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A Work at Home Parent Survival Guide: 10 Strategies for Success

written by: Marjory Pilley•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 3/17/2011

The work at home parent often tries to carry on a business call, help with homework and meet an important deadline...simultaneously! The cost: sanity. Use these top ten survival tips to achieve success and balance in your life.

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    1. Create a Plan

    This is an essential step to successfully meet your responsibilities as a work at home parent. In order to maintain a sense of balance, the plan must be priority-based and recognize that you just can't do everything. Use the following steps to identify your priorities, goals, activities and a schedule. Download the free Priority Planner Template located in the Bright Hub Media Gallery to complete the first three steps.

    1. List 4-6 key roles that you have (i.e., parent, employee, personal, home manager, wife/husband)
    2. Identify 2-3 goals you have for each role (i.e., parent: close relationship with child, instill values; work: write a book, grow business)
    3. Identify 3-5 important activities needed to meet each goal. (i.e., parent: bed-time routine, assist with baseball team; work: scheduled writing time, attend monthly networking meeting),
    4. Map out when you will do these activities on your daily calendar. Alternatively, use a sheet of paper with the days of the week and the hours of the day on it, block out the times when you will do various activities or create a master schedule in Excel.

    Ideally, you will find that some tasks satisfy more than one goal or can be done at the same time (i.e., biking with your children may address a fitness goal and family time. This process is discussed in more detail by Julie Morgenstern in the book Time Management from the Inside Out. It is not a one-time task. Review and update your plan periodically.

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    2. Get Help

    You can't do it all. (At least not all at once!) The assistance you need is individualized and varies over time. It also depends upon your financial situation. Use the map you created in number one to identify less important tasks or time slots where you just can't function without help. Arrange for childcare, particularly when you have a baby or toddler, for the periods of time when you must be working or for your peak work times. (This is almost always necessary if you have a flexible work arrangement with an outside employer.) Look for other opportunities to delegate or trade-off activities that aren't your priorities. Some examples include assistance with meal preparation, errands and car pooling. With respect to work, consider hiring a virtual assistant or outsourcing certain activities, such as payroll processing.

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    3. Build Flexibility into the Plan

    Maintain a list of 10 minutes tasks to accomplish while you are waiting. Just because you make a plan, does not mean that everything will run smoothly! Don't pack your schedule so tight that there is no room for error. Flexible time also allows you to take advantage of priceless opportunities to spend quality time with a child. (Just try to plan some time with your teen. It's difficult. You have to be ready when they are!) In addition, keep a running list of ten minute activities (work and personal) that you can do while you are waiting for a conference call to start or while waiting for the car loop line to move!

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    4. Schedule Fun and Personal Time

    This is not a guilty indulgence. A family outing and time alone is necessary to recharge so you will do your best work as a parent and employee. If you skipped these activities in tip number one, then go back and redo your schedule. You may have to double up on some items. For example, go for a bike ride with the family. This activity might satisfy the goals you have as a parent, spouse and for your personal development. Reap the benefits of a lunch break too!

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    5. Communicate Goals and Expectations

    The lifestyle of a work at home parent impacts the entire family. Make sure that they are aware of the decision and the consequences. Of course, you need to coordinate your needs and discuss the expectations with your spouse. But, it is important to instill this information in your children too, beginning at a very young age. Make sure children understand why you made the choice to work from home and that they see the benefit. In addition, let them know that in order to continue this nice work arrangement, they need to be quiet during work periods and answer the phone and door respectfully.

    Image Credit for Picture Taking Notes: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/885957

    Continue to Page 2 for More Work at Home Parent Survival Tips.

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    Once a work at home parent creates a plan to balance work and personal responsibilities, follow these strategies to make it successful.
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    6. Maintain a Dedicated Work Space

    Working within your resources, create a dedicated space that is conducive to work. Make it functional and attractive. Most importantly, keep it free from clutter. If you are staring at a toy that needs to be repaired or a permission slip that needs to be signed, then you will not be able to concentrate on important work. The work at home parent must keep distractions out of the line of site -- even electronic ones that might come in the form of email. Ideally, you should be able to close the door on this work space to fully disconnect from work.

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    7. Get Dressed

    Take a shower and get fully dressed every morning (as opposed to after lunch, just before a meeting, etc.) This habit will allow you to be ready for anything: a client meeting or a mad dash to the school to pick up a sick child. Most importantly, work attire will make you more productive because you will subconsciously put yourself in the work mode. It is not necessary to put on a suit. But, you should dress attractively (i.e, no sweat pants), right down to the accessories and makeup.

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    8. Utilize Technology

    Use a cell phone to allow time away from the home office...but don't overdo it! Email, cell phones, and access to computer programs are increasingly available everywhere you go. Use them to your advantage. Follow best practices for email use. Don't spend all your time on the phone for a business client when you are at your child's baseball game. But, within reason, take a short call and still fully enjoy the time with your child if it will allow you to leave the house. If constant phone calls are going to hound you, then you need a new plan! You may also benefit from tracking and analyzing your time by using automated software solutions, such as RescueTime.

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    9. Communicate Your Contributions

    A work at home parent does not have the face time that traditional employees enjoy. The boss will be less likely to notice that you "stayed late" to finish up a report. How can you combat this downside? Without being obnoxious, make others aware of your existence. Speak up and fully participate in conference calls, take advantage of opportunities to periodically meet face-to-face and keep track of your accomplishments.

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    10. Learn How to Fire Up Your Muse

    Even under the very best of circumstances, it can be hard to sit down and concentrate when you know your kids are nearby or you have a pile of personal to-do's. Create a list of ways to get down to work. For creative types, they call it "firing up your muse." It may require you to establish a simple routine (i.e., grabbing a cup of coffee and putting a sign on the door) or to set a timer for concentrated periods of work.

    Follow these tips to not only survive as a work at home parent but to truly appreciate the opportunity that is before you.

    Reference: Morgenstern, Julie. Time management from the inside out: the foolproof system for taking control of your schedule, and your life. 2nd ed. New York: H. Holt, 2004. Print.

    Image Credit for Cell Phone: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1104507