It’s no secret that many work-at-home moms have a difficult time getting things done. We’re constantly being torn in conflicting directions. No matter how old your children are, or how many children you have, there always seems to be one demanding your attention just as you sit down to write a blog post or review your financials. If it’s not a child, then perhaps it’s a phone call from your mother or an unannounced visit from a neighbor. Or even a client texting you in the midst of an artificial crisis. We are frequently under attack by the mompreneur version of “Friendly Fire” in which our own team is unintentionally sabotaging our success.
It’s not just interruptions that derail our productivity. Oftentimes it’s our own delusional drive to be a multi-tasking super mamma. We set ourselves up for failure simply by believing we can do all things and be all things for all people at once. Truthfully, it’s not our children, friends, neighbors or clients who are to blame when we suffer from chronic interruptions. It’s our own fault for failing to establish firm boundaries.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the most loving mom needs to set boundaries at times. I know our MOST important job is being a mom, but I personally believe that doesn’t mean we have to drop everything and be at the beck and call of our children at all times. And the same goes for our clients, co-workers and employees. This is the generation of connectivity and it takes every ounce of self-control we can muster to disconnect for our own good. But it’s worth it. In fact, I think we do our families and clients a disservice by teaching them to seek instant gratification via our immediate response. Rather, I suggest we teach them the value of boundaries.
Now, only YOU can determine exactly what those boundaries should be…and exactly how you plan to enforce them. But if you’re being assaulted by Friendly Fire on a daily basis, then you might want to try some of these tips for setting boundaries.
Tips for Setting Boundaries for Work-at-Home Moms
1. Get clear on your priorities. The number one thing that gets in our way when it comes to setting boundaries is guilt. We feel guilty if we don’t play with our children when they ask. And we feel guilty when we tell a client we’re not available because we’re taking the kids to the park. But if you wake up each day with clarity of purpose, then you will know how you should spend your time and you won’t feel guilty about your choices. Not sure how to get clear on your priorities? Spend some time in prayer and in your journal.
2. Set expectations. Once you are clear on your priorities, you actually have to tell others what to expect. If you’re a stay-at-home-mom embarking on a new business venture, you will have to explain this change to your friends and family so they don’t expect you to be free for coffee every day at 10 am. If your little ones are old enough to understand, try telling them why it’s important for mommy to work and how you are fulfilling God’s call by sharing your gifts and serving others. And if they’re teenagers, maybe it will help to explain that the extra income will pay for their summer vacation. Need to bring your husband on board? Try these five ways to help your husband fall in love with your business.
3. Establish regular working hours. Trust me, I love the flexibility of the work-at-home mom life as much as the next girl. But I can’t live in a world where I’m constantly “at work.” So, for me it’s important to have a structure to my day with regular work hours. It helps me stay focused and helps my family to know when I’m working and when I’m not. If at all possible, try to create a separate physical work space as well. I know it’s tempting to sit on the laptop and work while you keep an eye on the kids in the playroom. But it’s difficult for little ones to understand whether or not you are available to them if you are in “their space.”
4. Limit access. In case nobody has told you before, there is no law that says you have to answer your cell phone. Or return emails within an hour (or at all, for that matter). Or reply to text messages instantly. I know you want to be polite but the more you make yourself available, the more people will expect you to be available. If you worked in a regular J-O-B, you might be resentful of work calls and emails that encroached on your personal time. You would probably feel tethered to your smart phone and you might blame your boss for setting that expectation for you. The great thing about working for your own business is that YOU get to set those expectations. So, if you’re tethered to your smart phone, you have only yourself to blame.
5. Prepare for invasion. The thing about Friendly Fire is that it’s not intentional. It’s unexpected but it’s not mean spirited. And despite our best efforts to prevent it, Friendly Fire will happen at some point. So the best way to prepare for it is to write out a script for your response. Write down exactly what you will say to your mother when she shows up unannounced during your work day after you’ve explained your new office hours. Write down exactly what you will say the next time the church or the PTA asks you to chaperone a field trip on a day you really should be working. Write down exactly what you will say to your child when he comes barging into the office to show you his Lego creation while you are clearly on the phone with a client. When you write it down, you get a chance to practice it without getting caught up in your emotions. You have the opportunity to get clear on what you want to say and how to deliver the message firmly and lovingly.
5. Honor the boundaries. The nature of boundaries is that they involve two parties. So honoring the boundaries is your responsibility as well. If you decide that you want to be finished working at 4 pm every day, then don’t sit at the computer trying to do “one last thing” until 4:45 pm. And if you decide you will not work on weekends, then don’t give in to the temptation of taking the call from a client while you’re at the soccer game. And by “you,” I mean “me.” Because this is the hardest part of setting boundaries for me. I’m the Queen of Exceptions. I can always justify my transgressions somehow. So this is the one I’m working on now. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I’ve definitely got room for improvement.
What about you, what are some tips you’ve used to set boundaries while working from home?