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The secret of success for work-at-home moms

What if I told you that there was one principle that would have the biggest impact on whether or not you’re successful as a work-at-home mom?

Hint: It’s not the industry or niche you choose. It’s not the structure of your business or what trade organizations you join. It’s not even the people you network with or your customer service.

All of those things are important, of course, but the number one reason many work-at-home moms give up is not because their businesses aren’t doing well, but because they’re not doing well. They’re tired, stressed and frazzled, pulled in a million directions and feeling like they’re not giving their best to their families or to their businesses.

So what’s the key to success? Simply put: Get it done early.

This principle applies to your home and family life as well as your business. Whenever possible, get it — whatever it may be — done early and eliminate the stress and frustration of being pulled in a million directions.

Avoid the guilt of shushing your teething baby because of looming deadlines or groaning in frustration when the school nurse calls, or saying no — yet again — to a fun activity with your kids.

The ironic part of this for those of us who are naturally procrastinators is that while the pressure of deadlines provides incentive to get things done, the freedom that comes from getting things done early is an entirely different type of motivation that can make work fun again.

And because you’re able to cuddle your teething baby, rush to the school to pick up a sick child, or run through the sprinklers with your kids on a whim, you fight back against the mommy guilt that threatens to slip in as you try to juggle a business and your family.

This isn’t a magic formula, and you still have to work hard and make sacrifices as a work-at-home mom. But being ahead gives you the same kind of freedom and flexibility that being debt-free does; you eliminate the “time debt” of always being behind.

The benefits of getting things done ahead of time are fairly obvious, and I think we can all agree that it sounds great in principle — but what does it look like in real life? Here are some examples:

At Home

  • Cut up produce, divide and freeze meat and prepare snacks at the beginning of the week so they’re ready and waiting.
  • Fold laundry straight out of the dryer rather than leaving it in baskets for later.
  • Meal plan so you don’t have to wonder what’s for dinner and whether you have all of the ingredients you need.
  • During the school year, empty and repack backpacks for the next day every afternoon.
  • Practice the touch-it-once rule rather than shuffling clutter around to be dealt with later.

work-at-home mom tips

In Your Business

  • Respond to and delete as many emails as you can as soon as you read them.
  • Eat the frog first thing in the morning, whether you feel like it or not.
  • Work on projects early rather than waiting until the last minute. This will look different for different businesses, but here are a couple examples:
    • Write and schedule blog posts ahead of time.
    • Work on accounting and taxes as soon as the month, quarter or year ends rather than waiting until they’re due.
    • Keep inventory in stock rather than waiting for orders to come in.

But what if you’re already behind?

If you’re barely meeting deadlines (or regularly missing them!), then the idea of getting not just caught up but actually ahead can be overwhelming. Let’s face it, though — being behind is pretty overwhelming and stressful too, so it’s probably worth the extra effort to break that cycle!

Here are a few strategies to use:

  • Start today. You’re already behind on everything, so don’t wait until you get caught up to start working ahead. Instead, start working ahead on emails, projects and action items that come in today while you’re catching up on the older stuff.
  • Set aside an extra day to catch up. Leave the kids with your husband, hire a babysitter on a Saturday or take a “vacation” day from regular work duties and use that day to catch up on outstanding projects.
  • Make the effort. Is it easy to move from behind to ahead? No, of course not. If it was, we’d all be ahead all the time. But put in the extra effort now and it will pay off in dividends with less stress as you work to stay ahead.
  • Build margin into your day. If there’s not enough time to get everything done, then there’s nothing you can do to change that other than to eliminate things from your schedule and to-do list. Which things on your to-do list feel really important but aren’t actually all that important?  It’s okay to do less, and if you really can’t eliminate anything on your to-do list, then it’s time to hire an assistant to help you!

The more I commit to getting things done early rather than under the wire, the more convinced I am that this is the most important thing I can do as a work-at-home mom. There are so many things we can’t control on a day-to-day basis, but we can get things done ahead of time so that we have the time and energy to handle with the unexpected!

How could you put this principle to practice in your own life? What can you get done early today?

Reading Time:

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    • Sarah G

      Agreed! I’m not a work-at-home mom, but I do have a 1 year old that needs a messy high chair area to be wiped/swept 3x’s/day (at least) to be ready for the next meal. If I’ve forgotten to do it “ahead” I have a very hungry, cranky guy waiting for a meal. So applicable to motherhood in general!

  1. Anthony from CharismaticKid

    I make sure to make my videos a couple weeks in advance.. I hate getting down to the last minute and then having the fear of not delivering on Tuesday and Thursday. I would cry!

  2. Sheridan

    These are great tips! I especially love the eat the frog and the folding laundry straight from the dryer!

  3. Tabitha

    Love this! I have done many work-at-home “jobs” from direct sales to custom crafting to (currently) writing. I fell into the “frazzled” and “guilty” categores for sure. At the end of the day, it always felt like I “didn’t get enough done” and definitely didn’t get any “me” time or enough play-with-the-kids time!
    I finally realized how much procrastinating and having things “hanging over my head” was affecting me and made me feel unproductive and stressed UNTIL the project was done–but of course there was always another project!! I am NOT a morning person and my favorite thing to do first-thing every day is my Bible reading and prayer time….so I’m still figuring out how to do THAT, then “eat that frog” and move along, wwithOUT my kids going crazy!! The days that I do definitely flow better and FEEL better!
    Thanks for the inspiration and ideas! And BTW, Tsh’s daily docket definitely helps me prioritize my tasks, too! Awesome resources!!

    • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

      Great tip about the daily docket!

      I think you’re right that being ahead just makes you FEEL better, which makes it so much easier to tackle whatever comes your way!

  4. Tabitha

    oh, to answer your questions….heehee….#1, I can get my daily dockets filled out for the week and get my meals planned–nothing worse than last-minute trips to the store for a few ingredients!! #2, tomorrow first thing is cleaning the kitchen. That’ll make the whole house feel better and I don’t really like doing dishes and such. But I love it once it’s done!!

  5. Ellen

    This is really helpful. Right now, I’m in a tough spot with my at-home work (I’m a writer) because those last few weeks of the kids’ school really did a number on my work time. There was always an awards assembly or something smack in the middle of my day. So I’ve been in “recovery” mode for a while.

    My “frog” is also exercise, and for a few months I’ve been getting up way early (4:30 a.m.) so I can both exercise and do the initial e-mail reading/blog reading of the day without any kid interruptions. Though I’m even more wiped out than usual at night, this has transformed my life. On any given day, I’m at least assured of about 2 hours of peace and quiet. Also, I’m nicer to the kids when I greet them after having accomplished a few things and had a cup of coffee than when they wake me from a sound sleep, usually complaining that they can’t find their favorite shirt or they are hungry for breakfast NOW.

    I’ve gotten really good at doing some things ahead of time, such as packing up the kids’ school backpacks and doing other tasks the night before. I’ll make a grocery list and get out all the coupons and reusable bags the night before a big shop, for example. I’m not as good with the work thing. I’m one of those writers who works best under deadline. Writing blog posts ahead is one of my professional goals. With my youngest child going to kindergarten in September, I plan to come up with a more strict work schedule (write posts for various blogs I write for on certain days of the week, for example).

  6. Rachel Blaufeld

    Great post! I am a big believer of “eating the frog” in the morning….I take it one step further and write the task in my calendar in the first slot of the day — whatever it may be.

    I also unpack and repack backpacks and lunch boxes right after school….drives my husband crazy, but it WORKS!


  7. Katherine

    This is great advice! It feels like that extra encouragement I need to get out of bed before my kids, to get a jump on the day!

  8. Marci

    What great advice! As a “natural procrastinator”, I definitely find that getting work done early makes it more enjoyable. It’s just fighting that inner laziness! When I take care of things when I should, my stress level is much lower. As a mom to three little ones, I don’t need any added stress!

  9. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    This is great. I have been working this year on having the discipline to go ahead and get the job done (whatever the job is), because I’m never going to “feel” like it.

    Now I’m working on getting ahead!

  10. Living the Balanced Life

    What great advice Mandi! I hate that feeling of pressure and knowing I am behind, it greatly increases my anxiety level, which I don’t need to do! You have given some great strategies here. One I am loving is folding clothes as soon as they come out of the dryer. I am trying more and more to do this as it eliminates a basket glaring at me as one more undone task!
    Even though the getting up early can be tough for moms of young ones, the value and relief of getting ahead can make a big difference in your life. Face it, at some points in life youa re going to be tired and somewhat sleep deprived. Might as well make some progress while you are at it!

  11. steadymom

    Beautifully written, Mandi – such great advice. Just what I needed to stop surfing now and get to work. 😉


  12. Danica

    I am actually working on this right now, so it’s great to have some validation that I’m doing the right thing. I am focusing on getting ahead on my blog posts right now without falling behind on anything else. I would like to, ideally, be a week ahead with my posts. Once I get there, I am going to focus on the reports I have wanted to write for months now. Both homeschooling and business.

    So, thank you!

  13. Prof KRG

    These are excellent tips for anyone, not just work-at-home moms. I am terrible about eating the frog. I’ve got to work on that. I tend to put off big tasks instead. Not good!

  14. typome

    I work from home two days a week remotely, and it definitely helps to get things done ahead of time, even if it means working later at night so that I have the day free to be with my toddler. I also meal plan and try to prep his food so that I don’t have to stress about it. I also leave chores that I can do when he’s asleep undone so that I can focus on him or work during the day. The challenge is when work needs something fast and out of the blue, so then I literally have to balance doing work while my kid is clamoring for my attention.

    • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

      So true — sometimes things do pop up that need your attention right away, but I think the difference is that if you’re ahead most of the time, it’s easier to handle the occasional stress. What do you think?

  15. kay

    Love this post! Very helpful ideas. Indeed, I’ve found life to be so much sweeter when I get my work done early and leave time later on for the urgent and fun alike. I think you’ve really hit on something here. Unfortunately, I’ve been reading this post (and others) instead of getting my work done this morning! Just having a hard time getting going on a Monday morning. Funny, but Mondays and Fridays seem to be the hardest for me to be productive. Anyone else find that to be true?

  16. Meagan @ The Happiest Mom

    Great, great advice! And of course, this can be taken very literally, too – get up early and do your work then! As a dyed-in-the-wool night owl this has been a hard lesson for me to learn, but the simple truth is I’m just not as fresh and effective late at night as I am early in the morning, even though I LOVE staying up late and HATE getting up early. I was able to burn the midnight oil in my teens and twenties, not so much anymore. When I get up an hour or so before the kids and attack my work load then, I feel so protective and ahead of the game for the rest of the day!

    • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

      Yep, I think you nailed it — I feel the same way when I have a productive morning before the day really even gets started!

  17. Meagan @ The Happiest Mom

    Um, of course I meant ‘Productive” not “Protective.” Maybe I should say I’m PROTECTIVE of my morning work time so I can be PRODUCTIVE all day. 🙂

  18. Stephanie - Home with the Kids

    I have to admit, I usually handle my frogs after the kids go to bed, that being the one time I have peace and quiet. Principle still applies, though, because if I let television distract me, the work won’t get done.

    I love getting ahead on blog posts. It’s so hard being behind on things. My best work time is when I claim a weekend day while my husband wrangles the kids. Just one day, as the other is for family stuff. Can’t let working at home take all our fun times away.

  19. Kim Foster MD

    Awesome tips. I’m always working on this aspect of life–I’m such a natural procrastinator! But all those things (and all that clutter) hanging over my head has a definite negative effect. And when that overwhelmed feeling starts to creep up, it becomes hard to even know where to start! I like the “touch it once” rule, and the “eating the frog” idea. Love it.

  20. Heart and Haven

    Great tips!

    Some days I feel like everything is running smoothly, the house is clean, the kids are cooperative, and I have tons of free time. Other days I feel frantic trying to get things done, kids are unruly and making messes everytime I turn around, and I’m exhausted at the end of the day!

    Keeping up on tasks as they come up, instead of letting them build to a big mess, is a huge help! Similar to folding laundry right out of the dryer…I clean the kitchen throughout the day, putting dishes in dishwasher, after each meal, instead of waiting to the end of the day. Sounds weird, but if my kitchen is clean I find myself calmer to handle other chores more effeciently.

  21. Linda Scoggins

    Thanks you for the inspiring advice. I am a work from home mom. All 3 of my sons are grown and I have 2 grandsons. I am an artist and I plan for 1 day a week to paint because I also clean houses 4 days a week for about 3 hours each of those days plus driving time which really cuts in to productivity at home. I really want to be an artist only and not do the cleaning so I have to schedule one day a week so I can someday get to my goal. Getting things done early is definitely is very important.
    Many blessings to you and your family.

  22. Tashia

    Excellent advice about getting things done early! I tend to be a procrastinator which does make for a lot of added stress! I try to stick to my daily schedule and to-do list but it is usually filled with catch up work.

    • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

      I’m definitely a natural procrastinator too, but I think I’m finally to the point where the benefits of NOT procrastinating outweigh my desire to procrastinate. At least most of the time!

  23. Amy

    Thanks for the encouraging post! I am a news writer, blogger, and an on line student in a vet. tech. distance learning program. I have three kids (5,3, and 1) My husband is the King of Time Management and I learned SO much from him. There is no way I could manage everything and enjoy life if it weren’t for him. I like what you say about not having the “mommy guilt” or juggling a teething baby while trying to make a deadline. I try to keep the different areas of my life separate. I never study or write while the kids are awake. I just can’t focus when they are. All three have a mandatory afternoon rest time whether they sleep or not. I will also occassionally take 2-3 hours away from home on my husband’s day off or on a weekend and go to a coffee shop to work. Time management is similar to making a financial budget. When you budget, you basically tell each dollar where it is supposed to go. When you plan your day, you divide each hour into what you want to do. But always being open to surprises and changes when they occur.

  24. Jessica Washburn

    Great advice. I’m all about ‘being my kids mom’ and not sticking them in day care. I know what it’s like to work from home and feel like I’m not giving my best to anyone because of being stretched too thin. For me it was definitely helpful to get up early (get my workout in), and make lists!!! Kudos to all the moms out there who do what it takes to be their kids mom!!!

  25. Katie

    Thank you for this article! I needed this! I’m not a stay or work at home mom, but this applies to my working outside the home mom situation too! I like the way you compared it to getting and staying out of debt. I like the correlation!

  26. Sheila J. Hill

    Thanks for the advice you have shared us here…It can help a lot of moms regarding their career…Cheers!!

  27. Adriel

    Thanks for a great post with really practical tips. I feel like I need to take to heart tips in every single one of these categories. But step #1 for me I KNOW has to be adjusting my sleep – earlier to bed, earlier to wake. If I could be more well-rested and get a jump start on the day before I take over mommy duties, I know that I would feel more organized, more at peace, and more free to enjoy the moments I have with my son. Really need to get my act together in the next couple of months before baby #2 comes… as I know if I keep going how I am now I will sink and drown. Absolutely most make some changes. Thanks again.

  28. Jessica

    i think the laundry and snack ideas are things i can implement right away!

  29. Sarah @ Your Healthy Home Biz

    Mandi, your post hit home big time since I am a terrible procrastinator and then let that delay turn into worse problems as my tension feeds into my whole family.

    One of the best tactics I’ve found to do much of what you mentioned and set the day and week off right is to make mornings work hard for me on many fronts. I’ve written about it here:

    It’s made a phenomenal difference in my productivity and day. But I still can improve in not letting deadlines dictate my timing.

  30. Emily

    ITA, although I thought the article was going to be about organization. On the other hand, staying on top of things is a kind of organization. I’m happy to say I have never been a procrastinator, and not happy to say that doesn’t necessarily keep me from feeling frazzled sometimes.

  31. Laura

    Mandi – Thanks for this post! I am constantly feeling behind in just about everything. I love your comparison of being in debt financially with being in debt in terms of time. What a goal to strive for, and what peace I’ll feel when I get there.

    I may not be able to catch up and *then* work ahead, but I can work ahead on some things now while I’m catching up. I never thought of it that way.

  32. Mel@MySunshine

    Yes! Awesome tips. It’s funny, I think of these things often and then never actually use them. I’m a work out of the home mama and the same things apply. I’m formulating a blog post now, about how preparing meal kits saves sooo much time for dinner prep during the week. I’ve just tried this out recently and the reduction in stress is priceless. There’s time to play with my little man and time for a stroll around the neighborhood.
    Work hard early on, the rewards are totally worth it.

  33. Call Mom

    What wonderful tips! Thanks for sharing!

  34. Amity Hook-Sopko

    LOVE this perspective! Thanks for the practical tips 🙂

  35. Megan

    Thank you for the awesome reminder! Ever since my MIL visited and dragged me and the kiddo off on never ending adventures, I feel like I have been running around with my head chopped off. This post reminded me how to get it all back together again! Thank you!

    • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

      LOL! I know that feeling well too — but I’m glad the post helped!

  36. Brena Fint

    Thank for revealing the secret!!!We all know that secrets remain as secrets, but thanks to your post…

  37. Joseph Dabon

    Great article. Simple and easy to follow and full of practical tips. It does not pretend to be a cure-all formula for procrastinators but rather a soft nudge in the right direction.

  38. Paula @Motherhood Outloud

    I have learned this as I’ve taught part time while also being a SAHM for the last several years. I have my summers off, but I always take a few days during the summer to do serious planning for the coming year. My husband (or a grandma) takes the kids on these days and I work, work, work, without interruption for hours at a time. I find that being focused on the task at hand allows me to be better at my job and being prepared ahead of time makes me a better teacher once school begins AND a better mom. It isn’t possible to anticipate and plan ahead for everything, but when you have worked ahead where you can, those things that pop up tend to be much less stressful. Thanks for the reminder!

  39. Kimberly

    I do some of these almost daily, and then there are others that I do sometimes and then some that I just think about doing. It definitely helps to get able to get things done early. A little planning (especially for meals) can really help to ease stress. Also, tackling the email box in the morning is now a habit for me which allows me to get on with my day and on to other tasks.

  40. Paige

    THANKS A TON! I am struggling at the moment but this just makes so much stinkin sense. Blessings to you today!

  41. Charlotte

    This is such an inspiring post for the moms like me… Thank you for sharing.

  42. Samantha

    I started to get my (home)business together when I started planning ahead and stopped procrastinating. It’s gives me great pleasure to see that I already make use of the tips provided here. It really works!

  43. Maria

    Wow, thanks Mandi for this great article! I think that’s the trickiest thing, trying to plan for the future. I read something recently that said that moms need to live in two different “time zones”. One in the present, and one in the future, planning for things that will need to get done in the next weeks and months. I find this tremendously challenging, but I will print off this article and use some of its tips to try and catch up while also planning for future activities. THANKS!

  44. Pam

    Such great advice. And I took on a huge project for a micro-credit site and I am totally stressed out and feeling the guilt thing.

  45. Arwin Kim

    how do you manage your time while you have to take your baby?

  46. Julie

    Wow! Followed over here from Money Saving Mom and this post is one I will never forget. I felt calmer just reading it. Thanks for the inspiration to change my procrastinating habits.

  47. Lisa


    I agree with everything you said! Reading this post and Crystal’s inspired me to put a similar post up as well!


  48. Brandi

    Thank you for the great tips! I’m really just getting into my work from home groove, and this post really does come in handy.

  49. Jennifer G

    I don’t work from home, but I am about to be a homeschooling mom of 2. I have been getting up early in the mornings (before my son anyway) for a while now, maybe a little over a year. But my mornings have just recently begun to be productive. Instead of using them for “me” time, I have started getting up and getting dressed, putting on makeup, & starting laundry. I have also begun running a load of laundry at bedtime so that first thing, I can toss that in the dryer. That way I’m getting 2 loads of laundry done each day, without much stress. I also have been making a point to clean the kitchen, run the dishwasher & prep the morning’s coffee pot shortly after dinner so my evenings and mornings run smoother. Getting stuff done at night makes me feel like I’m getting more done early in the morning. I’m hoping that by the time baby #2 gets here (in just under a month) I will have been doing all this stuff long enough that it is habit and not overwhelming to keep up with a newborn. I am doing a small bit of freezer/batch cooking right now too, and I want to start doing meal planning to take the stress off that part of the day.

  50. Amber

    This is a great post! I’m a new mom to a 2 month old and currently working from home. I’m taking your tips and running with them! lol…Thank you!

  51. Donna Sickinger | Pajama Paycheque

    Thank you for sharing these great tips! These are so important to staying productive when you’re a work at home mom.

  52. TravelMom

    Great tips! Specially about eliminating things from to-do-list when they don’t fit into the schedule! Working moms tend to overload themselves with all the work and duties while some are not that important and can be done later on. More time to relax -> happier mom -> happier family! 🙂
    The only thing I would add to these tips is “Do not feel guilty”. We try to be supermoms with hot dinner always ready before husband is back home and business blooming, but it is SO hard and leads to so much stress. Some good points about not feeling guilty for not being perfect are stated here Fuel for thought!

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