Moms who work from home do not lack ambition. We do not lack creativity. We do not lack intelligence, discipline or vision. Some people might say we lack time, although we have the same amount of hours in a day as anyone else. But we are missing something crucial to our success – effective boundaries.
We are in desperate need of a gatekeeper — that wonderful person who protects you from interruptions and distractions and keeps you focused on your most important tasks. I remember being envious of senior level executives in the corporate world who had someone to answer their phones, check their email, schedule appointments and clear their desk so they could solve problems and create solutions. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have that kind of assistant in your home office?
For most of us, that’s a pipe dream. We have to be our own gatekeepers. And it can be particularly challenging when we spend most of our day shifting from “mom” to “business person” and back again. We love both of our jobs and it’s difficult to keep them separated. Our minds are divided and our hearts are torn. But there are some strategies we can put in place to set better boundaries when we work from home.
How to Set Better Boundaries When You Work From Home
1. Establish regular office hours. Even if you have to change them every week, it’s important for everyone to know when you are working and when you are not working. Too many moms try to “squeeze in” a few hours of work when it’s convenient but there never ends up being a good time for it. So be intentional about when you plan to work.
2. Identify dedicated office space. I love those photos of women working on their laptops at the beach but somehow I just don’t think I’d get much accomplished if I took my office to the beach or the pool or the playground. I’m the kind of person who is sensitive to my environment. I like an organized desk and familiar noise-free surroundings. So I do most of my work within the four walls of my home office. It’s the best way for me to set a mental and physical boundary. When I cross the threshold into the foyer, I’m no longer at work. Even if you don’t have a separate office with a door, try establishing a designated space for work – and use that space for nothing else but work.
3. Communicate clearly. It’s not enough for YOU to set boundaries, you also have to make sure those around you know what to expect. Talk with your children about rules for picking up the phone, answering the door, keeping the noise volume down, playing on your computer and entering the office without permission. Discuss your office hours with your husband so he knows when to expect you to be available for him (hint, hint: you might need to have this conversation if he’s upset that you spend every night on the couch with your laptop while he’s trying to enjoy downtime with you). Let your mom know that you can’t chat for an hour every day while you’re working (then give her an alternative time to talk!). Tell the ladies in your small group that you won’t be able to grab coffee spontaneously but that you can’t wait for the next regularly scheduled meeting. And by all means, kindly inform your friends, your sister and your neighbors that while you love their children you are not available to babysit during work hours.
4. Let go of the mess. If you’re a neat freak this is going to be a challenge. But let me give you permission to let the dirty dishes sit in the sink and the laundry pile up. You know perfectly well that a mother’s job is never done. There will ALWAYS be more you can do in the house. If you wait until all your “chores” are finished, you will never get to the office. And sometimes we use housework as a procrastination tactic (sad but true). So decide what absolutely needs to be done and then let everything else go until after work.
5. Start with a plan. If you’re like most moms, you have limited time for work. You’re not clocking 80 hours a week on the job. I know plenty of moms who can only dedicate 1 or 2 hours a day to the business. So it’s important to have a plan for how you will spend your time in the office. I use a weekly planning tool to prioritize my tasks every Sunday and block my calendar for certain projects. Then, before I leave the office for the day, I’ll spend five minutes making sure I know my most pressing task for the following day. It helps me jump right in and avoid all the usual procrastination on Facebook or email.
6. Eliminate distractions. You might not have an assistant to screen your calls but there are ways to eliminate the temptation of common distractions. When I’m working on a project that requires 100% of my focus, I shut down my browsers, close my email program and put my phone on “do not disturb.” And on a regular basis, I keep my cell phone out of the office to avoid texting distractions. I adjust my notification settings so there is no noise or alert when I receive a new email or message. I shut down all instant messaging services when not in use. And I rarely answer my phone when it rings unless I have a scheduled appointment (I usually peek at the caller ID to make sure it’s not the school or my husband but I let all other calls go to voice mail). If you can carve out 60-90 minutes of dedicated work time without distractions, you’ll be so productive that you’ll have time to check email and return phone calls when you are finished.
7. Honor your boundaries. Setting boundaries is a two-way street. If you expect your friends and family to live by your rules then you need to reciprocate by making yourself available outside of work hours. That means closing up shop when it’s time to make a craft with the kids…not answering the phone while driving your teenager to swim practice… and being fully present when it’s time to be with your husband, your mom or a friend. Above all else – don’t underestimate how much time you need to work and leave someone waiting “just five more minutes,” for what turns out to be an hour. No more empty promises – let them know you will honor the boundaries just as they do.
I’d love to know if you experience the same challenges. What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to setting boundaries?