Working From Home With Kids: Creating Structure and Being Flexible

posted by Andrea | 03/17/2015
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working from home with kids

Last week, I did a podcast with Sandy Fowler from Heart Filled Holidays Radio. She talks about MUCH more than “just holidays” so we chatted for almost an hour about my thoughts on simple living, how simple living has vastly changed and improved my life, and how simple living works when I’m running a business full-time from home while raising my family full-time from home.

Sandy (and her husband) also work from home much of the time, and although her children are older than mine, she still totally understood the “challenges” that come when you work and live in the same place, at the same time, ALLLLLL the time 🙂

It was fun to chat with her, and I can’t wait to share the podcast with you in a couple weeks!

After I hung up the phone with Sandy, I realized that I get TONS of emails and questions from many of you, asking specifically how I handle working from home with kids and house projects and everything else I do. So even though I’ve already shared posts about what a typical day in my life looks like, I thought it might be interesting to share more about how I make the working + raising babies + housework happen… without feeling like I’m totally stressed out or way too busy.

First things first:

There are a couple things I need to mention before we get too far into this post, because I’m 100% confident that I would NOT be able to do everything I currently do if it wasn’t for the following key factors.

1. I LOVE being home. I know I’ve mentioned this so many times before, but I truly do love being in my home no matter what I’m doing. I rarely get “stir crazy”, I’m not the type to constantly be thinking up places to go or things to do, and it’s not abnormal for me to spend many days without ever leaving my home (or at least my neighborhood).

2. All of my jobs and work obligations are extremely flexible. For the most part, I do not have strict deadlines to meet — and this is actually one of my “requirements” before I’ll accept any new jobs or new clients.

I do have many different projects that need to be completed each week and each month — but WHEN and WHERE and HOW I do those projects is fully up to me. I can wake up early, stay up a little later, or work when Dave is home. I can also usually work pretty far ahead — so before Simon was born, I actually had about 2 months worth of work completely finished, meaning I hardly did anything for the 2 months after he was born!

3. I am naturally very structured, organized, self-motivated, and driven. It would be impossible to do the type of work I do, and the quantity of work I do unless I kept things organized, set self-imposed deadlines, and constantly motivated myself to “do it now”.

This is NOT to say that my work is draining and I need to “push” myself to finish it. But rather, because there are no specific deadlines for much of what I do, I have to be the one to set those deadlines… and then actually follow through with them. Otherwise, I’m positive my VA clients would find more reliable help and my blog readers would move on to blogs that published content on a regular basis instead of just once or twice a month — or whenever I “felt like it.”

4. Dave (and both our families) are very helpful. You’ve heard me talk about how much Dave helps me around the house, with the kids, and even with my blog… so it’s probably pretty obvious that I wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much without his constant help and support.

What you might not know, though, is that both of our families are extremely helpful. Both sets of grandparents frequently offer to stop by and play with the kids for a couple hours or take Nora out and about while Simon is napping. So while we currently don’t have any type of formal childcare, I do get random breaks every now and then.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen each week, so I don’t plan it into my schedule. However that means whenever it does happen, I magically have an extra 1-3 hours to work on blog projects, house projects, freezer cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, etc. — and it’s amazing what I can accomplish in that much unexpected “free time”.

playing with daddy

Along with everything I mentioned above, I think there are 2 key factors that are necessary for me to be able to work from home with kids. 

1. Creating Structure.

I naturally crave structure and order to my day. It makes me feel more “in control” and I know I get more accomplished each day if I have a plan, a to-do list, and some sort of structure in place. So it’s probably no huge surprise that creating structure has been a big part of why and how I’ve been able to manage working from home with kids.

Of course, there was a HUGE learning curve that took me a while to figure out — and I’m still constantly being thrown “curve balls” and “change-ups” to keep me on my toes 🙂 There is never a “normal day” nor does any one day ever go 100% completely according to my plan… but the general structure is there, and THAT’S what I need.

Some key elements of this structure include:

— Making a to-do list before I go to bed each night. More specifically, a Top 5 List so I know, without question, the most important things for me to do the following day. Also, many of you have asked if I make separate lists for my business and personal to-dos — the answer is no. I only have ONE to-do list every day and I try to be as realistic as I can with that list (so I’m not going to put 35 things on it each day). All my business and personal tasks are on one list so I can work through everything as I have time each day.

— Having a meal plan. Even though we might swap meals or opt for fast food if something changes at the last minute, I know that I have the ingredients ready to go for dinner every night of the week and that I won’t be left scrambling at 4:30pm. This also allows me to make dinner as I have time during the day — and sometimes, that means I’m browning ground beef, snapping beans, and cooking up pasta sauce at 7:30am!

— Timing my tasks. Please don’t picture me timing myself with everything I do. But over the years, I have periodically timed various tasks so I have a general idea of how long specific tasks take me. This way, I can fit them in during my day according to how much time I have at any given period. This means I’m not going to try to write a full-length blog post when I only have 15 minutes of free time, but I could fold a load of laundry and clean out the dishwasher.

— Keeping our home relatively clutter-free. Yes, it does take a small amount of time to keep things relatively neat, clean, and clutter-free — but the time I spend picking up during the day is NOTHING compared to the amount of time, energy, and sanity I save myself on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. I work and play better in a clean home, I know Nora and Dave both appreciate order, and I’m fortunate that Dave is really good about helping me keep it this way.

— Doing things NOW instead of waiting until later. I know “doing it now” is never as fun or as enjoyable as procrastinating (and I do procrastinate like every other normal person). However, almost every time I put something off “until later” I regret it. While it’s not always fun or easy, I’ve simply conditioned myself to almost always do it now so I can be done with it and move on with my day. Whether it’s cleaning out the dishwasher, editing photos for my blog, scheduling social media posts for my VA work, or scrubbing a bathroom — once it’s done, it’s done and I don’t have to think about it or worry that plans will change and I’ll run out of time.

As you might notice, nothing on my list above can be “messed up” or “ruined” or “altered” due to fussy babies, sick children, non-napping children, bad days, unexpected visitors, last-minute obligations, etc. etc. This list is not comprised of actual things I do each day, but rather the structures I put in place to allow me to do the things I do.

Each item on my list above is something I have full control over. Even if I have a horrible day and nothing goes according to plan, I can still make my to-do list for the next day before I go to bed. I can still look at the meal plan and get a meal out of the freezer for dinner tomorrow. I am still able to know how long various tasks take me. I can still do a quick pick-up of the house after the kids are in bed. And although it might not be as convenient some days, I can still usually “do it now” as much as possible during the day.

Having these general structures in place helps me to stay on top of the important things while still allowing for a large amount of flexibility within each day.

my two munchkins

2. Being Flexible.

Speaking of “flexibility”, being flexible is a HUGE factor in my ability to work from home with kids scrambling around all day.

As many of you probably know, being flexible is not necessarily one of my strengths. It’s something I’ve had to work at, and work at, and work at over the past several years — but I’m making progress. I’m even (dare I say) becoming a tiny bit “spontaneous” 🙂

Flexibility still does not come naturally or easily to me, but I’m learning to recognize that when different and unexpected situations arise, the fact that I have so many structures already in place helps to lessen the amount of frustration I feel when things don’t go as planned (which happens frequently around here!)

I’ve learned not to tell Nora about any fun outings or activities until we are literally almost ready to walk out the door — otherwise she is just too disappointed if something else comes up, plans change, someone gets sick, Simon takes an extra long nap, etc. etc.

I’ve gotten pretty good at having “back-up plans” for almost everything. Not in a sense that I spend hours and hours of time planning for every possible scenario, but just that I try to think ahead and have a handful of inside craft and baking projects for Nora when the weather is nasty, or have a special movie reserved for her when another fun activity might be canceled.

Also, by timing my tasks (as I mentioned above) I know how long various work, personal, and home projects should take me, so if something unexpected comes up, I can fairly easily swap a few things around to make it work without putting a damper on my previously planned schedule. Plus, since many of my work responsibilities allow me to work well in advance, I never have that fear of “getting behind” if something unplanned comes our way (either good or bad).

Even if you don’t work from home, I think being flexible is a huge factor in raising children (and enjoying the process!) However, for me, being flexible is only possible because I have already created some form of structure for my day — and I can then be flexible within that structure (if that makes any sense!)

I realize this post might make me sound like an over-scheduled nag of a mom… but I promise I’m not (at least not all the time!)

I also realize that there are many people who don’t need much structure and can thrive each day by simply doing whatever they feel like doing or whatever comes up. That’s great — sometimes I wish I was more “that way”.

However, I also know that if I was “that way” I wouldn’t be able to manage working from home with kids and everything else I do on a daily and weekly basis — and I honestly can’t imagine a more perfect work + home + family + life setup than what I’ve got going on right now!

So while I will continue to push myself to be more flexible, I also refuse to feel badly for my love of structure and order. Without either piece of the puzzle, I don’t think things would work as well as they are working now.

What about you?

Do you work from home? Do you work full-time or part-time outside of the home? Are you a full-time at-home parent or grandparent?

I’m curious to know if creating structure and being flexible also play a key role in your ability to manage everything YOU do??

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25 comments

  1. Work At Home Scams • Melissa Aiudi

    12/12/2015

    […] takeaway here  is to “create some structure for your day.” It’ll minimize distraction, force you to work efficiently, and allow for a clear line between […]

  2. Elena

    03/24/2015

    I love your side by side photos of March 2014 & 2015- adorable! Beautiful family 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks 🙂

    [Reply]

  3. Lizanne

    03/19/2015

    Thanks Andrea for another great post, and everyone else for your comments. I have been considering, and looking for, a work-from-home/flexible type of job for a while now, with some concern for whether or not I can make enough to cover our expenses, but also if I could handle this style of working. So far, I have not found a situation that meets the financial criteria. However, I am even more eager now to try to make this happen, as I am really sick of commuting to a job that I know could be done remotely, will also be moving soon, and hopefully starting a family. So, thank you all for the tips of things to consider while exploring this option!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yay for moving and future babies! good luck with everything — and yes, so happy to help!

    [Reply]

  4. Rachel

    03/18/2015

    Wonderful article, I run my own business as well and my husband and I just found out we are expecting our first and the thought of whole business/family time thing was getting to me a bit. I have loved your blog and all the fun, real and practical advice you give thanks so much!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    congrats! How exciting!
    it will be a transition for sure (no matter what you do to prepare) but you’ll eventually find your groove and figure everything out. Just give yourself some time (and a lot of grace)!

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  5. Stephanie

    03/18/2015

    Flexible is the key to my survival! Married to a fireman with an ever-changing schedule, overseeing 2 at-home businesses, homeschooling 4 kids, keeping the farm going and now as a blogger – I have to make things work everyday. I am constantly keeping a list in my head of things I can do next, and in various time increments so that I accomplish as much as possible. There are down times and extremely busy times during the year for all of the hats I wear so I take advantage of the slower pace whenever possible as well. I agree that having a plan (for dinner, back-up plan for the day) really make a difference! I am, by nature, a complete Type A so I struggle with the craziness some days! Thank you for your insightful post!

    [Reply]

  6. Amanda

    03/17/2015

    I have a part-time WFH job. I LOVE it!! I didn’t realized how stressed I was in corporate America until I left my job after having our oldest.

    I’m the mother of a 3yo and 4mo old. Beyond 1 weekly conf call with my team that lasts about an hour, I have complete flexibility about when I work. I most frequently complete most of my work after I put the toddler to bed. I try to do a little work, and send off emails during naptime. I love that as long as my work is done, no one is micromanaging me, or following up (but they’re available if I need assistance). I also know that once our kids are a bit older, there is an option for me to take on more work (still working from home). While it will mean more hours, I will still have the flexibility to be there for various school activities. For me, it’s an ideal work situation.

    Honestly, the best part is that I am free to be “mom” when my kids are awake and need me. We can go to the zoo/park/friend’s house (all of my closest girlfriends had babies within a few months of each other, so we frequently go to one house, eat lunch, and let the kids play). For my weekly conference call, I just put a show on, or let my son play games on the tablet. He can mostly entertain himself for that long (and I can always mute myself, if I do need to handle something), and I make sure I feed and diaper the baby before hand, and try to get him to sleep (thankfully, my boss has a newborn, so she’s totally understanding)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Exactly! This is the perfect job for me right now!

    [Reply]

  7. Erin Branscom

    03/17/2015

    I too work from home as a VA, and blogger. I do a lot of the same tips. I love laying out dinner ingredients and doing prep work early too. Great post!

    [Reply]

  8. Pamela

    03/17/2015

    I am so similar to you – it’s scary. I have thought that for YEARS. Read your blog every day, comment sometimes, but love your posts ALWAYS.

    Like you, I nearly always regret it when I don’t do something right away. Example: Last night I was working (I work PT from home, PT out of the home) and finished up my computer work at midnight. I decided not to do my quick pick-up of the house, thinking I needed sleep more. Nope! This morning I couldn’t make breakfast because the skillet that I needed to make eggs in was dirty. We didn’t have enough silverware in the drawer for breakfast because it was all still in the dishwasher (clean, at least!), and I couldn’t put the dirty breakfast dishes into the dishwasher because it was full of clean ones. So…….one bad choice last night = major annoyance this morning, with 3 littles underfoot. If only I had done the work last night while my kids were sleeping. Ah, well…..live and learn.

    I’m also fairly minimalistic (sorta out of necessity – we have 5 people in a small 2B 1BR house) so I only HAVE one skillet for eggs, and minimal silverware in the drawer! 🙂

    Maybe you could write a post sometime about the angst we feel because we crave simplicity yet simultaneously want to be prepared for everything that might come our way. Example: my purse. It’s hard to keep it simple because I want to be prepared for every possible situation. I hate packing for trips for this reason too. I want to be prepared and have clothing options, but don’t like bringing too much stuff either. AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH (That was me screaming!)

    Thanks for another wonderful post, Andrea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha – yes, we are similar!
    Just yesterday I was telling Dave and I’m dreading packing for our upcoming vacation. On one hand, I only want to pack the bare necessities, but on the other hand, I want to pack everything so I’m always prepared 🙂

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  9. Heart and Haven

    03/17/2015

    My days are pretty structured throughout the week, but flexible on the weekends.
    – I stay home with the kids (2 are in school, and the 2 lil’ ones are at home).
    During the week I take care of daily chores (ie. kitchen cleaning, laundry, general pick-up, etc.)
    I go to the gym M W F mornings (hubby watches kids while baby is napping & 3 yo quietly watches cartoons), and T Th evenings. Hubby goes to the gym M-Th evenings and Sat morning.
    Older kids get home from school @ 2:45, eat snack, do their homework, and have a quiet activity for 1/2 hr-1 hr while hubby finishes work.
    My 3 yo has gymnastics Tues mornings, and my 6 & 7 yo have soccer practice Wed & Thurs afternoons and games on Saturdays.
    Hubby & I both tackle deeper cleaning of the house on Saturday for 1-2 hrs (bathrooms, dusting, vacuuming, etc.). The rest of the weekend is flexible time.
    – I also manage our rental properties. Most months require only a handful of hours for bookkeeping, paying bills (utilities, services, etc.), and occasional repairs needed when I need to coordinate with tenants & vendors. In between tenants are my busiest times for thorough cleaning, making any repairs and/or upgrades, advertising units, setting up showings, and screening tenants. It is not uncommon for me to work long 12-16 hour days during this time to get a unit ready for re-rent asap.

    – My husband also works 100% from home.
    He starts working at 6 am (to get some work done before the kids wake up and get ready for school), and is usually done working at 4 pm.
    He has a desk set up in the garage if he has any phone meetings or needs dedicated quiet time.

    [Reply]

  10. Debbie W.

    03/17/2015

    Great post! These are the types of posts that brought me to your blog in the first place since I’m always trying to learn how to manage my time better. I do have a couple of questions about the top 5 list. I almost sent an e-mail, but I saw that it is helpful to ask them in the “comments” section so other readers can see the answer too. So I hope this is a good place to ask.

    First of all, whenever I make my top 5 list, I almost always remember other things as the day goes by that are actually more important than the top 5 I wrote down. So I end up feeling like I’m having to write and re-write the list. Does this happen to you? If not, how are you able to be so clear the night before about what are the most important things to be done?

    My second question is, do you include routine daily chores in that list or keep them separate? Some days, by the time I get finished with the daily stuff, there is very little time, if any, to do anything else. But there are also more than 5 things that I have to do each day. I always get confused by how to handle these daily chores within a to do list because they can’t always get done in the same order or at the same time (as in a routine), but they all need to be done each day at some point.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Debbie,

    I’ll answer your second question first because that’s an easy one. Yes, I only ever make ONE list. It gets way too confusing to make a billion little lists so EVERYTHING is always on one list for the day, no matter if it’s a daily chore, a weekly to-do, a meeting, errands I need to run, a phone call to make, emails to send, work-related, personal, family, etc.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I do have more of a long-term project/goal list that I keep with house project ideas or bigger things — but that’s nothing like my daily to-do list. Just one daily list so I only need to look at one list all day long!

    As for the top 5 — I might have to do a followup post on that because I get so many questions about it — usually from people with strong perfectionistic tendencies who just can’t figure out what the absolute 5 most important things are 🙂

    Surprisingly, I have very LITTLE perfectionistic tendencies so it’s relatively easy for me to work quickly, do things until they are “good enough” and then move on. So… for me, I just write out a list of everything I need to and want to do the following day. Then I go through that list and put a star by the items that are MOST important for me. Sometimes it’s only 3 items, sometimes it’s 6 or 7 — sometimes it’s exactly 5, but not always.

    These are thing that absolutely, without question, MUST happen — like prep and make dinner, attend a meeting or event, wash a load of whites because we are all out of kitchen towels, etc. etc. Basically, if those tasks don’t get done, I’ll be in trouble 🙂

    Then I try to fit everything else in around those “Top 5” tasks as the day goes on. And I don’t necessarily do the Top 5 tasks first thing in the morning. In fact, one of my Top 5’s is usually to write a blog post for the following week — and I never do that until the kids are in bed for the night — so I cross off many other smaller, less important tasks before I get to that Top 5 task later at night. The point is that I KNOW I still have a very important task to work on after the kids are in bed so I shouldn’t plan on doing my laundry or dishes or photo books at that time because that time is “reserved” for one of my Top 5’s

    Does that make any sense??

    I do think I’m going to do a follow-up post on this topic (because you’re definitely not the only one to ask!) Thanks for voicing your question in the comments so others can read too 🙂

    [Reply]

    Debbie W. Reply:

    Thank you! This does make sense and I look forward to your follow up post!

    [Reply]

    S Reply:

    How do you ever get to the long-term tasks? I could pick the top 5 things every day for a long time and never get to estate planning or decluttering or house projects, etc. because the top 5 would be “current” things. If I’m starting out very unorganized, how can I get a good mix of current/urgent important vs. long-term/bigger important tasks when I never have enough time to finish the current items?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Well… I guess my real question for you is why are you so busy each day that you have no extra time after your top 5 items are finished?

    At some point, those long-term tasks should become a top-5 for the day. Like a couple weeks ago, I put one of my Top 5 as “getting all my business and personal tax info together”. I did it all in one evening after the kids were in bed and dropped it off at the accountant the next afternoon.

    And about a year ago, I put “Call the Attorney about our Living Trust” on my Top 5 list — and we set up an appointment to get our living trust created. All we had to do was go back about 2 weeks later and sign a bunch of documents so although I did have to ‘get the ball rolling’ I didn’t actually have to do much work.

    Also, it helps me to break down larger projects into smaller chunks that I can work on in daily increments so a little is done each day. I rarely ever have “declutter” on my Top 5 list — but I still do a little each day just so everything stays neat and clutter-free.

    I’d say that if you honestly don’t even have enough time to finish the current items (as you said in your comment) then you probably need to sit down and evaluate how you’re spending your time and what you can stop doing or remove from your “plate” so you have more time to get to everything else.

    [Reply]

  11. Siobhan

    03/17/2015

    I thrive on structure. As a matter of fact, my family was over this weekend and sort of poking fun at my lists I have hanging up and how “organized” I am. In the past, I would have been embarrassed but instead I was proud…I’ve come a long way. My husband works long hours and I’m the one who takes care of everything at home…from fixing a shelf that fell down to cleaning the bathroom, and taking care of the kids. Your posts have been so helpful to me in finding my groove, so to speak..in juggling all of my mom, home and work responsibilities. Thank you for all of your simple living guidance. My kids have a more relaxed, peaceful mom (most of the time at least 🙂 ) thanks to your advice that I’ve applied to running my home.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    So glad you didn’t feel bad or embarrassed that your family poked fun of you. A LOT of people poke fun at me too — but I know I am the way I am for a reason and it benefits me greatly every day 🙂

    [Reply]

    Lee Cockrum Reply:

    I think sometimes people are envious of how together you are, but don’t want to do the work! I know to a certain extent that is me, if I am totally honest. Although I’m not too much the sort to poke fun.

    [Reply]

  12. Julie H

    03/17/2015

    Another great post!! Also….look how much Nora has grown in the last year! Wow! Well, Simon too. lol I can’t wait to see a picture of you all this time next year:)

    [Reply]

  13. Erin

    03/17/2015

    I was so excited to read this post. I will be working from home (AdvoCare) and homeschooling my boys (8 and 2) in the fall and am so excited and nervous about the transition. Your post brought to attention things I didn’t think about. For me, planning ahead is key. If I don’t plan ahead as much as I can, I plan to fail. Thank you again for your blog!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Erin — I think planning ahead is honestly necessary for everyone (but that’s just my opinion!) Good luck with the job and homeschooling next year!

    [Reply]