How I created true office hours as a WAHM

I have been a work-at-home-mom for the last seven years. Gradually, as I’ve taken more writing and non-profit jobs and projects, and as my children have both started school full-time, my life has morphed into a busy one.

I’m working most of the time my children are at school, every weekday. I also find myself working at night, and on weekends, and early in the morning. Basically, I’m working whenever I have a free moment.

Some time this earlier this year, I broke.

I looked at my life and realized I worked all the time. I never had a break or a division between professional life and home life. I’d be writing and taking phone calls during times I was supposed to devote to homework help, and by the end of the day I was frustrated because I felt divided. All of my life meshed with every other part of my life, and I longed to close the laptop at a reasonable time each day.

I’ve known for a long time that I needed office hours. In order to do that, I might not need to be home when I did.

Naps, magazines, and even laundry are sometimes more interesting at home than my to-do list. In my house I don’t have the luxury of a true office—I don’t have an extra room or even an extra corner to insert a desk. At times I feel like Virginia Woolf, pining for a “room of my own.”

So, I made a few changes this fall.

If you are a WAHM and feel stuck between your deadlines and your dirty dishes, here’s a few things I’ve done to help create true office hours.

1. I looked into a co-working space.

A couple months ago, I googled “creative workspace orange county,” (where I live) and a few co-working spaces popped up. I found one near my house, emailed the owner, and went down that week to meet her and check out the space.

A co-working space is a shared space where people who work for themselves, or have mobile offices, can go work. It's one step up from a coffee house, and it depends on the space, but most offer wifi, printing, and coffee, and the desks are either reserved or are first come, first served.

Welcome to my first office in over twelve years.

2. I pay for it.

There's something about paying for something that keeps me motivated (if I pay for an exercise class, I rarely hit that snooze button). Last week, someone wanted to schedule a meeting on a day I’d already scheduled my office hours, and so, I declined.

This morning, Friday—at the end of an intensely long week—I waffled about going in. And again, I-pay-for-it played in my brain, so yes, here I am, typing typing typing in the office.

I don’t pay much, and I only come several days a week, but it helps.

For you, maybe “paying for it” means hiring a sitter while your kids are at home. She can be with your kids while you work from a coffee shop.

3. Other people keep me accountable.

When I go into my office, other people are there who know I’m coming in. I also tell my family that I’ll be in the office today, which means, "Don’t send me crazy Reddit links because I’m WORKING."

4. I keep an appointment with myself.

I’m not a naturally self-disciplined person. I go in and out of seasons of keeping myself on track, but I always keep appointments. I very rarely cancel on people, and I am infrequently late.

As I schedule out my week and month, I hold my Tuesdays and Fridays preciously, and I don’t schedule anything else on those days. No Target. No Trader Joe's. No conference calls, even. No meetings. I’m in the office from 9:30 to 2:30, and I work.

5. I’m learning to prioritize.

The nature of what I do outside of writing is not usually time-sensitive. My non-profit work can be looked at twice a week during scheduled work hours, so it's alleviated a sense of urgency. I work when I’m supposed to work, and unless something is burning down, I try not to work on the days in between.

6. Even when I can’t go in, I schedule times to work.

Let’s face it: two days per week doesn’t always cut it. There are some work projects that call for a 40-hour work week, and sometimes the work space isn’t feasible (or my life takes me elsewhere).

I create ways to trick my brain into making sure I keep my hours. Yesterday, I drove a bit further to a new coffee place, to make it feel like I was keeping an appointment, and it worked. I turn off my phone, sometimes turn off internet, and rearrange the rest of my day to make it work.

If you can leave, do—it's the only thing that's worked for me. But maybe you can’t.

If you can’t, bring a sitter in and sit on your back porch. Create office hours in the evening. Swap with a friend during the day once per week.

What’s ironic is that I wasn’t able to finish this essay during my normal office hours last week, so I’m writing this at my kitchen table on a Saturday morning while my family swirls around me.

But we do what we can do to make it work. And this is what works for me today.

Reading Time:

4 minutes

 

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Tracy @ OurSimpleHomestead

    What a great insightful post! I have worked for myself on and off for the last 15 years and it took me sometime to figure out I had to separate work from home. I am blessed to have an office and now promptly at 3:00 PM I shut the door and that part of my life is shut off for the day. I am glad you are able to rent your work space…your sanity will thank you for it!

  2. Hillary

    Amen! I’ve been working from home for about seven years now and the biggest difference came when I started taking my office hours seriously. I’ve done the co-working space thing, which is great, but I currently work out of a home office. I have a dedicated office space and there are cues I use to let family know when I absolutely can’t be disturbed. If my office door is shut it means no knocking, no interrupting, and quiet voices. I only shut the door during meetings (virtual) or if I’m working on something heads down that requires focus.

    I used to work anytime I could squeeze in some time, but at some point I realized the kids had this perception that I was always working. By creating a work routine it’s easier for all of us (myself included) know when it’s time to focus on the family or focus on work.

    • Sarah Markley

      oh i wish!! i love the idea of a home office! unfortunately our home doesn’t work that way right now. Maybe someday!!

  3. Shannon

    While I am not a WAHM, it was great to hear about your story and tips! A lot of people don’t get that just because you work from home, or freelance on the side, or whatever, that you can/should work all the time. Yes, it might happen on a case-by-case basis, but at least for me, setting hours goals or even working away from home can make a world of a difference.

    Thank’s again for sharing!

    • Sarah Markley

      thank you shannon! and thank you for your comment =)

  4. Fleurztael

    I completely understand needing to separate. I work very little from home but I’ve at times thought about hiring a babysitter for just a couple of hours to keep my toddler because even when I tell myself that I will work during his nap, it is very easy to become distracted. Thank you for the pointers.

  5. Katie

    I loved this! I recently accepted a job where I have the option to work from home the majority of the time, but I’ve learned in the past that I am terrible at setting boundaries for work time, keeping up with the house, being with my girls, etc. I asked if they have the space for me to keep office hours and thankfully they do! I’m glad to have learned this about myself and to know I’m not the only one.

  6. Janie

    These are great ideas! I freelance from home, and right now while I have a couple of comfy places I can go to work, I don’t have a dedicated space that screams, “now you should be working!” My second child is due in a few months, and my husband and I have talked about moving the boys in together and me using the (very small) nursery as a home office. The time line is about two years away, but I’m already looking forward to it.

  7. Erin

    I’m interested in what WAH jobs you have? I’m a mom as well, and would like to look into this kind of employment. Thanks!

  8. Lindsey

    Yup, 11 years of working from home here, first part-time and now full-time. A few of my tricks:

    Create a different profile on your computer that only has work programs and bookmarks. This will help you stay off Facebook or that game that is so tempting.

    Physically separate yourself if you can. When my office was right off the kitchen, dishes were much more distracting than now when I’m in the loft and can’t see the mess.

    Shut off the computer at the end of your workday. Now all of my digital downtime is on my iPad, so I’m not tempting to swing into work mode in the evenings and weekends.

    Don’t keep work email on your mobile devices. It’s too easy to feel the need to reply to something at 9pm at night when it really can wait.

    And I second the idea of paying for it or setting hours. I guess I’ve always done that naturally, either with a nanny or kids’ school hours.

    • Sarah Markley

      ooh. i love these tips!! yes to all of them!

  9. Trish

    Great Post. I work a full time job outside the home in addition to helping my husband with his business and starting a blog at home. With 3 kids under 10 they really don’t understand work has to be done. But it feels like I am always working

  10. Joy at Joy in this Journey

    Excellent ideas here. I’ve been working at home for 8 years, and about 2 years ago I finally carved out space in our basement and hired a babysitter.

    Today, we’ve set aside the living room as office space. It isn’t private but it gives me the sense of going to work and then leaving it. I have a regular schedule. And I take time off. It’s amazing what a difference that has made to my mental health and to our family.

  11. Julie @ Off to the park

    Hi, Thanks for sharing these tips. It’s given me some food for thought as I am currently contemplating returning to the workforce after spending the past 5 1/2 years at home with my kids. I have been thinking about whether I could freelance from home, and wondered how I could manage my time effectively so I am not working when my girls need me, but still be able to get through any work. 🙂

    • Sarah Markley

      i think everyone is different. and perhaps when we have at-home jobs and at-home children we learn how to adapt to lots of different situations. I know i’ve done a little bit of everything (from having office hours to working at nap time) and I think life stage plays a part too! Good luck to you!

  12. Lindsey Brackett

    Sarah.

    We met last year at Allume and I’ve been stopping by your blog ever since. In so many ways, your honest stories of how you’ve been finding what makes you come alive and then trying to find the time to do it among all the other blessings and obligations life hold, is my story too. I left teaching four years ago to WRITE but it’s only in the past year that I’ve called myself a writer, and only in the past few months that my work is being published and there are paychecks to prove it. I love this piece because it’s so where I am right now, too. Carving out time and holding it precious–mine is Wed from 9-1 when the baby is at Mother’s Morning Out and the bigs are at school and I’m learning to say a firm NO when people ask if they can encroach on that time. Deadlines help too. I’ve got a novel to finish and submit come January and people who have actually asked to see it (which makes me feel more sick than elated), so I’m protecting my “office hours” and calling it real. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Lindsey

  13. Luvsall4

    Would love info on how to start a blog and eventuallt profit from it! Any tips?

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