How to Manage Your Schedule as a Work-at-Home Mom
This week is the last post in my maternity leave series! We've talked about how to get ready for maternity leave and how to pay yourself while taking some time off---but none of that changes the fact that when leave ends, you'll have a freelance business to run and a baby to take care of. Anyone who's ever run a business or had a baby will tell you that it's one of the hardest things they've ever done . . . so how are you supposed to do both at the same time?
These are my top tips for managing your work-at-home mom schedule. The #1 thing to remember as you read them is that every baby and business and family is different. What works for one mama may not work for you. They key is to not get discouraged and keep using trial and error to figure out what's best for your situation.
How to Manage Your Work-at-Home Mom Schedule
1. Have grace for yourself
There's a secret no one tells first-time mamas. Maybe it's because we don't want to squelch your happy pregnancy joy, or because we know that you're already worried about the million things that could go wrong during labor. But here's the thing:
Having a baby is just as rough emotionally and mentally as it is physically.
Even with a maternity leave, you might still feel like you're drowning by the time you'd planned on getting back to work. Even if your hormones have balanced out and you aren't struggling with depression or anxiety, you're probably still contending with sleep deprivation (which is no joke, let me tell you).
That's why having grace for yourself is the #1 thing you can do to manage your schedule as a work-at-home mom. You're under enough pressure as it is. Be kind to yourself, and do at least one thing each day that's just for you (even if it's small).
2. Always leave a buffer
A buffer is the wiggle room you leave yourself to complete a task on time even if something goes wrong. (Like the extra ten minutes you give yourself to make it to the doctor on time in case there's traffic.) Most freelancers are already used to keeping a buffer to make sure they're always on time for client deadlines. When there's a baby in the picture, that buffer space needs to be twice the size it was before.
There are a million reasons work-at-home moms get derailed from work projects. The baby was sick, the baby stopped napping, you ran out of formula and the car got a flat tire on the way to the grocery store . . . you get it.
You don't want to have to explain to your clients why you're late on their project. It's unprofessional and it can sound like you're making excuses. But you also don't want to kill yourself trying to meet their deadline and risk turning in substandard work (and battling a whopping case of mom guilt while you're at it).
Plenty of buffer time is your solution. And it doesn't just apply to work! Think you can have yourself and the baby ready to walk out the door in 40 minutes in the morning? Think again. Buffers are a lifesaver in every area of mom life. You may as well embrace them. As your baby gets older and you settle into a stronger routine, you'll have a better feel for how much buffer time you actually need.
3. Set dedicated work times
Setting boundaries is important for any freelancer, but it's a nonnegotiable for work-at-home moms. If you don't place firm boundaries around your work time, you'll feel like you're spending every waking moment doing something for someone else. (Ask me how I know this.)
You already spend most of your day taking care of your baby and keeping your household running. You shouldn't spend every minute that's left on client work. Boundaries make sure you leave time for self-care and keeping up with your other relationships.
For some moms, this looks like working a full eight hours on days they have child care and not at all during the rest of the week. For others, it means waking up early and working during naptime and weekends but keeping evenings work-free. Create boundaries that work for you and your family---and don't let work cut into them, no matter how tempting it may be.
Read more about how I managed my time when I was in the trenches with a newborn in12 Keys to Thriving as a Work-at-Home Mom!
"Focus" and "prioritize" are the only productivity hacks you need as a new mom. You may not be able to do it all, but you can maintain a sane schedule by choosing your priorities wisely and focusing on one thing at a time.
Prioritizing means you're intentional about starting each week and each day with a focus on one thing that really matters. Why only one thing? Because that may be all you're able to get to in a day! Setting a clear priority for the day will help you keep a manageable freelance schedule and end each day feeling accomplished rather than discouraged by a long to-do list that didn't get done.
I like to take this idea one step further by setting a daily priority for different areas of life. I'll choose one thing for work, one thing for the household (meal planning, cleaning up one area of the house, etc.), and one thing for self-care. You could include other categories that are important to you, like health or relationships. This keeps your life feeling a little more balanced without overwhelming you.
Anything you can automate or take off your plate will make your work-at-home schedule much easier to manage. Handing off work to someone else can bring up a whole bunch of emotions---maybe you're afraid no one else can do something as well as you can, or you feel inadequate because you think you should be able to handle it.
They're valid emotions. However, it's worth it to work past those blocks and try automating or outsourcing certain tasks to free up more of your own time and maintain your sanity. These are some of my favorite ways to get small tasks off my plate so I can focus on the big picture.
Things to outsource / automate in your business
- Email management (Set up canned responses with answers to commonly asked questions, or hire a VA to manage your inbox)
- Social media management (Use scheduling tools like Edgar or outsource to a VA)
- Website maintenance
- Blog editing
- PDF or printable design
- Any small, recurring tasks (If This, Then That is a brilliant free app for this)
Things to outsource / automate at home
- Grocery delivery (Use a service like Instacart or hire a neighborhood high schooler to shop for you)
- Home cleaning (Can't afford a cleaning service? Outsource this to your spouse or older kids!)
- Meal planning
- Chauffeuring kids (Setting up a carpool is a good way to reduce your chauffeuring duties)
- Paying bills (Discover the magic of auto-pay!)
Want more tips for what to outsource in life and business? One Woman Shop has amazingresources on outsourcing, and Abbie and I chat about some of our favorite outsourcing / organizational tools in this Chasing Creative episode.
Did I miss anything? Share your favorite strategies for work-at-home mamas in the comments!