Hard to believe that I’ve been in business for myself and working from home for 10 years this month.
In 2009, I was 8 months pregnant, the stock market was melting down, my husband had just started a new job, and I got laid off.
I had been asking for a formal performance review for YEARS – since I started in a development and fundraising role at a local nonprofit, housed at a local college. The reason was that I knew the nonprofit was volatile, the director was a bit unhinged, and I worried that my job would be on the chopping block at any time.
They never granted me my request – until I had to tell them I was pregnant (I couldn’t hide it physically anymore). And then – SURPRISE! – they realized they couldn’t keep me on full time.
I’m not going to waste time thinking about them – that nonprofit folded shortly after I left – but rather the opportunity that they gave me. I may never have considered going out on my own without the necessary push to do so.
I sent out resumes. I had three big interviews – 9 months pregnant! Needless to say, I didn’t get any of those positions (thankfully).
So I turned to CraigsList. I scoured the part-time and hourly offerings by nonprofits. I pieced together a slate of grant-writing clients. I planned my official business launch.
I had my daughter in August 2009. Kept building my business like so many working parents do – through feedings and diapers and naps and no sleep.
March 1, 2010. On that day, my family of 3 moved into a new house. And also on that day, I put my daughter in day care for the first time, and officially started my business.
Please note that I do recognize that as a cis, college-educated white woman from a middle-class family north of Boston I am much, much more fortunate that most people. I’m just sharing my story because I hope it helps someone out there – and encourages them to share theirs!
I want to also take a moment to say that while that day was exhilarating, it was incredibly emotional. I reached out to one of my nonprofit heroes, John Haydon, never expecting that he would actually have the time to talk to me on the phone. He made time, for an hour. It changed my life.
We all remember that iconic video – maybe my favorite of all time – of Professor Robert Kelly in his home office, with his kids busting in.
That video went viral, but incidents like that are going to become the new normal. I’ll never forget doing a webinar when my daughter was 2 years old and had to stay home because of a fever, and came in as I was broadcasting to say “Mommy, I did a big poop!”
Before we begin…
It is very important to remember that everyone is different.
We all have different work styles.
This is not prescriptive for you and your situation.
We all have to experiment and do more of what works for us, and less of what doesn’t.
Here are some of my suggestions to make working from home work for you and for your family. I’ll be adding more detail in future posts to some of these bullet points.
Fully understand your work style.
I highly recommend reading the book Work Simply by Carson Tate. While it didn’t make me completely overhaul my own work habits, it did make me realize certain strengths and weaknesses about the way that I work and my preferences.
Being a Prioritizer means that I prioritize the high value tasks first, and I’m focused on goals, consistency, and logical problem solving. This is not me 100% of the time, but like an astrological horoscope, I take from it what I find helpful.
I also recommend following Brittany Berger, who not only loves Leslie Knope and GIFs as much as I do, she continually gives great productivity advice that is not cookie cutter or expected. In fact, she doesn’t even believe in productivity experts (even though she loves them).
Develop a routine.
There is no way I can go about my day just winging it. That is NOT me. I’ve done that before, and all of a sudden it’s 4 PM, I have to get the kids, and I have accomplished nothing.
The Define My Day calendar works really well for me. Each month, it asks you to define your goals and your ideal day. I won’t bore you with the full details of my day, since every day is different, but here’s a sketch of my ideal day if I don’t have to go anywhere (and who does right now):
The last few months, I’ve been consistently waking up at 5 AM on week days, doing deep work that requires concentration from 5 – 7 AM. Kids get up around 6:30 and get themselves dressed. Then I am with them from 7 – 8 AM, they go off to school and my husband goes to work.
At 8 AM, I focus on chores, because for me, I can’t start the day with dishes and an unmade bed and clothing everywhere. The kids are really good about helping me but some days mornings are chaotic. I then get my coffee, put on the news, check my email, and plan my day.
All of these routines help me mentally set up for the day ahead and create that line between family morning time and work time. (Not possible when everyone is home, I recognize that!)
Then I try to get exercise and work on content – slide decks, blog posts, webinar outlines, client projects.
At 4 PM I have to get the kids, make dinner, etc. By the evening I’m way too exhausted to do anything productive. That’s why I wake up early.
Please note that my day very rarely ends up like this, due to events, conference calls, travel, other obligations. But this is the routine that I strive for!
But what to do when everyone is home with you?
Of course, right now routines are thrown out the window.
I’m trying to figure out how to keep some semblance of a routine – I’ll keep you posted.
This is going to be completely vital to me as we go forward with weeks of kids home from school.
Today and for the next couple of days we are all in survival mode.
After that, I am going to create a daily schedule for myself and my kids. It will cover chores, tv time, playtime, going outside, family time, mommy’s quiet time (A MUST), and meal times.
This kind of structure doesn’t work for everyone but for me, it is a must.
We did a similar thing during a week of snow days a couple of years ago – thankfully, my daughter is like me, a little Leslie Knope who loves lists, schedules, and clipboards.
Understand that kids change everything.
Trust me, after working at home or myself for 10 years with a husband who’s boss thinks it is still the 1950s in terms of women should take care of everything – it’s not an easy situation.
This warrants a much longer post, but to the parents out there who have to work from home for weeks at a time while still managing children – there is NO easy solution. I wish I had one!
My recommendation is not creating huge expectations – either for your employer or for your children. You won’t be able to entertain them all day (or even most of the day).
TV is ok. Screen time is ok. Snacks are ok. Survival is ok right now. You are doing a great job. Your kids will be ok.
As we all adjust to this new reality, we will figure out a way to work and have kids at home with us as well. I’ll keep providing my advice and recommendations (and failures!) as I go along.
I would LOVE to hear about your experiences – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @JuliaCSocial.
Time block in your calendar.
I used to make very long To Do lists and not actually block out time to get these things done. That DOES NOT work.
When I look at my To Do list and my projects, I put them into time blocks on my Google Calendar. I always estimate twice as much time to get them done as I think I can accomplish.
For example, if I have a webinar coming up in a few weeks, I will block 3-4 hours on my calendar (maybe not all at once) to create the slide deck. During that time block, my phone is in my bedroom (I will hear it if it rings), I am not checking email or social media, and I am focused on creating the slide deck.
This may mean taking a hard look at your calendar and realizing that everything on your To Do list doesn’t fit. I’ve been there. Eliminate what you can and work hard on the rest.
Say no to everything.
This is a TOUGH one for me, but one that the coronavirus pandemic has made pretty easy. I know that some people advocate for the saying yes to everything approach. But that always leaves me completely frazzled, overwhelmed, and over-committed.
I’m a people-pleaser, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. So rather than a fuzzy “let me get back to you” or “let’s circle back in a month” I am now saying no to things I know I can’t deliver on or that I don’t want to do. (Benefit of working for yourself!)
Creating goals and sticking to them is another blog post, and I’m certainly not the expert on this. But I always remember something that Chris Brogan said that stuck with me so much I put it on my wall – “Success means being able to say no.”
For more great advice on this, check out several posts by Michael Hyatt on this topic.
Organize your work space as much as possible.
I am very fortunate to have a separate office in my house. When we bought the new house I had my business up and running for several years so for me, it was an absolute.
I need to be able to close the door at the end of the day.
I can write more about this philosophy, but for me, what helps is to have firm boundaries between work and home.
It’s not a perfect science, but when I’m in my office, my family knows that I’m working. I schedule time periods to work, and then I try to be away as much as I can.
In this current state of crisis, I understand that is impossible for many of you. Just do what you can to avoid burnout and overwhelm.
In order to process things that come across my desk, I have three bins:
Courses – Ideas for potential courses and webinars, or articles and books on how to create better courses and webinars.
Speaking – Advice for better speaking, Tamsen Webster’s email newsletter that I always print out to read carefully, other speaking resources.
Personal – Coupons, camp forms, other things that take up space in our daily lives especially with kids.
Yes, I do still print things out. For me, I either listen to something as an audio file or podcast in the car when I’m alone, or I read it on paper, highlight, and make notes.
Reading in-depth articles online does NOT work for me or my brain.
I also work hard to make my office an inviting space where I want to be. I put up a wall of inspiring women – I’m still adding to it!
Be courteous during conference calls.
My first piece of advice is to have compassion for others who may not be tech-savvy and who may even be tech-averse. Everyone is stressed right now with a lot of new stuff coming at them by the hour.
People are all trying to navigate this new normal. If someone on your team has never done a Zoom call and can’t figure it out, help them.
Have timed agendas at the ready for all conference calls to stay on track.
Don’t require video conferencing if people are at home with kids, or haven’t showered, or just don’t want to get made up for a work call.
Establish strict guidelines for these calls. What are the 2-3 objectives that we ABSOLUTELY must accomplish right now? What can be tabled for a later date?
For more details on working virtually with teams, I highly recommend The Unashamed Guide to Virtual Management by Ben Bisbee and Kathy Wisniewski.
Plan on imperfection and interruptions.
This is the most important thing.
Plan for imperfection and interruptions.
Plan on things not going as planned, tech acting up, kids getting sick, the world ending, you name it.
We are living in the new normal.
I’m here to help. I’ll be going live on Facebook, taking questions, trying to help as much as I can.
We are all in this together. YOU’VE GOT THIS. I believe in you.
Free chapter of my new book!
Get a free chapter of my brand new book, How to Build and Mobilize A Social Media Community for Your Nonprofit in 90 Days!
Enjoy the chapter, and let me know what you think!