In my post a few months ago, I discussed various issues to consider when working from home and briefly touched on time management. In today’s post, I’ll focus on time management challenges faced when working from home.
Working from home can be very convenient: there’s no commuting, and you often have more flexibility in your work hours. But because of that flexibility, you have to be disciplined in your time management to make sure your billable time doesn’t get squeezed out by your other tasks.
Many of us work from home because we have other responsibilities: taking care of children or as carers for elderly parents; volunteer work; or creating your own entrepreneurial project. Because we have a lot going on, we have to carve out time for our billable work. We don’t have the distinct separation of working during work time and being home during home time. That means doing some fancy time management. Here are some tips:
The first step is knowing what you need to get done. I know that sounds silly, but think about it for a minute. You need to get your paid work done. You need to get your home chores done (which include laundry, dishes, keeping things hygienic and functional, paying bills and keeping papers under control). And you need to do your other responsibilities (volunteer, caring, grocery shopping, exercising, etc.). Write categorized lists of everything you need to do. Keep your work lists separate from your home and other lists, so you have visual separation of your tasks. This will keep you from being overwhelmed and allow you to get in the zone. When you’re cranking on billable work you don’t want “rake leaves” to distract you from your task at hand.
Once you know what you need to do in each category, think about how long it takes you to do each item. You don’t have to get too analytical about this, but have a good idea if a task is going to take 30 minutes, an hour, or three hours. These are your time blocks.
Now you can build your schedule. Use time blocking to separate your time into your billable work time vs your other responsibilities. (See the highlighted post above for more details and tips.) I recommend using a vertical weekly planner format like the Trinote or Minister so you can see what you need to do and when you have time to do it.
Plug your time blocks into your week’s schedule. Remember you’re not going to get tons of billable work done on days that are already committed to other things. Work around already-scheduled items like volunteer commitments, after-school activities, carpool time, dinner prep time, etc. Make time for “mosquitoes” so those annoying little tasks don’t pile up and become urgent.
Take advantage of times when your kids are at school, grandma’s, childcare, playdates etc. to get through your most concentration-intensive work, whether it’s finishing that important report or deep-cleaning the house. There’s some work you can do while the kids are around, but to really concentrate you need them to be taken care of elsewhere.
One major challenge workers-from-home have is housework. Some people can’t focus on their billable work until the house is in order. If you know this about yourself, plan for it. Straighten the house the evening before if you can, so you can spend your most productive time focused on work. I have the opposite issue: I need to schedule housework time into my planner because I don’t have that urge to clean up first. I dive right into my work and later stand up from my computer feeling very accomplished, only to have that sinking feeling when I notice the dirty dishes and piles of laundry. I need to remind myself to get the housework done so everything stays functional at home.
A very important tip: build some flex time into your schedule. Don’t fill every hour of your week. Inevitably something will come up: kids get sick, the internet goes down, something ends up taking twice as long as you expected it to. For these same reasons, don’t leave things to the last minute. Get tasks done well ahead of when you need them to avoid crises.
Do you work from home? How do you manage your time?