The idea of a home office seems glorious to most. When we work from home, our family might think that we’re available 24/7. In truth, you may have chosen to work from your home office to save money on transportation, work clothing, and childcare. You want to earn a stable living without missing out on the best years of parenting. But when you can’t set boundaries that protect your work hours while maintaining a family schedule, it’s nearly impossible to meet both your professional goals and your family obligations.
What are the keys to juggling your family life while maintaining a productive work schedule? Here’s some advice from parents who’ve managed to pull it off.
Set Clear Schedules and Boundaries for your home office
When everyone knows what to expect from you at any given time, it’s easier to set your household and your business up for success. Be realistic, but try to arrange your day to optimize your time when your kids are out of the house, when you’re out running errands, and when everyone’s home at the end of the day.
Set Clear Boundaries with Clients
Managed expectations forge solid relationships, and predictability and reliability is an important part of customer service.
Let your clients know what time of day you’re free to receive, make or return phone calls and e-mails. If you need to meet with clients away from home, set aside blocks of time each week for these appointments. This allows you to structure your work time so you can maintain the right mindset for each activity, and maximize your productivity.
For example, freelance website developer Meghan M. sets aside an hour mid-morning for calls and correspondence, and an hour around two p.m. to follow up on voicemails and e-mail replies. These time slots work well when she’s dealing with clients who follow traditional office hours, and any leftover time she spends reaching out to business prospects, tending to her own professional social media and website content, or organizing her workspace.
If she doesn’t have an on-site client meeting on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday mornings, the times she sets aside for this purpose, she’s prioritized activities to fill those timeslots:
- Errands that take advantage of the “away on work business” blocks of time
- Catch-up tasks, which otherwise prevent her job from eating into personal or family time
- Household projects outside of typical chores (for example: cleaning fixtures, shampooing carpets, or seasonal yard work.)
“I don’t care how desperate I am for business,” Meghan said. “If customers demand that I pick up the phone any time of the day or night, they’re not the customers I want to keep. They detract from my other business as well as the effort I put into their accounts.”
Set Clear Boundaries with Family
It’s important to have a dedicated work space at home, preferably in its own room with a door. Aside from taking advantage of home office tax deductions, you have a physical and psychological barrier separating your work duties from your family members.
When you design a routine for your work activities and use discipline when following your own schedule, your family is more likely to understand and honor these boundaries.
Besides setting—and respecting—boundaries defining “family time” and “work time”, it’s important to clearly communicate with family members when those boundaries are “soft.”
David H., an established comic book illustrator, kept three door hangers to show his family just how available he was at any given time. A green card hung on the doorknob let his wife and three-year-old daughter know they could pop in whenever they felt like it. A yellow card meant he needed to concentrate on what he was doing, but that he was available if his family needed him.
A red card meant that he was on an important call or tight deadline and, unless the house was on fire, he was not to be disturbed.
“To a little kid, any question or issue is a house fire, so that took some time to sink in,” said David.
Define and Share Domestic Responsibilities
As a work-from-home professional who is also a parent or a spouse, you know that in a pinch, you’re always there for your family. However, the time taken away from work means that at some point, time will have to be subtracted from family time.
“I was upset that my partner was always working,” said Lisa B., who manages a restaurant. “Of course, he pointed out that I had late hours, which meant he was doing most of the parenting during the week, and playing catch-up with his claim adjustment work late at night.” Her partner was the one getting up early in the morning to get the kids off to school before working four hours, running errands and catching a nap before picking up the kids again in the afternoon.
“We just kind of defaulted to him doing all the family stuff, since he worked from home,” Lisa said.
Yet, her partner wasn’t able to spend quality time with his family, because he was either too tired by the time the weekend arrived or too burdened with the work he couldn’t finish that week. Lisa and her partner divorced two years after he became a work-at-home dad.
Defining, planning and sharing work responsibilities is important to keeping the peace within households when one or both parents work from a home office. Some other tips for keeping families healthy and on-schedule include:
- Make or prepping healthy meals ahead to save time and reduce reliance on expensive take-out or unhealthy junk food.
- Set “wind-down” and bedtime hours for all family members, and keep sleep areas separate from home offices.
- Make time in the evening or afternoon to be available to help with kids’ homework and share playtime
- Hold periodical family meetings to find out what’s working with the arrangement and what needs adjustment; communication and cooperation are crucial when one parent works at home.
- Invest in daycare one day a week or a couple hours after school if it relieves stress on either parent.
- Plan errands and appointments carefully and efficiently, taking into consideration each parent’s schedule.
- Set aside family time during the week, on weekends and on school breaks, and honor it.
- Set aside regular, scheduled personal time for each parent, and honor it.
When you’re able to structure your time, it’s easier to decide when it’s appropriate to be flexible. As an added bonus, organized schedules help you get more done in less time, so you’re better able to take care of yourself and your family.