My being able to work from home at this time was one of the greatest things to happen to our family, as well as one of the worst things to happen to my personal management. Because Kennedy is still very young, it’s nice to be able to stay home with her and not have to shuttle her off to a daycare center or babysitter. Especially with the enormously high costs of such services, my staying home with our daughter is a huge savings. However, working from home with a 16-month old is not the stress-free cakewalk that many imagine. I even had misconceptions about it before I actually started doing it.
When I began my teaching career nearly four years ago, I held two jobs: one in an on-ground classroom, and one grading papers in an online classroom. I learned very quickly that time management was key to getting things done efficiently with both jobs, especially the work from home position. For the first year that I worked from home, I was routinely working around the clock, putting in way too many hours than what I was being paid for. I’d experience feelings of guilt when I wasn’t working, and I’d fill any free time I had with completing work. It was ridiculous. Once I adjusted to the job more, the amount of hours I’d spend on it became less, but despite these growing pains, I wasn’t working efficiently.
As I moved into my second year of teaching, I decided to take charge of my approach to my work from home job. I established some boundaries for myself, and though I didn’t always want to, I did my best to stick to them. The results were beneficial; I was able to carve out more free time, and my home environment returned to being one where I could relax as well as get work done when I needed to.
Now that we have Kennedy, working from home takes on a different dimension. There are certain challenges that are evident with both roles – that of being a parent, and that of being an employee who telecommutes. Children require a certain level of attention. Some require more attention depending on their age, health, and personality. I lucked out in that Kennedy is a fairly easy child to entertain, though the challenge has become greater as she’s grown older and become more mobile and aware of her environment. Because she is my child, it’s also very easy to get lost in her world. I get enthralled in watching her development from day to day. She is the ultimate distraction.
On the flip side, I’m working diligently to try to make my exclusively online classroom experience one that is as effective and fun as the on-ground classroom experience was with my last job. It’s easy for me to get caught up in coming up with new strategies for my students, responding to their discussion questions and emails, and brainstorming strategies for live sessions. While this is fulfilling for me professionally, it takes away from the other roles I hold in my family and in my household.
It’s a balancing act.
There are some tools I’m most grateful for as I attempt to balance my responsibility scales, and I recommend them to people trying to manage working from home, or those who work from home while also upholding other domestic obligations such as parenting or taking care of a family member.
- To-do lists
It seems so simple and mundane, but to-do lists are like a running agenda for the day. If you have the tasks you have to complete laid out in front of you in list form, it’s easy to work on each task and cross things off the list as they’re completed. The mere act of checking or crossing something off just gives you a sense of progress and productivity, and can help energize you to complete more. I can’t move through a week day without a to-do list. Otherwise, I’ll spend all day doing homework (did I mention I’m a student too?) or all day teaching new things to Kennedy, and not much else will get done.
- An office space with a door (preferably one that locks!)
This one may also seem fairly obvious, but it’s become a high priority for me recently. Part of being able to separate the roles I hold and the time I spend on each includes being able to physically separate myself from things and people who will distract me. When it’s time to work, I go into my office and close the door. Thankfully, my father can usually watch Kennedy during those times if she isn’t napping, and when the door is closed, it signifies that I’ve created an interruption-free space in which I can grade, hold live sessions with students, write, do what ever it is I need to. This isn’t to say that all of the work I complete is done in closed room space – in fact, most of the work I complete is done from my “pop-up office” in the living room while Kennedy watches Doc McStuffins or plays with her blocks. Some tasks don’t require seclusion for work, but others do. Having the option to separate myself is the bigger point, and utilizing this as necessary helps me to maintain my job.
- Office hours
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, when you elect to work from home exclusively, you’re transforming your home space into a multi-use space. You wake up there, you eat there, you relax there, you entertain there, but you also complete projects there, you attend meetings there, you put in extra hours there, you interact with your boss and coworkers there…it can quickly spoil the mecca of home that you’ve strived for if you’re not careful. For my profession, I have posted office hours during which students can contact me and expect an immediate response. I’ve also built in time for department meetings and conference calls as required. Students still call or text outside of these hours, and I receive emails around the clock from people I work with. However, I don’t respond to these matters unless I’m truly “open for business.” Likewise, my husband understands that during office hours, I’m not free to go to breakfast or to the park for a walk with the dogs. The only one who really is allowed to take me off course even the slightest bit during the workday is our daughter. This is where the true balancing act takes place when I don’t have some help from family. Any time taken from what was supposed to be set aside for work has to be made up for somehow.
Despite the challenges being a work at home mom poses, I’m appreciative of the chance to be near my daughter as she grows up. When she’s older, we plan to look into options for her a few days a week to get out of the house and be near other children, but this lifestyle works so well for our family right now. I never would’ve guessed that this would someday be my life, but I’m happy it is.