Get organized. Stay organized.January is the time to review organization systems and add new ones (but, of course, you can do it anytime). You may realize you need to track tax paperwork better, or a post-holiday clean up may reveal junk that piles up in one place. I'm always looking to improve time management. Find your weak spot, and then figure a better way.
The hard part is sticking to a new system. Don't wait until you've completely fallen off the organizational wagon. Give yourself monthly organization reviews. Pick a day of the month (1st, last, the 15th, etc.) and look over your to-do list, files or that pile of papers on the kitchen counter. Are things handled as you planned? If not, get back on track (with help from your family) and resolve to do better.
Follow the ground rules you set.Work-at-home ground rules are essential to a smooth balance between work and home life. But if they are not enforced, they are meaningless. You have the double duty of enforcing the rules and following them yourself. Note your weakness in each area, so you know where to concentrate your efforts. If the rules aren't working, make new ones.
Set long-term, short-term and daily goals.Whatever your goals—following the ground rules, growing your business, losing weight, spending more time with family—you won't achieve them if you don't make a concerted effort. Inertia often keeps us in the same path, unless we set goals to move beyond. And in a bad economy or with changing family dynamics (like the birth of a child), sometimes we need to work harder just to maintain what we have. So we must set goals.
But goals must be broken down into bite-size pieces. Start with your overall goals and work backwards until you identify what your daily goals must be to achieve them.
Deal with distractions better.
Distractions are an issue for every work-at-home mom. And it's not always kids who are distracting. Often distractions come in the form of housework, friends, spouses, TV or the Internet. Identify your most common distraction and set a daily goal to deal with it. For more on dealing with distractions, see these tips on dealing with distractions.
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 who is telecommuting this may be more straightforward than for independent contractors, who may not have a set schedule. But not always, both groups can be tempted to work too much or too little.
Keep your overall life/professional goals in mind as you set your work schedule. Find ways to work smarter, either by multitasking or prospecting for more lucrative business opportunities.
Embrace or accept change.Things are always changing with kids. They gain new skills and express more complicated ideas every day. (They also grow out of one bad habit and into another!) Parents must recognize when kids are ready for more responsibilities and privileges without overloading them. Work-at-home moms with a lot on their plates may find it easier to do a task themselves rather than spending the time to teach a child. But resist that urge, and enjoy those teaching moments with your kids.
Professionally, we must also be nimble, especially in a bad economy, looking for new opportunities or smoothing the way through transitions at work.
Stay educated.The lack of an on-site workplace community for those working from home can mean losing touch with new professional developments. In an office, everyday conversations or company newsletters alert us to changes in our industry. At home, we may miss out on that, so work-at-home moms must take responsibility for their own continuing education.
Subscribe to professional journals or keep in the habit of checking news and websites related to your profession. Attending a convention or conferences can be expensive for the self-employed but may be worth it. Consider certification or degree programs in your field.
Network socially and professionally.In addition to formal education, work-at-home moms can keep on top of new developments in their field by networking with other professionals. Join professional associations, social networking sites or web groups. Make a habit of reaching out to former colleagues or clients every so often with a quick note or call.
But don't neglect personal networking. Keeping in touch with other parents at your child's school, neighbors or old friends is not only personally fulfilling, it's useful too. They can alert you to educational and recreational opportunities within your community. You can even swap child care with the stay-at-home and work-at-home moms you know. Plus spending time with friends is just plain fun.