ask the expert | how to deal with guilt, distraction, procrastination & overwhelm when working from home

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a post today from our build a little biz partner & 'work at home expert'. Leah Gibbs is the Business Manager and Founder of Work At Home Mumsand theLifestyle Careers Job Board.She runs herbusinesses from home and as a work at home mum (WAHM). 

Not many mums (or dads) are lucky enough to find a job that would allow them work at home. It really is a win-win situation. You get to earn a small living and you get quality time to spend time with your family.

To be a work-at-home professional certainly requires balancing one’s time between meeting clients, teleconferences, webinars, taking the kids to the doctor, making phone calls, doing the groceries, entertaining the child, arranging play days and keeping the house spic and span plus everything else that you can squeeze within 24 hours.

Balancing family and work life is not easy – we get distracted by family and home life, we have difficulty managing our time, and we feel guilty when we can’t do it all! But with a little help, it can all be managed.

Beat Procrastination:

1. Make a to-do list everyday.

List the things you need to do for the day and identify which ones are considered high priority. Make sure you accomplish the high-priority tasks first. When you can’t finish the task in one day, then you can carry it over the following day. If you haven’t finished a task in a week, there are two possible scenarios. Either you’re procrastinating again or the task is too big that you need to chop it down to bite-size pieces.

2. Reward yourself after finishing a long overdue task.

Pick a difficult task that you’ve been putting off and reward yourself after you’ve finished it. It can be as simple as getting your favorite dessert or buying that dress that you’ve wanted for so long. But indulge yourself only when you have completed your assignment.

3. Limit time spent online.

The Internet can seriously tempt you to procrastinate. Once you logged in to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, you suddenly realize that you’ve wasted two hours of your time. Check your online accounts and emails twice a day only—one in the morning and again, in the evening. This should give you more time to spend on things that really matter. Okay, some of you might say, “But a client’s email may be very important!” Remember that if something is a matter of life and death, your client would call you on your mobile instead of sending an email.

4. Get into the mood.

Working from home is a lot like a classical orchestral symphony. All instruments must be in harmony with one another. A nice home office will help you get in the proper work mood. Clear your table from non-work-related items like your kids’ toys or newspapers. Your laptop should be in great working condition. And if it suits your fancy, play some nice perk-me-up music. You can also add a nice hot strong cup of coffee or hot chocolate to your day. I also love to have my oil burner on with an aromatherapy mix. These little touches can help really inspire and motivate you.

Deal with Guilt & Distraction:

1. Involve your child.

Take your laptop and do your work in the garden or veranda while your child is playing. This gives you the opportunity to watch and interact with your child while doing some work. Mums who are into arts and crafts can also ask their kids to join in. While mum is doing her own projects, her kids can make their own little projects, at the same time. Not only are you accomplishing something for work, you are also bonding with your children.

2. Schedule time-outs.

If you’re taking a break, make sure it coincides with your child’s schedule like meal or play times. This allows you to spend time with your kids without feeling guilty about work. If you’re running errands, bring your child along and take the opportunity to connect. Get out and do the grocery shopping together. Your child can help pick out ingredients and you can both cook something together delicious for the whole family. Mind you the clean up afterwards is not much fun. My daughter adores helping me in the kitchen.

3. Seek your husband’s help.

Even a Superwoman like you needs help sometimes. Don’t be afraid to ask for it from your husband. If you’re just swamped with work and can’t spare a minute, ask Dad to pitch in and help. This will give you a break and cut you some slack to attend to that urgent email.

4. Buy educational books and toys.

It’s never a good idea to distract your kids by making them watch TV although I must admit I have done this in the past. While you’re busy working, you can give educational toys and books to your kids to keep them occupied. Books are great to develop children’s love for learning and educational toys help in cultivating creativity and imagination. Set up a little desk and chair in your office and let your child do their “work”. My daughter loves this.

5. Learn to drop everything.

There will be moments that you must realize that you need to drop everything for your family. In times of emergencies like a health crisis or when your child needs a ride home. Family milestones are equally important and you should never miss those special moments. Soccer games, ballet recitals, birthdays, swimming lessons, sports carnivals, tuck shop duty – this is the stuff that should always take priority.

When things get a little too hectic and you feel you can’t afford any more distractions, stop what you’re doing and breathe deeply. Stretch your patience a little longer and remember why you chose to be a work-at-home mum or home based worker and not a corporate slave chained to a desk from 9 to 5 with a 2 hour commute!

Manage Your Time:

1. Identify your time-wasters.

It’s easy to pick up the phone and chat with a friend. Mums need to identify activities that are considered time-wasters. These may be as mundane as chatting online to something bigger like frequent grocery-shopping or snacking. By knowing what these time-wasters are, you’ll be able to minimize doing these activities and focus on the more important stuff.

2. Make a schedule of your daily life.

The term work-at-home mum has two definitions—a mum who works to earn money and, at the same time, works to keep her home. Mum should set a schedule of her daily life that includes both her work and family activities. A routine will help you manage your time effectively and avoid unnecessary distractions. But don’t forget to include mini-breaks from your schedule to rest, eat, or for play. These are equally important to stay healthy and stress-free.

3. Focus on your to-do list.

A to-do list is a lot like a schedule but this gives you a detailed list of what you must accomplish on a daily basis. A to-do list can include errands, people to email or call, tasks that need to be accomplished, etc. You can make a list in a small notebook or your BlackBerry although I know some mums prefer using Post-It notes to remind them.

4. Use technology.

Technology is both helpful and distracting. Make technology your ally by getting an efficient computer system. Your PC/laptop should be in great working condition and your Internet connection should be flawless. You can also set up auto-responders and mailing lists to be efficient. For mums who have their own websites, you can save time by setting up a Frequently Asked Questions page to minimize the need to reply to similar inquiries.

5. Set boundaries.

Mums who work at home often find the lines between being a worker and a mum blurred. How many times have you caught yourself working on your business during family times? Or when your child asks you to read a story, you find yourself telling him to go ask dad instead.

You must set a time when you stop working and focus on being a wife and a mum. One mum I know quits working at 6 PM. When the clock strikes, she drops everything and concentrates on her family. She doesn’t open her emails or take calls. She figures that these can wait until the next morning.

What planning do you do to manage your time & avoid procrastination? How do you deal with distractions & guilt? Please share your tricks and strategies, we would love to hear from you!