and family for lunch or happy hour. These things feed my soul so I can pour life, love, and laughter into my kids.
Whether you work from home, work in an office, are a single mom, or have a partner at home, these tips will help you create a better work-life balance as a working mom. Believe me, I know how hard it is to wear ALL THE HATS daily. But you are doing what needs to be done to give your family a good life. You are a rock star. And I need you to hear that you are appreciated and your work is valuable! Good job, mama!