After working from home for more than five years, juggling deadlines, babies, dogs, dinners and more toys than Argos, I like to think I’ve nailed the art of making the best of filing from my kitchen table.
Here are my top tips for being a work at home mum…
CREATE A SEPARATE WORK SPACE
I will admit that, on this one, it’s do as I say and not as I do.
This is an aspirational one for me, but one I think would make a massive difference to my work day and days off.
Unfortunately, at the moment I work at the kitchen table and that means work blends into family time and vice versa.
While I’m available to respond to and write emails at all hours of the day – invaluable when you work in the world of 24-hour news – it also impacts on my work life balance.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been putting out dinner and I’ve been drawn into an email that has just popped into my inbox.
It’s also easy to walk away from the computer to deal with those dirty dishes when they’re sitting in front of you taunting you as you type.
So, having a separate space would allow me to more clearly adhere to time to work and time to play.
It would also allow me to get rid of the growing mountain of interview notebooks and paperwork currently competing for space with homework, paintings and tomorrow’s packed lunches.
Of course, it would be oh-so-easy to lie in bed with your laptop and make your millions in your PJs.
After all, isn’t that how people who ‘go to work’ for a living view us ‘work from homers’?
“It must be great working in your pyjamas,” is something I have heard on more than one occasion.
I’m not saying it hasn’t happened – especially when I’m under the weather or when the little people are waking frequently through the night.
But, for me, getting dressed and making at least a little effort is crucial to getting things done at work.
I always feel better about myself and achieve more if I get up and tackle the day as if I am going to the office.
Getting dressed doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find me typing away in a power suit – I might be in gym kit or jeans, but I honestly believe that consistently not getting dressed is bad for your mental health and self-worth.
MAKE LUNCH THE NIGHT BEFORE
I have found this one invaluable.
With limited time set aside each day for me to work, it is absolutely essential that I make the most of the time I do have.
Washing the lettuce leaves and slicing the onion for my salad are a luxury I just don’t have when trying to meet a deadline.
And yet, I want to eat.
I tend to find that it I don’t prepare and make lunch the night before, I either end up going without or grabbing a bar of chocolate to keep me going – neither healthy nor beneficial to my waist line.
As much as possible, I try to approach my working day sitting at the kitchen table as though I am going out to work in the office – and that means making a packed lunch just like I used to before I made the leap to working as a freelance.
There’s no doubt that working from home means you don’t get dragged into any nasty workplace politics.
It also means that, when I’m having a bad day and don’t want to face the world, I can hide in my kitchen with my dogs for company.
But, is this really a good thing?
At a time when communication by technology is becoming increasingly the norm, it can be tempting to withdraw when you work from home.
I have to admit that text, WhatsApp and email are my preferred means of communication – and that’s even with people I like.
However, there’s no doubt that my mood suffers when I stay at home and avoid human contact day after day.
Over the years, I’ve realised the importance of getting out into the big bad world, even if that means going for a quick coffee.
My job involves a lot of talking, but most of it is done over the phone these days, and even this isn’t enough to stave off the loneliness that can come from working from home.
I now make a point of arranging my schedule so I can spend a morning a week in the local coffee shop writing up interviews and, where possible, I try to meet contacts face-to-face.
BE CAREFUL ABOUT THE CUPS YOU USE
I suppose this one relates to any occasion you sit down in front of your computer – but ignore at your peril.
If you’re going to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while you work, make sure you don’t use a tall, reusable cup.
In my attempt to help the planet, I invested in one for my trips out to coffee shops, but it also became my ‘go to’ when I was at home as well.
The danger is, as I found out to my horror, that they aren’t exactly resilient when it comes to knocks.
So, as I sat typing away, a cup of tea sitting beside me, my intrepid toddler scaled the kitchen table and made a grab for a pile of important paperwork (another danger of working at home).
With my lightening reflexes I reached out to stop him, but in my haste to save my work, I knocked my wonderfully trendy cup and every last drop of liquid all over my beloved MacBook.
I still can’t think about the whole incident without feeling sick.
I’ve stuck to an ordinary, chipped ceramic mug since the whole sorry soggy disaster – and I advise you to do the same.