Working mums are productive. This is a fact. Ernst & Young conducted a study in 2013 on this very topic and found that women working part-time are the most productive workers and they waste the least time.
It is easy to see why – on the rare opportunity we get time to work or get tasks done, we know it is limited. Especially for mums where we know at any moment a little one could come in with the latest drama of the day. So we knuckle down and work as fast as possible!
Or as Lucille Ball put it:
“If you want things done, ask a busy person to do it.”
After my maternity leave, I went back to work part-time thanks to a highly flexible employer. Initially, I did 2 days a week in the office (shorter days to suit feeding schedules > I could only manage one expressed feed a day) and then extra hours at home. At first, this was easy: A.) I was loving using my brain again and staring into the eyes of a cute but immobile infant was not exactly the most stimulating and B.) Lots of Naps! Oh, those wonderful days when they would take multiple naps a day.
Then she started moving and needing epic stimulation. And then the naps cut down to one. Combined this meant that not only did I have less free hours in the day but by the time she had her nap I was exhausted as well and hardly in the mind for work. In the end, I extended my 2 days a week to full days once she was weaned and only worked from home if there was a specific meeting I needed to call in for or an urgent email that needed to be attended to. Over time, I was also gradually able to decrease my workload to make sure if fit this new 2 day structure.
After awhile though I knew I wanted a longer term plan, an even more flexible working arrangement – my own business. And here it is! And since I couldn’t give up my day job the only time I could find to do it was in those other 5 days I was at home, with little support as my husband works away a lot of the time and my mum already does the babysitting on those two days when I’m at work.
So I needed to find strategies that work for both Imogen and I to get things done. Here is a summary of the things I have learnt.
Strategies to Keep the Kids Happy
Obviously, there is no way you are going to get work done if you have a screaming toddler at your feet. You need to focus on them before you focus on you.
You can choose to work when they are napping or at night once they are asleep, and if you are a night owl this might work for you. But for me, I know I work best in the mornings especially for the stuff that requires “thinking”. And now being pregnant, I am simply too exhausted at night. So for me the majority of the time work is done when my little one is awake or when I can muster up the energy during naps. So how do I do it?
Such a dirty word sometimes, so I am hesitant to use it. But we do have a routine, albeit a flexible one. Her meal and sleep times are roughly around the same time every day (give or take half an hour). This helps to create a predictable flow for the day for her so she knows what is coming next.
2. Find the Pockets of Time
Get out a weekly planner and put in all the times you have other commitments like work, school and regular playgroups/outings. Then block out the meal times. From what’s left where can you find to work from home? As I said, mornings work best for me but I can’t do that every morning due to work and also pre-booked toddler activities. In the end, I have around 3-4 mornings a week where I can try and get things done for an hour or so. This is the time I use for writing and epic planning. Then in the evenings and nap times is when I can do the less brain heavy stuff like social media and graphics.
3. Fill them Up Emotionally
Now you have found when is best for you to work, you need to make it happen. And the first trick I have found to this is making sure they have had their fill of mummy attention. This means a good 20-30 minutes of focused play. Just you and them and some books, activities or a playground. This makes all the difference and the days I ignore this advice are the days I get barely anything done since a toddler is constantly knocking at my door.
4. Fill them Up Physically
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Make sure they have had a good snack and drink and the nappy is clean! A couple of excuses knocked off the list anyway.
5. Work with your Childs Personality
My daughter is very independent so she is quite happy to occupy herself IF she can’t see me! If I am nearby all she wants is my regular attention but if I shut the door and hide away I might get one or two little whines but then she is on here way (most of the time). Other kids might be contented playing away by themselves just so long as mummy is within site.
6. Activities not just Toys
Now it’s time to try and slip away. While most kids these days, mine included, are well equipped with a selection of toys. They don’t always get played with. Solution: Activities. I keep a few different quiet, “clean” and safe activities tucked away and rotate through them during the week. There are also activities that she has access to at all times like colouring as these are well and truly favourites that she keeps coming back to throughout the day.
The choice of activities will differ according to their age and the attention span might still be short initially but by doing this you keep things interesting and stimulating. Back it up with a little background music or TV and we have now worked up to her being contented playing by herself for an hour or so!
Some of the activities we use are pictured below and include pasta play, various puzzles, magnetic dress-up dolls, magnetic shape puzzles, fishing, threading and posting. Some I’ve just made at home and others I’ve purchased (If you are in Australia, I highly recommend you check out the wooden toys section in Kmart for great reasonably priced, quality choices). You can look at any “montessori” based learning site for some good ideas. But if all else fails, I am not opposed to putting on a Wiggles DVD!
Strategies for You
Now you (hopefully) have a contented toddler, now you need to get in the right frame of mind.
1. Eliminate Excuses
YAY! You have created a moment in time to get things done. But now enter a range of excuses. Here are some common ones and solutions:
- “Mum Guilt”: Think about why you are doing this in the long-term!
- “So much other housework to do”: Remember the pockets of time step above. Also schedule in time for housework – if you know you have time set aside for that you can more easily focus on the task at hand
- “But what if something happens to them”: Obviously make the environment as safe as possible and then monitor them. Maybe you can work in the same room as them and they will still be happy or in my case I set up an IP camera which I watch from my computer.
- “My child is particularly needy/sick today”: There will always be days when it is just not going to work. Do what you have to do to take care your child. But if it turns into an everyday occurrence have a look at the routine and environment, are there other things you can try that will work for your child.
2. Inspire yourself
Ask yourself what inspires you? What gets the brain ticking? For me one simple trick is Podcasts! Through the course of the morning as I am are getting ready for the day or having breakfast I play a podcast on or near the topic that I want to write about that morning. It really gets the juices going and by the time I sit at my computer it just flows out (well… a good proportion of the time anyway).
3. Create a Commute
Commute? When you are working from home? YES! I’ve heard this trick from many home business owners and have found it really works for me. It’s a great way to create a division in your day, get the thoughts flowing (see above) and also means you have to actually get dressed!
For me, this is simply walking the dog. As I have a dog this is something I obviously have to do through the course of the day anyway so it checks that off. But it also has the added benefit of fresh air for miss toddler, which also provides a natural divider/signal through the day for her so she knows what to expect next. Win, win, win.
4. Work with Your Frame of Mind
You have a big task list of things to get done. And yes sometimes you need to force yourself to get some things finished off due to deadlines, but things happen so much quicker and easier if you work from the mind space you are in. You might be motivated by a particular topic or project – work on that. Or you might be more in the mood for graphics work – do that. Or it might be an organising/planning type of day.
5. Get Help
Many mums are scared of this word but sometimes it is just a matter of asking for help. I personally avoid asking extra babysitting hours from mum as she already does the two days a week but when I am back on maternity leave again I will certainly keep up trying to claim that time so I can work on this business. Similarly, on the weeks when hubby is home, he allows me to have some office time while he
babysits parents. But if there does come a time when I have an urgent deadline to meet or just a backlog of work a few hours here or there won’t do any harm!
6. Find the Gaps
As any mum knows, no two days are ever the same. On some it is just impossible to get anything done, then on others you are so productive. We need to work with those opportunities! Often there are little pockets of time, just 10 or so minutes where we quickly do a Social Media Update or Send that Email. Utilise those times. Note: I’m not recommending you have your phone in your hand at all times (see “Fill them up Emotionally” above) but when they are very happily distracted in the sandpit… take advantage!
7. Create Accountability
For me, if I say publically I will do something, I need to follow through. Classic “Obliger”. Another great trick is along similar lines is coworking! Once a week a friend comes over during nap time and we just sit quietly and each work on our businesses!
So there you have it, in an ideal world this would work perfectly but we all know that’s not the case with kids… sometimes you end up just needing to work with them right on your lap! <<<