7 tips for working from home when you have a small child

One of my biggest struggles in 2014, especially at the beginning of the year, was finding a balance between being a stay-at-home mom and working from home. I spent a considerable chunk of time either frustrated that I wasn’t getting in enough time to work on my business or feeling guilty that I wasn’t giving Eve enough attention.

Granted, those first few months were especially hard since Eve was so young and not yet on a predictable nap routine. As she got older and started to consistently sleep at the same time, I was able to start to putting in more regular hours into my work while also finding ample to do things with Eve and give her my attention while she was awake (no more worrying that I was scaring her for life for typing my computer while she was in her swing!).

While working from home while simultaneously caring for a toddler still presents its challenges (hello, nap consolidation!), I have found that these seven simple things help me to both get work done with the limited time that I have.

These simple tips on how to organize your time will motivate you to work from home while caring for a young child. Number 7 may even surprise you!

1. Accept the fact that you probably won’t get as much done as you would like

I had been working from home for well over a year before Eve was born, so I was quite accustomed to my time during the day being my time. I got to determine my schedule and when I would work and for how long. Often I would start working at six in the morning and power through until lunch time, and then work in the afternoon until Sam came home from his job. Once a child comes into the picture, this is obviously not the case. Your child’s needs usually come first and your day now revolves around her, limiting how much time you can get done. The sooner you come to accept this and that your productivity level will have lowered considerably (especially in the first few months when you are particularly sleep-deprived), the less energy you will waste feeling frustrated about this.

2. Set a routine for yourself

Growing up, my mom had a very predictable household schedule. I knew exactly what days the laundry would get done, what days were for grocery shopping, and what night was pizza night (Thursday night). When I was younger, I would roll my eyes at my mom’s routine. Now that I’m a mom with two people’s lives I manage daily, I realize how much sense that made. The predictability will enable you to spend less time thinking about when things were going to get done and allow you to focus more on your work.

In addition to these weekly routines (which, I’ll admit, I haven’t quite mastered like my mom), I have a daily routine. I set my alarm for 5 or 5:30 since I’m a morning person and know I can get in at least a solid hour of work before Eve wakes up, and I have started stretching before I do any work. If you are a night person, then certainly sleep as late as you can and get work done at night instead. Fit in work during the time of the day when you work best, but do it consistently.

3. Make a list of everything you would like to get done each day

I make a list either first thing in the morning or when Eve first goes down for her nap. Either way, I know exactly what I want to work on when she is sleeping. It helps me to stay focused and use those valuable and limited hours most efficiently.

These simple tips on how to organize your time will motivate you to work from home while caring for a young child. Number 7 may even surprise you!

4. Prioritize 

When you make that list, it is important recognize that you might not get to it all. Children don’t always nap as long as you expect, or something might take longer than you had anticipated. Put the most important items at the top of the list and get them done first.

5. Set a timer

I use a simple and free app on my phone called the Pomodroido App based on the Pomodoro Technique. (The app I use is for Androids, but I’m sure there are other free ones for iPhones.) Basically you work for 25 minutes and take a break for five. I like to break my work into “Pomodoros,” or half-hour increments (including both the work time and the break). I can estimate how much time each item on my to-do list and will take and therefore how many Pomodoros. Since I can usually count on Eve to sleep for at least 2.5 hours, that’s at least five Pomodoros I can typically count on accomplishing. I will often limit e-mail to 1-2 to Pomodoros, knowing that I could spend forever checking it, and save the rest for other tasks. It gives me a better sense of what I can get done, and I really appreciate knowing that I have built-in break times.

6. Limit other distractions

Close Facebook or Pinterest and anything else that might distract you. Will limited time, it is important to be able to focus. Of course, social media and other “distractions” may legitimately be a part of your work, but set aside a specific time to work on the. You can even make a Pomodoro for pinning, if it is actually helping you to move your business along and not just an excuse for you to look up DIY projects you know you’ll never actually do.

7. Do household chores when your child is awake

I understand for a variety of reasons this might not be practical for everyone (I do, after all, have a child who cries when I leave her alone in the room for 10 seconds just to grab a glass of water from the kitchen) and may even seem like a odd suggestion. But think about it, what would you rather have you child see you doing: washing dishes and folding laundry, or typing on your computer where they have absolutely no idea what you are doing? Unlike typing on the computer, with chores you can still be engaged with your child. If your child is old enough, you can even involve her in the them. Or put on some child-friendly music and dance around and sing along with your child while you work. If anything, it might even make these mundane tasks more enjoyable for you, and it will free up the time when your child is sleeping to get other work done.

Do you work from home with a child? What helps you to get work done?

If you liked this post you might also want to check out

How to use your time more effeciently


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50 Responses to 7 tips for working from home when you have a small child

  1. I want to tweet every quotable tweet!! These are all wonderful tips, and effective. Now, that I am homeschooling I’m trying to find a new balance. I think I’m doing okay, but I know I can do better. I love that I have little helpers now 🙂

  2. To-do lists are the bomb diggity! I have my four year old son at home with me …ai yai yai. I have taken a deep breath and fully accepted that. Sometimes it has to be Play-Doh and Star Wars in the majority of my day.

    • Oh, I bet! I’m sure as Eve gets older she will be demanding my attention even more. But woo for to-do lists, without which I would never remember to do anything!

  3. Those are really great tips, Bev. It is so hard to juggle motherhood and work at home!! I used to do the cleaning while the kids were UP too. It’s a constant battle of choices all day every day…

    • Oh so is, Chris. Every day you make a choice of what you’re going to do that day and what you are going to have to forgo doing.

  4. I love these tips! I am still learning to try and accept that not everything will get done when I want it too.

    • I think most of us do, Amee! Just on the day I published this Eve refused to nap after about an hour and 45 minutes and I lost a bunch of work time I was counting on.

  5. It’s so true! I would much rather my kids watch me fold laundry and even help, which they like to do, than type away on my computer!
    I work at home, as you know, and it’s astonishing that it STILL surprises me that I don’t ever get as much done as I want. Oh yeah – I got a TON done when the kids were iced in at the in-laws with Cassidy over the weekend.
    I’m big into setting a timer – daily – and I make lists.

    • When Eve was first born Sam didn’t understand why I got so little done during the day. Then when he finally had a day when he was watching her by himself he understood. Children are little time thieves! Granted, the most adorable time thieves and I would trade Eve for all the time in the world to get work done 😉 But still it’s hard to get things done!

  6. These are great tips, Bev. I don’t work from home, but some of these are applicable to an office as well. I keep a general to do list on my desk. I cross things off as I go. At the beginning of a new week, I transfer anything left from last week’s list to the top of the new one an highlight them. Those are the things that get preference. That way I can’t put things off too terribly long!

    • That’s so smart, Rabia! I like transferring the previous week’s to-do list to the following week. Isn’t crossing things off a list the best?

  7. Every single one of your tips could apply to me, and I have no young kids at home! It’s all about focus and time management. I’m going to try that Pomodroido app – it may help me make the best use of my time when my kids are at school.

    • Let me know what you think if you use it! I think it’s great. I don’t use it all the time. Like with taking the Blog Clarity class, I just do the work and then start using the timer for my other work. Although I probably should set a timer for the work since I could probably spend forever on that! 😉

  8. Great tips! I totally agree about having a routine. I get a lot done during the morning since my kids are only half-day at school. Then we eat lunch together, and then they take a nap and I get more work done in the afternoon. That final stretch after they wake up from their nap through the late afternoon is always a struggle, though!

    • The late afternoon stretch is definitely tough. When the weather was warmer and it didn’t get dark at 5 I would take my daughter to a park. Now I just play with her and focus on cooking dinner.

  9. That’s a great set of tips! I wish I could say I was able to balance working from home and being mom a bit better. I’m still trying to figure it all out and my youngest is 10! I am a horrible planner and organizer and I’m surprised my family still eats dinner together…not sure how I pull that off every day! I suck at list making too! LOL There’s no hope at this point! By the time I have it mastered, my youngest will be in college! LOL

  10. This is a really good list, and lists are my bible! We also clean together and our 5 year old and 3 year old have age appropriate chores.But I still can’t get all of my work done. It’s such a tough balance…happy to meet you through SITS!

    • I’m all about the to-do lists! I could not survive without them. It really is a tough balance getting work done and taking care of children. Most days I don’t accomplish most of what I had hoped to, but you do the best you can, right?

  11. Great tips! Yes, I do a lot of chores while the kids are wake. I have a routine of cleaning as I go. I don’t let the dishes pile up as I’m making breakfast lunch etc. Stopping by from sits.

    • That’s smart about the dishes. Some days none of them get done until the end of the day, but since my daughter eats so much slower than me I can generally get some done while she finishes her lunch 😉

  12. We’re expecting our first child in June and one of my biggest concerns is how to balance working from home while taking care of a baby at the same time. These are really good tips and I plan on incorporating many of them when the time comes!

    • Congratulations, Kristen! Best of luck with working from home and taking care of your little one 🙂 I will warn you, don’t expect to get much done those first few months! (But it does get easier once they start to sleep more and especially once they start to nap at regular times.)

  13. Great tips! I also work during nap time. I wouldn’t do it in the early morning as these days he is getting up at around 5 which is bad enough! Today he didn’t nap at all but at least is in bed early. Yip, life revolves around sleep hey… I also do housework when he is awake. I get him to “help” me.

    • Ooh, I don’t blame you for not waking up earlier than your son. It’s hard enough for me to drag myself out of bed most days before my daughter gets up; I certainly couldn’t if she woke up at 5. That’s so cool that you get your son to help you with housework 🙂 (My toddler likes to wipe the table when she’s done eating!)

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