Staying Organized

  1. Fending Off Work At Home Distractions

    When you work from home, distractions loom everywhere. Is that the siren call of the fridge you hear? And what about all those chores you've been meaning to get to? These diversions can easily knock us off the work track, sabotaging productivity and profits! Watch out for these common diversions and use these tactics to fend them off.

    Distraction: The kitchen.
    As you struggle with a tough work project, you manage to eat six cheese sticks, five low-fat cookies, a container of yogurt and one leftover piece of birthday cake. And you never knew you were capable of drinking so much coffee!

    Prevention: Bring healthy treats into your work space to discourage frequent and fattening trips to the fridge and pantry. Crunchy cut-up veggies, whole-grain crackers and dried fruits help satisfy cravings when you're in the mood to munch. As for beverages, water is healthiest and easiest to tote into your office. But if you can't work without several cups of coffee or tea, stick to decaf or herbal teas, and bring a thermos into your office so you don't have to venture near the kitchen and its temptations.

    Distraction: Your kids.
    You started working at home to spend more time with them, but you're finding it difficult to squeeze in any productive work time. Even when you do manage to convince kids that, "Mommy needs to work now," the interruptions are endless. You usually wind up abandoning all business tasks until the kids are in bed and then pull an all-nighter trying to get everything done.

    Prevention: Set a work schedule and consider getting some child care. A regular work routine helps you set boundaries between work and family life, so that you can block out the time you want to spend with your children and keep it separate and sacred. And having some part-time child care will allow you to work uninterrupted while the kids are well supervised. Soon, your kids will learn to respect mommy's work hours, and you'll have plenty of planned times where you can play with them guilt free.

    Distraction: Calls and visits during work time.
    You're at your desk when the phone rings and a telephone solicitor monopolizes your time with her pitch. Then, the doorbell rings, and it's the stay-at-home mom down the block, who thought this would be a good time to come by for coffee.

    Prevention: Learn to say no. It's the key to guarding your work and family time. Have polite phrases at the ready to deter people from zapping your work time. For example, next time a telephone solicitor calls, try saying something like, "Thank you, but I'm not interested. Oops, I have another call coming in," and hang up. Tell the other mom, "I'm sorry, but today's a work day and I really must get back to my desk. Let's get together when I'm off duty." And if drop-in guests become a continuing problem, you may have to simply ignore the doorbell. (We know work-from-homers who avoid parking their cars in the front of the house, so neighbors won't know they're home!)

    Distraction: Housework.
    You're supposed to be making cold calls, but instead you've done three loads of laundry, cleaned out the kids' closets and washed every window in the house.

    Prevention: Tackle housework during non-work hours. But more importantly, get out of the super mom mindset! Who says you have to do everything yourself? Enlist family members to help with household chores. Even young kids can help load the dishwasher or sort clothes for the laundry. Older children can be responsible for clearing the dinner table, taking out the garbage and collecting recyclables. Also, talk with your spouse about sharing household chores, and designate the ones each of you will be responsible for.

    Distraction: The goof-off urge.
    You should be working at your desk, but you'd really rather be tinkering in the garden, lounging at the beach or trolling the local department store for bargains. Before you know it, you're out the door, with stacks of unfinished work projects left behind.

    Prevention: Hang "Not Now, I'm Working" signs, in tempting areas to nudge you back to your desk. If gardening is your downfall, tack one of the signs to your gardening gloves. Or tape one to the steering wheel of your car to keep you from heading the beach or mall. Also make sure that you promise to reward yourself for jobs well done! You'll have much more incentive to finish up work tasks if you know that a bouquet of flowers, sea breezes or a new blouse is awaiting you upon completion!

  2. Beating Procrastination

    When you run a home business, there's always something to distract you from the job at hand. To help you stay focused and get down to business, here are five winning ways to keep you on track when you're hit with the urge to procrastinate.

    1) Stay in Your Space. Go to your desk and stay there. To discourage frequent (and potentially fattening) trips to the kitchen, bring a supply of healthy snacks and hot or cold beverages with you. This is not the time to be roaming the house while on the cell phone with a client. And don't try to squeeze in household tasks. On days when your discipline is shaky, even something as simple as throwing a load of wash in the machine can send you spinning into the goof-off cycle.

    2) Hang Not Now I'm Working Signs. Put them in all your favorite wandering places. It might sound corny, but it's a great way to get you back to that desk. Potential spots? If you take one too many quick trips to the mall, stick a not now I'm working note on your steering wheel. Like to garden? Tack one of those little reminders on those gardening gloves. By anticipating your problem areas beforehand, you can keep yourself from getting derailed by distractions.

    3) Set Goals. The incentive is that we all feel a sense of satisfaction and relief when we reach our goals, so break big tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces and give yourself a deadline for finishing each one. For example, tell yourself you'll finish typing five pages by 10:00, or pledge to complete the introduction to your business proposal by noon. It's great to see your to-do list vanish by the end of the day.

    4) Make Incentive Plans. Offer yourself little rewards so that you have something to look forward to when you complete your goals. Little luxuries a long walk, a bubble bath, a bouquet of tulips, or curling up on the deck or patio with a new novel are great motivators.

    5) Calculate Your Child-Care Costs. Nothing jolts you back to reality faster than a quick reminder of how much you're paying someone else to entertain your kids while you work. So get to it. Someone's got to pay those child-care bills and you'd like to make more than your sitter, wouldn't you? Promise yourself and your kids a romp in the park at the end of the workday.

  3. Time Management Tricks

    When you're juggling work and family under the same roof, you never know what the day will bring. We can't free you of snow days, sick days or other frustrating setbacks, but we can help you be better prepared for them. These tricks will help you easily regroup when surprises happen and keep you from falling too far behind in your work.

    Build a Safety Net into Your Work Schedule
    Be prepared for the unexpected by building extra time into your deadlines whenever possible. Push yourself to get a project done a bit earlier than it's due. That way, if something derails you along the way, you'll still get the job done in time. And don't make a habit of working right down to the wire; it's downright dangerous.

    Plan Ahead for Holidays and Vacations
    Note kids school vacations and holidays far in advance on your calendar so you can adjust your schedule to accommodate any upcoming changes in routine. Perhaps you'll need to lighten your workload during those periods or delegate some of your work to an employee or a trusted colleague. And don't wait till the first day of summer to line up camp or a mother's helper for the kids. Start thinking about this now. Few women have the luxury of closing down shop for the entire summer just because the kids are home.

    Have Loads of Backups
    A mompreneur can never have too many contingency plans. Before a crisis hits, think about other times you might get your work done. Will you be able to work before the kids get up? Can you pull a few late-nighters in the office without falling asleep at your desk? Do you have some alternative child care you can call into action in a pinch? Having these solutions in place ahead of time helps you stay calm and collected when problems inevitably occur.

    Snatch Windows of Opportunity
    Have small, simple jobs on hand that can easily be picked up and put down again. For example, perhaps you can add up business expenses while snuggling on the sofa watching Dora the Explorer with your sniffly toddler. Or you can answer email while snowbound kids watch a video. Sneak in phone calls or complex projects while kids (hopefully!) nap. Most importantly, don't despair. Think of how much worse it would be if you worked outside the home. This crisis will pass, and you'll appreciate the flexibility you had to shepherd your kids (and your business) through the rough spots.