Balancing family and career is tricky for everyone. Each is important to us, and each makes demands on our time that, at times, require that the other to take a back seat. When you work at home, this is just as true for you as it is for your counterparts back at the office. However, work-at-home parents are faced with a different set of challenges when it comes to creating healthy work-life balance. We need to be proactive and take steps to manage these challenges. Here are seven ways to help achieve professional and personal balance.
Create and Follow Some Ground Rules
Drawing some lines and boundaries around work is essential to creating a sense of balance for everyone in the household when one family member works at home. Creating some work-at-home ground rules for family members (both adults and children) can help set realistic expectations for what you can and cannot do in a workday.
Those who work at home will need to set some guidelines for themselves as well, so they can ensure that they are not working too little or too much, and avoiding distractions. It's not always the other people in our lives who may distract us; sometimes distractions come in the form of housework, TV, or social media. Identify your most common distraction and set a daily goal to deal with distractions.
Whatever goals you choose—avoiding distractions, following your ground rules, growing your business, spending more time with family, or advancing your career.
The only way to achieve them is to work hard and put them in the forefront of your daily routine. It helps to break down your goals into a series of smaller goals. Whether short-term, mid-term, or long-term, make sure the goals are based on the solid foundation of your values.
Start with your overall vision and work backward until you identify what your daily goals must be to achieve them. Check-in and evaluate your progress periodically.
Create systems and routines to keep you organized both at home and at work. This might apply to business-related tasks such as tracking tax paperwork or improving your time management, or it might mean setting up a system for communicating with your children's school or creating a family calendar to keep track of everyone's activities. It takes effort to think out and implement different ways of keeping your life organized. Take time to do this, but don't let it bog you down—find what works for you.
The hardest part can be sticking to a new system. Don't wait until you've completely fallen off the organizational wagon. Give yourself monthly organization reviews, and pick a day of the month (1st, 15th, last, etc.) and look over your to-do list, files, or that pile of papers on the kitchen counter. If things aren't going as planned, get back on track (with help from your family) and resolve to do better.
The effectiveness of your systems of organization and routines will change over time. Children grow, gain new skills, and have different needs. It's easy as parents to continue to do tasks our child should be learning because it is faster to do them ourselves. As parents, we must recognize when our children can take on more responsibilities and privileges, and when we must raise our expectations.
Our professional lives evolve too. Jobs and home businesses will not be the same year after year. Professionally, we must be nimble, looking for new opportunities, or smoothing the way through transitions at work. When you work at home, these two kinds of change in your life can become intertwined, and it depends on how well you embrace and plan for the inevitable changes.
Work the Right Amount
Unfortunately, the "right" amount isn't necessarily the amount you feel like working; it's the amount of work that provides the financial, professional, and personal balance you seek. And sometimes it's hard to know what that is.
If you are an employee, it's easy to become the worker who is available 24/7 because you work at home or, on the flip side, the slacker that never seems to be around when needed.
Likewise, independent contractors and business owners, who may not have a set schedule, can find themselves burning the candle at both ends and working late into the night to keep the income flowing. The other danger is that personal obligations keep them from growing the business. Keep your overall life and professional goals in mind as you set your work schedule.
Find ways to work smarter, either by multitasking wisely or prospecting for more efficient money-making opportunities.
Stay in Touch and Keep Learning
Don't let working at home allow you to lose touch with new professional developments or slow you down from networking with colleagues. It takes a bit of extra effort on a telecommuter's part, but it is even more important for the worker who is out of sight to stay in touch. In an office, casual conversations alert us to changes in our industry or company, and home-based employees may miss out on that if they don't make an extra effort.
Subscribe to professional journals or get in the habit of checking news and websites related to your profession. Attending a convention or conference can be expensive, especially for the self-employed, but it may be worth it. Consider certification or degree programs in your field, joining professional associations, social networking sites, or web groups, and make a habit of reaching out to former colleagues or clients every so often with a quick note or call.
On the family side, networking is also important. Other parents at your child's school can help you improve communication with your child's school, as well as let you know about other events or opportunities that might be personally or professionally fulfilling. Neighbors and friends are a good source to learn about social and community events for yourself and your family.
Take Care of Yourself
When you work at home, career and family can blend in such a seamless way that it seems like there's no time for yourself. However, you must make time for what's important for your own mental and physical health. Exercise, creative endeavors, getting together with friends, etc., are the kinds of things that can get eliminated from our routine because we are so busy with our family and work obligations.
Prioritize building a routine that keeps time for you as an important goal. This could be a monthly spa day, a daily exercise routine, date night with your partner, a regular outing with friends, or time spent volunteering in your community. Figure out what you need and set aside the time.
That said, spending time with your family is likely one of the key reasons that you work at home. Be sure that time is quality time and you're not multitasking too much to enjoy the people you love. Keep in mind those reasons to work from home and enjoy your family.