work from home

Work From Home or Stay at Home: How to Balance the Tasks

work from homeDeacon over at Well Kept Wallet had a great post not too long ago about how difficult it is, when you work at home, to balance getting your job done with getting the household tasks that sit, endlessly calling your name, done as well.  For those not experienced with this type of a work setting, here’s kind of how it goes:

You get up in the morning, and head down to your office, or wherever your computer is, to start your day.  After an hour or two, you need your coffee break, your pee break, or your sanity break – whichever it is – so you head into the kitchen.  From over at the kitchen sink, you hear your name called:

Hello, it’s me, dirty dishes.  Poke, poke, prod, prod.  Aren’t I driving you nuts???  You know you hate watching me sit here, begging to be washed.

Then the garbage chimes in:

Whew!  Gettin’ kinda crowded in here!  Last night’s tacos aren’t sitting so well with this morning’s left over cereal.  Could ya hook me up and get this stuff outta here?

Soon, the kids join you:

Mommy/daddy!!!  I’m hungry!  Wanna play a game?  Make me some oatmeal!  No, wait, I want muffins!  Can I watch cartoons??

Whew!  Now there’s an answer I can deal with!

You head over to the bedroom, ready to change out of your PJ’s.    That’s when you find more friends, eager to talk.

The bed taunts:

You know, it really looks sloppy in here when I’m unmade. 

The hamper chimes in:

HeLLO!  Getting kind of full in here!  Didn’t you want to wear your black pants to the party tonight?  Gotta wash ’em before you can wear ’em.  And, oh yeah, Johnny has no clean underwear.

At that point, the voices in your head have won the battle, and you’re ready to throw in the towel, grab a bag of Doritos and head on over to the TV to watch some old Survivor re-runs, overwhelmed by the to-do list.

Yes, this is the life of a stay-at-home or work-from-home individual.  I’ve been doing it for 10 years now, and finally – FINALLY – I feel like I’ve learned a bit about how to deal with all of the tasks and distractions that can come your way when you spend your day working, in any capacity, from home.

1.  Set a schedule that you can live with.  I am NOT a schedule person.  Much too much ADHD going on here to be organized, but I do what I can do.  My day consists of running my house, homeschooling our four kids, and running my freelance biz.  I know I’m a morning person, so, in order to be able to focus on the kids when they get up, I get up early – a good three hours before the kids – to focus on my freelance stuff.  Then, when the kids get up, I’ve gotten a good bit of work done and I can focus on the kids and the house without feeling guilty that I’m neglecting my freelance biz.

Figure out which times are best for you to complete which tasks, and also figure out how and at what times of the day you function best, and set your schedule from there.

2.  Prioritize.  I always make a list of the priorities for my freelance biz, my homeschooling tasks, and my household tasks, in order of most important to least important.  For instance, regarding freelance biz, I get the articles due off my plate ASAP, because that’s a reputation thing.  Then I write or publish my posts and add them to Facebook.  Then I visit and comment on other blogs.  I have an alphabetical list of blogs that I print out each week and cross out as I’ve visited/commented on them.  This helps me to remember the names of all of the great blogs out there, and makes sure I have time to support them, as this is important to me, and to my business as well.  It’s always a good thing to encourage and support other bloggers/freelancers as much as possible.  I make a goal of visiting and commenting on at least twenty blogs a day, and when I’m done, I’m done.  Then it’s on to the home stuff like homeschooling and housework, where I also have lists and prioritize my have to get done/want to get done/will get done in my dreams, but I’ll write it down just in case chores.

3.  Multitask.  Always.  Throw in a load of laundry before you start helping the kids with the schoolwork.  Have the kids do the schoolwork they can handle by themselves while you help another kid with courses they need assistance with.  Have the dishwasher running while you are working on the computer, and have one tab on the computer open for writing your own blog posts, while having three others open to leave comments on.

4.  Get help.  Whether it’s help from the kids, or hiring out for help, get help when the pressure is too much.  If you make tons of money at your home-based business, hire a housekeeper to come in once a week to deep clean and/or do laundry for you.  Homeschooled high schoolers are notoriously looking for work and are available during the day lots of times.  Or, ask the kids if they’re old enough to help.  And don’t be afraid to bring your kids to daycare or have someone come to your house to watch them if need be, part-time, or full-time.  And if that’s not something you want to do, don’t be afraid to use evenings when your spouse is home, weekends, or whatever, to do your work for your business so that you can focus on the kids during the week.

The point is to find what works best for you and your family, and then do it, regardless of what anyone outside of your family might think. 

Working from home and/or being a stay-at-home parent is a busy, busy job, as many people in the PF community can tell you.  But with some creativity and work, you can be successful with all that you have to do.

What is your best tip for balancing work at home tasks with household/family tasks?

78 comments

  1. Brit says:

    Great tips Laurie. Always do a schedule that works for you. For me when afternoon naps comes around is when I get everything done. 😀

  2. Oooh that’s a good question as I work from home as well. I have a few less distractions though, like kids. 🙂 What works best for me is to light work, like blogging, early in the morning, then I work out around 8:3-0 or nine is, then I do video work if I have it, then when I need a break I write an article or two, work some more. And then probably do blogging stuff in the evening. I do tend to find that I start cleaning when I’m procrastinating, but I somehow still manage to get things done. It’s just spread out over a longer time period.

  3. Great post, Laurie! I work outside the home currently, but hope to make the switch within a year or so. I am still working on striking a balance with blogging time and cleaning the house and doing other chores! Basically the house is not as clean these days and hubby is finding himself spending more time with the laundry and dishes 🙂 Still working on finding the right balance with time to exercise. I think you just have to experiment and find what works for you- I am most definitely still working on that!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, that’s the way it goes sometimes, Dee. 🙂 And I totally agree about experimenting to find what works – that’s been key for me.

  4. I would love to work from home but I work in health care so it is not possible. It is so cold here that I would have loved to just stay in my house for the last 3 days.

    My boss posts a schedule for the hours I am to work. If you are at home you should also have a work schedule and you can email it to friends and family. They wouldn’t drop in to visit you at your office or hospital job so why would they interrupt your time in your home office?

    • Laurie says:

      Tell me! Hasn’t the cold been horrible? Great tip about having a work schedule at home too. It’s important to make sure everyone understands that just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you’re not working.

  5. This is so important Laurie. I still struggle with it and have been at it for 18 months or so. I’d love to say that I have a set schedule, but I’d be lying. 😉 I do what I can to prioritize and multi-task, otherwise I’d get nothing done.

  6. Sheila says:

    I guess my situation is somewhat different, because I telecommute working for a corporation, so I have a set number of hours that I am required to work. Before beginning this, I never thought I could work at home because I would be bothered my dishes, things that need to be cleaned, etc., and I didn’t plan to telecommute. We moved to another state, and I offered to finish a project I had been working on, mostly because I wanted to be at home to allow my kids to settle in more before looking for a local job. 7 years and another move to another state, and I’m still doing it. It was a huge adjustment, but now I think I would really struggle in an office environment. I do have an office. It is MY office. 🙂 My family may occasionally do things in here, but not during work time. I have not ever tried to do this with small kids, and don’t think it’s really possible with the particular job I have. I do have set hours, even though they are set by me, and I simply work during those hours. In my mind, it is work time, and the distractions that I thought would bother me so much simply don’t. Occasionally people don’t really ‘get’ that I am actually working, and have tried to call, etc., but mostly I just don’t answer and they get the idea. I think what makes it much easier for me to stand firm on this is knowing that my company is paying me for my time, and it’s not right for me to take advantage of that. I think if you are working for yourself or freelancing jobs it would be much harder to be firm to others. Certainly I do other things (this is actually work time for me, but I was having a snack and decided to read a blog post of two :)), but I do try to stay conscious of the time I spend doing those types of things and not spend more time doing this than people do when they go to the snack machine and chat with someone along the way. I have actually become much more productive working in this way. I am a 30 hour/week employee, and I produce as much work as my full time team members (per my manager, btw, not my own estimate). Probably the biggest challenge for me is when we have had home improvements done and there is a lot of distraction/noise going on. We renovated the basement in our old house, and one guy would SING as he worked! 🙂 It was so cute, but drove me nuts as I tried to concentrate! Overall, I’ve really come to love working this way, but it’s not for everyone.

    • Laurie says:

      Sounds like you’ve really done well at creating a solid schedule and sticking to it, Sheila – great job! LOL, funny about the singing remodeler – that would drive Rick absolutely crazy. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your tips here – great stuff!

  7. I work from home but I don’t work at home. I tried to work at home for a few months and I was so much less productive than I could have been. I’ve since rented space at a coworking office so I can spend a tiny bit each month and have a place to go where I can actually focus on work and make progress. I love it so far and hope the cost can be justified each month!

    • Laurie says:

      That’s a great idea, Fig!! Sometimes it is like that where working at home is just too distracting for people. I know I’ve had to work very hard to try and keep that from happening.

  8. Deacon says:

    Glad you wrote this post Laurie, these are great tips! I multitask really well, however, I need to be better at prioritizing the important activities of the day. Well, it is 2014 and it is time to start the year off doing just that. Thanks!

  9. Debt BLAG says:

    These are great tips Laurie. As someone who occasionally does a day from home, there’s plenty in here that I use.

    I’ve found that I have to get buy-in from other people and set boundaries. “Yes, I am seriously working for these hours, no I can’t run your mid-day errand and no I can’t spend my day cleaning the garage instead because I’m on the clock”

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, I get that. Every once in awhile my mom calls and says “Whatcha doin’?” and I have to calmly ask if I can call her back later. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the tips and sharing your insight. I don’t think I could work full-time from home but it’s easier to say what you think you might like if you really haven’t done it. I do some work from home but I still have a place to be so it’s half and half really. I think there are the pros and cons and if someone has the drive and can handle it, go for it. why not, right ?:)

    • Laurie says:

      Agreed, Mr. CBB. It can be difficult, definitely. You do have to work extra hard sometimes to keep yourself on track – at least I do. 🙂

  11. I can do about two hours of anything then I need a change or I’m tempted to start surfing the web for a distraction. I think it comes from years of being an optometrist. Yes, I do the same thing all day with every patient, but you never get the same answers or results with each one, so it’s like staring over each time. I think I need that variety.

  12. I like your idea of making a list of blogs you visit every day. I started doing that also. It’s so nice that you encourage and support other bloggers. I think having a room where you can go to to work is a good idea. Being out in the open can be very distracting. I really hate those cubicles at offices that are low and you can see everyone.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it’s really fun to communicate with your “co-workers” that way, isn’t it? Yeah, the cubicles aren’t my favorite either. Loved them for socializing, but it can be a bit difficult when there’s work to be done. 🙂

  13. I wish I was as organized while working from home as you are, Laurie. My ‘system’ is just to do it ‘now’: if I see something needing attention, I do it now, to avoid procrastination. But just for 5 minutes. This makes my work day a little all over the place, but I do actually get stuff done. If I try to schedule time on my calendar, I find I keep pushing certain tasks forward…indefinitely…

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I don’t know if I would call it “organized”, more like “organized chaos”. 🙂 I’ve learned more and more to do like you, and just get something done when it pops up in front of me. That helps a lot too.

  14. Getting the schedule under control is my goal this year! When I was just doing my etsty shop, it was easy enough to do when the kids were in bed, but now with blogging, my time is even more limited.

    I just went out and bought a handheld kitchen timer (new and at full price, so you better believe I am serious) for this very purpose! I want to set time limits for myself so I don’t get sucked into wasting time, which is easy to do on the computer.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny about the timer – that’s on my dream list of purchases. 🙂 Yeah, I’ve got to be real good about setting a time limit too – it’s so easy to say “just another 15 minutes” on the computer, isn’t it? Funny, though, I don’t have that problem when doing laundry. 😉

  15. As a self employed living with my mother, I found it extremely difficult to make her understand that I am actually working and not just wasting time and that I’m not always available to do stuff – she used to ask for my help a few times a day because “I’m not doing anything, anyway” which is clearly not true. So not only that you have to deal with all those natural distractions that happen when you are at home, but also with people finding it hard to understand that if you’re home it doesn’t mean that you can do everything and anything.

    Starting this year, I made an agreement with my wife and also made my mom understand that they should treat me as if I wasn’t there and I was gone to do a “real” job. So far so good, things have never been better but we just started 🙂

    • Adam Kamerer says:

      If you have a separate workspace with a closable door, I’ve found that helps. Maybe even some sort of work-in-progress sign to denote working hours. Getting your family to understand that you’re working can be tough, but keep reminding them and explaining why you need to be left alone during those working hours.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh yes, that would be difficult! That was smart of you to set some great boundaries and that your wife and mom are sticking to them. It’ll be interesting to hear an update on that in, say, July. 🙂

  16. Liz says:

    I don’t work from home or have kids (yet!) but it’s amazing whenever I am at home and actually need to get something done how many other things I find to distract myself. Dishes, laundry, dog needs to walked, dusting etc. It can be so hard to concentrate and stay focused sometimes. These are great tips for managing it all!

    • Laurie says:

      Ain’t it the truth, Liz?? I’m trying real hard to make sure I’m multi-tasking (for instance, I just filled and started the dishwasher) but yet still focusing on what needs to be done at the moment.

  17. Mackenzie says:

    I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I totally know what you are talking about! 🙂 Some days a schedule works, and some days, it’s just putting one foot in front of the other.

    • Laurie says:

      It’s crazy, isn’t it? I’ve had people say to me, and to my stay-at-home friends, that it must be “so nice to be home and have all of that free time”, and we just laugh and laugh. 🙂

  18. Great tips Laurie! I think you are balancing things perfectly perfect for yourself. 😉 J has always wanted to eventually be his own boss and work from home but I’ve never (yet) felt the urge to work from home because I like interacting with many people on a daily basis but you never know…

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it’s definitely not for everyone. I think part of the reason I like the blogging world so much is b/c I feel like I have “co-workers” that I can talk to. 🙂

  19. Micro says:

    I think I would definitely need to have some sort of schedule if I worked from home. It would be too easy to get caught up doing other things, especially house work. I remember in college A LOT of my house cleaning got done when I was supposed to be doing homework. I didn’t want to do it but felt too guilty to watch TV. If I was doing cleaning or something similar, I felt like I was still being productive. I could see the same thing happening with work so I would need some type of schedule to slap me in the face and say “It’s work time, sit down.”

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, yes, it is really easy to do that! Funny about TV – we just had a talk last night about cutting back on the TV time here. Maybe this will allow me to organize the house a bit! 🙂

  20. Michelle @Fit is the New Poor says:

    While my husband’s been unemployed, he’s been doing the “stay at home” thing, which has been great, at least in terms of getting chores done. Where he tends to get a little frazzled is when he’s had a freelance job to get done, plus the chores. We recently sat down to work on the kind of prioritization you talk about — because that’s what’s essential. Nice post!

  21. Love this post—too much ADHD going on here too! I always tell people that I have undiagnosed ADD! I am working on catching up on sleep and then I am hoping to get up a few hours before the kiddos also! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Funny – I just decided this year that I would up my 6 hour sleep nights to 7, and man, do I feel better! Getting up a few hours before the kids has been terrific for me – a huge help with my schedule.

  22. I’ve definitely ran into this problem when I work from home. I usually don’t have this issue when I’m wfh for my full-time job, as it is pretty demanding and I’m good about staying in my chair and actually getting work done (I get really distracted at the office so when I do get the chance to wfh every once in a while I really capitalize on it and stay focused). When it comes to the blog, though, you basically just described me (minus the kids part since I don’t have any haha). When I had a week of PTO in December and my wife still had to work I totally ended up cleaning quite a bit and doing errands/chores/etc. instead of getting my posts done.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, I know, DC – it’s so hard to find that balance! I feel like lots of days I’m either doing way too much blog stuff, or way to much house stuff. I really need to try hard to be in the middle somewhere.

    • Laurie says:

      I agree. I often think that I wouldn’t do very well if I had to get back on someone else’s (as in an employer’s) time schedule again. I’m not sure it would be very pretty. 🙂

  23. Mark Ross says:

    I think having a schedule to follow can make things easier for you Laurie, but just like you I can’t seem to follow any schedules that I’ve created in the past. I just do what I can do for the day, and stop if I’m stressing myself out too much. The good thing is that I’m still trying to figure things out to know what’s the problem with me and schedules. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Same here, Mark. But you know, whatever works, huh? I think the important part for both of us is that we’re continually working on creating a better way. 🙂

  24. Matt Becker says:

    Man, this is something I need to figure out FAST! I’ve been working from home a lot recently, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. My problem is actually mostly the opposite though. I end up putting all the home needs off at the expense of my work needs and I find myself needing to play catch-up later on. Finding the balance is really tough, but I like a lot of the tips here. I can’t even imagine adding homeschooling on top of everything! You’re a champ!

    • Laurie says:

      It is really tough to find that balance! LOL, I’m not sure that the kids would agree I’m a champ, more like a frazzled, harried mess. Some days, they just shake their head and walk away. 🙂

  25. Thanks for the tips Laurie! I work in the office for the most part but I try to work at home at least once a week to avoid the commute and to get some household tasks done. I find that working at home and doing household chores enables me to be more productive. For example, I can throw in a load of laundry between calls or tasks at home; whereas at work, I just stress about the piling to-do list at home.

    I find that I cannot work if my toddler is at home. He requires too much of my attention. Sometimes he’s willing to sit on my lap while I type away at an email, but then he insists on typing too. During the holidays, I need to get some work done and worked from home; my kid went to a babysitter (his grandparents).

    • Laurie says:

      You’re so right, Emily – it can be more productive if you’re multi-tasking effectively, but it can also be difficult with little ones under foot. It’s a bit different for us, as we have 4, and they’re a bit older now, so they keep each other busy and aren’t in that stage where they’re so curious about everything. Using grandparents is a terrific resource too: time for you to get work done, and time for your son with grandma and grandpa. Sounds like you’ve got a great plan to me. 🙂

  26. I fully confess to being a scheduler. Otherwise I couldn’t manage my life. 🙂 One of the things that I’ve had to accept is that I cannot do it all and I do need to ask for help … sometimes even pay for it. Prioritization is key too. And to accept that there is always more I could do but sometimes doing what I can sanely do is okay.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, Shannon, I can SO identify with that one. Accepting help is huge. It’s difficult, especially for us Type A people, to do that sometimes, but, as they say, many hands make for lighter work. 🙂

  27. Kim says:

    Thanks for a great article! Particularly timely here, as I’m leaning toward giving up my (neglected + underused) downtown office to just work from our home office. Have been on the fence for months, largely because of the scenarios outlined in your piece. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yes, Kim, it is easy to get distracted, but there’s lots that’s great about it too. 🙂 Best of luck to you in your decision!

  28. Laurie, I’m curious about homeschooling. Was this something out of necessity due to less-than-stellar area schools or because you wanted to do the teaching? Homeschooling is something I think about for when I have kids, especially if I moved to an area where the local public schools were not quality schools.

    And like you mention, I think sleep is something I’m going to have to give up on somewhat as I’m falling behind in housework because of what I’m working on.

    • Laurie says:

      Great question! We chose to homeschool for a few reasons: 1. We wanted our kids to have a strong Christian education but couldn’t afford a private school, 2. We wanted to be able to tailor the kids’ curriculum to their specific gifts and talents, 3. We wanted them to learn other things that the schools don’t teach (such as personal finance, preserving food, basic medical care [Rick is an EMT],stuff like that. and 4. We just love to be with them, and wanted to make sure our family was close. We’ve been homeschooling for 9 years now, and it’s been a great thing all the way around. I won’t lie: it’s a lot of work, but the benefits far outweigh the work. 🙂

  29. Pauline says:

    I like the early morning when no one is up and everything silent. It takes some getting used to, especially if you wake up when it is still dark but you have to find your own window of time when no one will ask you anything.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, Pauline, that is absolutely the best time to work for me as well. It’s quiet, and I can get a lot done in a short period of time. Early morning is my very favorite time to work.

    • Laurie says:

      It’s difficult at times, isn’t it, Holly? Sometimes I really think the laundry is calling me. How do you say “no” to that? 😉

  30. I like your tips Laurie! The only thing that works for me is to set a schedule and punch in, punch out. It wouldn’t work for me if I had to try and work from home while managing household tasks. Been there, done that. Everyone loses.

  31. I honestly don’t know how you do it. I feel overwhelmed some days and it’s just and Max! I’m trying to strike a better balance between work, household responsibilities and play. My household responsibilities previously took a back seat and some days I’d look around and be disgusted! Then I’d grumble about all the time it took to clean up my apartment. Surprisingly, when you do a better job of keeping up with your housework, it no longer takes hours. Imagine that. 🙂 Now my biggest struggle is turning off work since I work from home. It’s always there, beckoning me. I believe in working hard but I also believe we all need and deserve down time too! Have a great weekend!

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  33. jefferson says:

    The kids are always the challenging part for me when it comes to working from home. In a quiet house with nobody else around, I can be the most productive man in the universe 🙂 But my home is always a bastion of activity.

  34. I pick up the house at night anyways so I usually don’t have any chores that need done during the day. I usually do one load of laundry during the day though, but that doesn’t take too much time.

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