What do you call a person who cooks dinner while watching a webinar, emptying the dishwasher, supervising homework and dreaming about the treadmill – all at the same time.
A mom, of course!
Like most parents, I end up multi-managing different parts of my work and personal life. And yes, it’s something I do both by choice and necessity.
For an Entrepreneur managing two ventures and raising a young child (my husband travels frequently), working at home (WAH) comes with both benefits and its trials. I love the flexibility, and the time saved on the commute. I also don’t have to stress about my wardrobe and appearance every day.
But the lines can be hard to separate. The hours have no clear start and end times because your work is one room away. Vacations and snow days can be a blessing or a frantic juggle. Working from home also gets its fair share of judgement – if I had a dollar for each time I’m asked how I stay busy or what else I do, sitting at home all day…
In work and life, the balance is always dynamic!
Yes, there is the inevitable stress and the constant need to keep things steady constantly, so I’m always trying to find ways to do things faster or better. Jokes apart, multitasking is a double edged tool so until there are 48 hours in the day, something will take priority and your focus. And that something will change every day.
Lessons I’ve learnt as a work at home mom
Like so many of my brethren, I’ve seen it all – the good and the frustrating, the encouraging and the downright unsettling.
So, thousands of crazy hours later, working my way through insane deadlines, bad wi-fi days, looming piano recitals and an empty refrigerator, here’s what I’ve learnt.
You can’t always choose the rules
Entrepreneurs – you can be the boss, but the ask and accountability also lie with you.
I’m a Mom running an online Community for women and a solo company. We have a built a robust, and constantly growing platform with Maroon Oak. Our entire team works remote, which has saved us huge real estate costs, but it also means enforcing – and following – team discipline on time and deliverables, given that we are not working out of the same office.
In other words, walk the talk, or your team will balk!
It’s time earned, not saved
Managing a lean startup also means that my co-founder & I carry a large portion of the workload – business development, strategy, design, social media and more. And everything is due yesterday. So the time we save on the commute each day – we put it to work. Literally.
Split shifts for family time
I actively choose to split my workday into multiple tranches – a quick catch-up early AM, then during the school hours, and a solid chunk of time most nights. I leave the after school time to be with my little girl, and for shared projects, chores and homework. It makes for some rapid gear changing several times a day, but with some planning, it’s doable.
I also try and make fitness and cooking a family activity so we don’t lose out there. Recreation, yard work and errands are assigned to weekends, though I squeeze in work into some part of those too. Online shopping saves me a bundle of time.
Improvised workouts have to do when there’s no time for the real ones. Most days I have leg weights tied on, just for that extra push. Occasionally, you can catch me doing barre leg work off the kitchen counter or hula hooping while helping my daughter with her homework.
Pick your times
Like all kids, my daughter has the most pressing needs at crucial moments, when I’m resolving a big systems crisis or on a client call. A closed door doesn’t always cut it, so I choose the school hours to focus on work that requires my complete attention. Virtual & in-person meetings, technology updates, brainstorming ideas or creating content are all earmarked for the daytime.
Make up the deficits
When I signed up for a Friday morning class for a dance I badly wanted to learn, for months, I worked an extra two hours every Thursday night. With work scheduled and completed beforehand, I could dance guilt-free. Importantly, it kept me from sliding into a comfort zone I could ill-afford.
Laundry can wait
And it must. The temptation to tackle a few chores instead of leaving them in the off hours can really undermine your productivity. Even with the unending demands of housework, work has to take priority, so I set aside chores for mornings or after I’m done for the day. It also helps to set a weekly deadline for certain home chores – less stress all around.
Embrace your tech
It doesn’t have to be fancy or cutting edge – it only has to work for you. I depend heavily on shared smartphone calendars – with the team and my family. Scheduling apps like Buffer and Hootsuite help with social media. With emails, I can draft something at night to reach the customer’s inbox at 7 am, when I’m in fact, getting the lunches ready. Google apps let me work on a blog post or proposal even while at swim practice. Audiobooks (Audible) or Podcasts during a workout and meditation apps (Headspace) for the ‘me time’ are heaven sent!
Most of our team is mom professionals who work similar, unpredictable schedules. For that we use Trello and Slack to collaborate – things for action and approval that people can work on, in their time. So even if we are all not at our desks at 9 pm, the work doesn’t suffer.
Use the right tools
In the last 13+ years of working from home, I have invested in multiple work gadgets, but now have a pared down list. I focus on the essentials, even if they cost a little more.
A good ergonomic chair, something that’s comfortable for the upper back and neck, is a must, because I work long hours on the computer. Ditto for a flat mouse (like the one from Apple), else the nerves in the hand can start tunneling with prolonged use.
My preference (actually, essential) is a large screen desktop computer – I use a 27” iMac which is great for working and switching across different apps. Moving files and previewing docs is more convenient on a larger workspace; easier on the eyes too.
Some people like huge desks, but I prefer one which allows me smarter storage rather than a larger size.
Don’t be social. Or not much
Keep time-sucks like social media scrolling for after hours – Facebook ain’t going anywhere. Another option is to purposefully set aside time for social media breaks into your day (say, with coffee or lunch) and stick to it. Tempting though they might be, luncheon dates with girlfriends will eat into your time (instead of the other way round), so I rarely offer myself that option.
Also read: Skill Up with Girls Night Out Learning
Learn or Perish
Even when you hire, the founders always need to have the bird’s eye view of the company. So you need to know the basics of everything. We realize that like any enterprise, ours can fail (or not be a spectacular success), so I spend a lot of time learning skills that will sustain and strengthen it. Even when my cup overflows, I’m determined to not stop learning. It takes some creative workarounds to factor in time for it but the will finds a way.
The more I work, the better I finetune. With practice, I’ve learnt to focus on working smarter and being productive, to ride – not fight – the frequent push and pull, and make time for all that I value.
But the real lesson for me every day is that perfection is elusive! And that’s all right too.
Pooja Krishna is an Entrepreneur, Consultant and Mom. She has worked both in large corporates and managed startups over the last 20+ years. A co-founder of Maroon Oak, she’s also founded Win Thinks, a small business consulting company, and Trading Paces, which educates amateur and pro stock traders. She blogs and teaches workshops about Brand Strategy, Social Media & Future ready Career Solutions. She loves being a Classroom Mentor and teaching students across the U.S. about Job Skills and Entrepreneurship. Read her interview on Huffington Post.
A trivia buff and yoga & hula hoop enthusiast, Pooja loves spending time with her family playing board games and watching documentaries.