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The baby circus: working from home with little ones

When my twins were born in 2014, my graphic design business was around 2 years old.

I had been steadily building up clients, and from the 1st year to the second, had doubled my income. Mostly I was working from home on client projects – sometimes to mix things up, I’d go into an agency for a few days. Such carefree days, full of choice!

Things were going well. So well in fact, that I figured I would just pop the babies out, have a little break for a few months, and then pick up where I left off.

Quietly smug that I’d soon be living the dream: working from home while juggling my business with my babies.

What was I thinking? That babies miraculously become self-sufficient little beings from 4 months of age? (Yes, that’s kind of what I thought.)

Fast forward 15 months, and I cannot get a single thing done when they are at home with me. Small toddlers demand a LOT of attention.

I’d like to take a moment to make sure you don’t skim over this important point, because I feel like no-one really made it clear to me.

** TODDLERS DEMAND ALL YOUR ATTENTION. ALL THE TIME. **

(Sorry, I’m a bit traumatised. I’m deep in the baby trenches here.)

Working from home with babies – not all it’s cracked up to be

I’ve tried being super-juggling-business-mum: quickly trying to work on a task while they’re engrossed in pulling apart duplo blocks.

In that miraculous window where no-one is crying, screaming, hitting, pinching or biting each other – or hanging off my leg in hysterics – I have honestly tried to get real, actual work done.

What can I say. I’m a glass half full kind of girl.

(In case you were wondering, it never works. More on that below.)

In spite of the craziness, however, in the last couple of months I have:

  • Designed and launched a new business website
  • Put together a coherent and strategic marketing plan
  • Pulled together an outline of a course I’m going to teach in May
  • Sold some seats for that course through the strategic marketing plan
  • Created some modules for a mini-course I’m going to be using in my sales funnel
  • Completed my usual allotment of client work (OK, that’s not entirely true…I’ve scaled back on client work. There’s a limit to what I can get done – I don’t have time-bending super powers. Unfortunately.)

It’s taken a radical mindset shift, and to be honest, I’ve kind of surprised myself with how much I’m getting through. I’m starting to suspect that maybe I was a tiny bit inefficient (I’m looking at you, Facebook!) when working in my pre-baby life.

I thought it might be useful to share how I’ve been getting all this work done in the tiny windows of a few hours here and a few hours there, that have become ‘Mummy’s work time’.

Time management and productivity tools

The trick is to find a productivity tool that helps you get organised and stay on track. I’ve tried the following:

If none of the above push your buttons, for inspiration there’s always everyone’s bestie, Google. Even better, if you have any sort of social media family (Facebook Groups, Google+ Groups, a solid Twitter set), just ask what everyone else is using, and you’ll get lots of other ideas.

A quick peek into how I organise my working time

So, I use Trello.

I’ve created a series of boards for client work, and project work. Trello boards are just another word for Uber-Lists. At least, in my mind, that’s what they’re called.

On each board, I create lists that I then fill in with tasks. For example, on my Your Web Toolkit board I have:

  • Website tasks (recolour lead magnet, look at Divi tutorial to redesign blog posts)
  • Email marketing tasks (write autoresponder series, check out Gravity Forms)
  • Facebook strategy stuff (listen to Amy Porterfield podcast, update Thank You page)
  • Blog post ideas (this one’s empty at the moment – I’m working on a content strategy. *clears throat*)

But my secret weapon – ta da! – is my Daily To Do board. (groundbreaking stuff, hey?)

I have a list for each day of the week, and the original idea was to tick off the tasks in a lovely efficient fashion.

In reality, I move them along from day to day – often over the course of a week or two – until finally each task is finished.

In spite of the foreverness of getting these tasks finished, I’ve been amazed to find that I am getting stuff done. I’m bloody well eating that elephant one tiny bite at a time. Or boiling the frog. Whatever the metaphor is for doggedly just doing and doing and doing till you’re DONE.

I also use my Trello boards as a dumping ground for all the ideas that come to me when I’m busy doing something else. I quickly add the idea I’ve just had to either that day’s board, or the relevant client or project board. And then feverishly get back to working on the thing that I’m actually doing right then.

Focusing on the task at hand

When it’s time to sit down and do some work, I quickly scan my to-do list and run through a mental checklist:

  • How much time I have vs how much time a task will take
  • Am I looking at tasks that will move me towards my current marketing goals?
  • Is there something on there that I’ve been putting off because I just don’t want to do it? Especially if it’s been hanging around a while. Either just get it done or delete it.
  • Are there tasks that I would ENJOY doing, but ultimately aren’t particularly productive. Really pay attention to this, because I have been noticing that I give myself plenty of stuff to do just because it’s enjoyable, but it really is just filler

And so, within a minute or 2 of sitting down, I know exactly how I’m going to spend that particular allotment of time. What a dork. (But it works).

Working from home by working away from home

It’s not all Trello boards and fairy dust though. No, the real secret here is HOW I’m working these days (mostly covered in bits of food and quietly weeping, if I’m honest).

Trying to get work done while at home in charge of small humans is impossible. All those promises of work/life balance? Getting to spend quality time with your offspring while you grow your business and keep your clients happy? Not in this household.

I have to either be sitting on the floor playing with the girls, or holding one on my increasingly creaky right hip. Or some combination of the two. Anything else is not acceptable, and I WILL be told in no uncertain terms.

It’s hard work.

And it doesn’t lend itself to getting anything productive done.

I now only do work when my hubby is on baby duty. I usually head out to a café, mostly because we don’t have a spare room in our current flat where I can hide. I also try to use nap-time (which is becoming a joke, by the way), and I surrender most of my evenings.

The point is, I don’t try to do work on my business when I’m around the babies (god, they’re toddlers now, not babies anymore. It’s alright…they’ll soon be at school and I’ll have PLENTY of time).

In summary, carving out that physical space is vital.

Change your working mindset

I probably shouldn’t admit this, because it’s not cool to admit that we’re (sometimes) angry mums. But here goes.

I get so furious when I try to ‘sneak’ some work in while on baby duties. Because they interrupt me, I can’t just finish what I’m doing. Is there anything more annoying than getting interrupted when you’re trying to concentrate?

When I do this, it creates lots of bad energy that bounces between me and the girls until everyone is in tears.

So, I’ve learned that while I’m with the babies, to just be with the babies. Don’t try to multitask. Don’t try to be productive. Just be their mum.

My husband doesn’t work full-time, and has flexible hours. In that respect, I’m probably luckier than some ‘mumpreneurs’.

And so I usually get somewhere between 2-4 hours a day for work. And yes, that includes evenings.

When it’s time to work, therefore, I actually work. I flip the Trello boards, really think about which task is a good use of my time, and knuckle down to do it. No faffing, no excuses.

So here’s the real secret.

The beauty of having small windows to do work in, is that you become very focused.

My tip? Give birth to a couple of babies that suck up all your time. You’ll be amazed at how much you can fit into a baby-free hour or two.

You can read more about what I’ve been creating in these spare moments of frenzied productivity over here.

Cathy Topping

Cathy Topping

Founder - Your Web Toolkit

Cathy is a graphic and web designer, who helps online entrepreneurs and small business owners with their online marketing and design.

Through bespoke projects and training for DIY efforts, she aims to help her clients grow their businesses in a reliable and affordable way.

10 Comments

  1. Emma

    The most honest article I’ve ever seen about trying to work with babies! I’m making notes as we speak cause you are amazing and I can only aspire to be as productive! Love your work xxx.

    Reply
    • Cathy

      Thanks Emma! I think we get sold the ‘dream’ of self-employment plus babies. It’s just not that easy 🙂

      Reply
  2. Laura

    I LOVE this post!! I also have twins and work from home and OMG I could have wrote that post! In fact, I’m annoyed at myself that I didn’t lol! I am so with you on getting annoyed with them interrupting!
    Anyway, good on you for busting the rose tinted work at home Mum thing! And I am in awe of your productivity!

    Reply
    • Cathy

      Hey there fellow twin mum! It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? Haha…just kidding, of course I love and enjoy them. But talk about draining 🙂

      Reply
  3. Arijana Ilibasic

    I feel like I wrote this (except it’s funnier)! I’ve also learned now to try ‘squeeze in’ work while I’m with the kids. It made me feel like I was always rushing around but never actually accomplishing anything (with work or kids). Now I block off work time and trust that it’ll get done then.
    Great post and great job pulling off all those things with twins around!

    Reply
    • cathy_19vt6745

      Oh…that feeling of a a headless chicken! It’s a killer.

      I totally agree – separate out ‘mum’ from ‘work’, and you actually feel like you do both (semi) properly. Try to do them together, and it’s meltdowns all round.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Reply
  4. Bianca

    Oh so like this post. Really same here. Only question I have is about creativity. Dont’t you also have moments where the momstuff has taken ALL of your energy and creativity that you can just stare at that laptop and can’t get any great creative idea? I have! So extra tip from me (my kids are now 4, 5 and 6 yrs.) Schedule unproductive time to keep some time leftovers for when you arent productive. That way my planning doesnt constantly need to change, tasks moving forward ?

    Reply
    • Cathy

      That’s a great tip! We all need some time to ourselves as well. I try to go to the gym – just not as regularly as I’d like 🙂

      Reply
  5. Maria

    Thank you for your candid post! I’m doing some research for me as I’m thinking of going freelance however I’d (we) would also like to start a family. So we’re researching to see if it’s realistic to do both at the same time.

    Reply
    • Cathy

      It can be a juggle – but anything is do-able 🙂

      Reply

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