paper and spark blog

The acronym for a work-at-home-mom is a WAHM. This, of course, always makes me think of the word WHAM! As in, wham, after attempting to juggle my fickle, teething baby and get just a smidgen of work done today, I feel like I got hit by a bus.

I’d be kidding myself (and you) if I said I had this whole running a business from home whilst taking care of a baby and doing lots of other household duties thing down. Or even sorta down. Everyday is a challenge. And just when it seems like I’m getting the hang of something or know what to expect out of my day, the baby’s schedule changes and we’re back to square one. Welcome to parenthood.

Complaining aside, I’m very glad to be a WAHM, and I think it’s vital for us stay-at-home parents to have an outlet or two that is completely unrelated and separate from being a parent. It’s important to have something non-baby related to think about, spend time on, and be passionate about. Most of us would go crazy if we were in baby-mode 24/7. At least I know I would.

Running a business from home (or trying to get one off the ground) helps me feel relevant and purposeful in a different way than from being a mom. It keeps me busy, motivated, inspired, and well-rounded. Taking some time away from baby care to work on my business helps me recharge a little bit and thus be a better parent. It’s something that’s mine, something I have complete creative control over. So without further ado, here are my 5 tips for fellow WAHMs, that I should really follow a lot more myself.

1. Make a to-do list for tomorrow at the end of each day.

The free time of a WAHM tends to come in bits, pieces, and random chunks throughout the day. I find that I waste a lot of those precious free minutes wandering the interwebs until I eventually get down to work, mostly because I’m not sure just what I should tackle first on my long to-do list of business items.

At night before you go to bed (or first thing in the morning if it works better for you), make a list of 3-6 specific action items for you to do tomorrow during your free time. Make them specific (broken down to the simplest single task) and make them actionable (things that you can actually do, not theoretical things or stuff to just think about).

inside notebook2

Let’s say tomorrow your goal is to write a blog post. Your to-do list could consist of writing the first draft, picking 3 photographs for the post, editing the photos, making one pinnable graphic for the post, editing the post, then finalizing your tags and scheduling it to be published. These are all specific single tasks to accomplish your goal of writing a blog post tomorrow.

This way, when you sit down to do some work and you’re still catching your breath from dealing with a toddler tantrum, you’ll be able to look at your written list and know exactly what you can start doing right now, instead of beginning the cycle of being busy but not productive, and randomly checking your stats, browsing your business page’s feed, and doing other random busy work things. Even if you only get a few minutes here and there, you are spending your free time taking small steps to accomplish a real goal.

If you have this list at hand before you even start your day, your chances of getting a few things done over the course of the entire day are much greater.

2. Pick a note-taking system and stick with it (for more than just a week).

Sigh. For someone addicted to office supplies and paper goodies this one is hard for me. I also love technology, so all those note-keeping/productivity apps are tempting too. Planner system? Notebook? Moleskin? Evernote? Spreadsheet? Google doc? The options are truly endless, but you need to pick one or two that work for you and stick with it.

When I say “note-taking” system I mean the place where you write your notes, ideas, appointments, to-do items, things for your business, things for your kids, things for your house, etc. If you try to juggle Evernote, a Google calendar, a paper planner, and five notebooks you’re going to be spending a lot of time trying to remember where you wrote something down, or if you even wrote it down at all.

Having a set system for keeping track of all the intangibles in your head will eventually save you a lot of time, energy, and frustration. Finding the best process for you takes trial and error; I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me. I love my big planner but find that I use it mostly for the calendar view and forget to update the daily “to-do list”. I do better keeping a running to-do list in a plain notebook. But I also intermingle my random thoughts and ideas in the same notebook, which I don’t like. I also like to keep my work-related to-do lists on Evernote.

brain dump notebook1

So basically, you can see I don’t really know what I’m doing here. If you have something that works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Although I’m not following this tip, I’m sure that having a good note-taking and appointment-tracking process makes for one much less stressed-out WAHM.

3. Organize all your work crap wherever you are the most.

There are pros and cons to having a separate dedicated space for your home office. It’s a nice little sanctuary for you if you have your own work room, but if you don’t have much free time to retreat to said sanctuary then you aren’t able to get as much done as you may be able to otherwise. If you spend a lot of time in the living room with the kids, you can try to create a small work station, area, desk, cart, or whatever in that place as well, even if it’s a little rolling box of supplies that you could bring to any room.

Obviously, the usefulness of this tip depends on what kind of work you do, but you get the concept. If you can make some inventory, write copy, sketch an illustration, reply to customer emails, or package products from the room you’re already spending half your day in, then you’ll be able to get a little more done each day.

When we had our daughter, our wonderful office became a wonderful mint & pink nursery. We said goodbye to our giant corporate-esque office desk and decided to put a skinny little Ikea desk in the front living room of our house where we had some extra space.

My “home office” now resides on this little desk right next to Hazel’s giant playmat area; this is now where both Hazel and Mama spend a lot of time.  My jewelry inventory and supplies are all housed upstairs, but I’ve set up a mini-shipping station near my desk (sort of camouflaged in the wall-to-wall bookshelves) and Hazel’s play area downstairs to save me some time and energy. I can package and prepare customer orders all in one place while supervising baby girl playing.  She’s also a great shipping assistant. When she’s not trying to chew on labels or swallow earrings.

Here’s what my home office really looks like. Please excuse all the clutter. Having a baby will do that to ya!

my home office/hazel's play space

my home office/hazel’s play space

4. Have at least one night a week where you leave the house. Preferably by yourself.

…just where did you think I’m writing this blog post from?

If you can, if you have an awesome supportive spouse or parent or friend who is able to help you with this, then I strongly recommend breaking away from the home office at least one night a week to work on your business away from home.

Go to a coffee shop and catch up on all the business blogs you haven’t had time to read in one uninterrupted sitting. Tackle your bigger projects or ideas that require more energy. There are so many things that are easier to accomplish if you can really sit in your “business” mindset for a couple hours instead of random spontaneous chunks throughout the day.

Getting away will clear your head and boost your productivity. And it just feels totally awesome to be able to drink a whole, entire cup of coffee while it’s still hot. LUXURY.

5. Don’t wait to act until everything is perfect.

Let’s just be honest – whatever “it” is, it will never be really perfect and you’re never going to feel 100% confident about taking the plunge, whether the plunge means launching your business, publishing that blog post, releasing your next new product, or sharing that photo. In the end, authenticity is more important than perfection. And done is better than perfect.

done is better than perfect copyAs a WAHM, you are probably already familiar with this concept in the realm of parenting. You didn’t have the time or energy to prepare a 4 course, properly balanced, protein/veggie/fruit/fiber/iron/vitamin-C/DHA/whatever-ed meal for your kids tonight, but did the fear of giving them mac n cheese instead keep you from feeding them dinner at all? Of course not, and now your kiddos are fed and happy and chances are, still pretty healthy.

This applies to your business too. Don’t let the fear of not being perfect paralyze your work as an entrepreneur.

Let me say again, done is better than perfect. If you’re anything like me (hopefully not), you will mull over, research, tweak, edit, stare at, ponder about, tweak, and then research some more about your next move. You can spend endless hours, days, and weeks forever “perfecting” your product or brand, but if it’s not actually out there yet, it’s never going to earn you any money, you’re never going to get any feedback, and you’re not going to grow from it. Let your little birdie fly free and see what comes back to you. Let the tweaking be part of the journey, instead of something that keeps you from ever setting foot outside the door.

A lot of us use this fear of not being perfect as an excuse to remain inert and not act. It’s kind of a lot easier to sit and work on your new thing until it’s perfect than to actually put it out there and face possible rejection, am I right? News flash, perfection is an intangible, variable unreality. You’re never really going to feel like your product is 100% perfect and that fear of failure is never going to go away, so it’s time to bite the bullet and go go go mama!

I feel like a lot of these points can apply to you wherever you are in life, even if you aren’t working from home or a mom. What helps you stay productive during the day?

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