Time-management tips for work-at-home parents

Kid Multiplication

by Debbie Williams

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Working from home can be challenging at best, and even more so for parents of young children. I launched my own home business when my son was a toddler, in the quake of the "terrible two's". Can you imagine the challenges I faced every single day, trying to write, make updates to my web site, and conduct business on the telephone? Yes, I'm sure you can, since many of you are in the midst of this struggle yourselves. I'm an organizing consultant, and for years I have studied the best books on time management, multi-tasking, clutter control, and everything else pertaining to life organization. But nothing prepared me for the challenge of being a full-time parent and running a business all at once!

There are certain truths in the life of a parent: the phone is a child magnet, your child has ESP, sending when you have a major deadline, and children have an unlimited need for attention. Why try to fight it, or escape the inevitable? After a frustrating unproductive week, I decided if I couldn't beat them, I'd join them. I'll be happy to share my secret formula with you if you're interested. So take a caffeine break, put on your reading glasses, and learn from another entrepreneur who's right down here in the trenches with you.

The phone always seems to ring when you are in the midst of a discussion with your child, or during a tantrum. Needless to say, this is a terrible time to take a business call (or personal one for that matter). Use your voicemail to screen the call, returning it when things calm down and you can focus on your work.

Create a plan to be implemented when you need to discuss important business on the telephone. If you are making an out-going call, this is somewhat easier; if the call is inbound and unexpected, it's time for a Phone Call Alert (this is not a drill) Plan. The rules differ from house to house, depending on the nature and age of your kids, but there are common-sense rules anyone can follow: whisper, don't interrupt, and get busy.

Busy Hands - Provide a busy box of activities for your kids to use only during your phone calls and at no other time. This keeps things interesting and fresh for them, and buys you some time. Young kids are entertained with crayons, coloring books, markers, paper, blocks, drawing tablets, pencils, magna-doodle, PlayDoh, books, and small toys. Quiet toys are best. Leave the noisy battery operated ones in the playroom for now. Older kids can watch a movie or play video games on mute setting.

Time's Up - Use a kitchen timer in your office so for your child to monitor his progress. Explain that when the timer dings you will be finished with your work, ready to spend some quality time with him.

Red Light/Green Light - Monitor traffic in your office without upsetting family members by making light of it. Design a traffic light for your office door (or doorway), and explain the rules with your kids and spouse. Red light means stop, do not enter while I'm working. Yellow light means enter quietly and slowly. Green light means come on in and visit. If your children are old enough to read, make a simple double-sided sign with Stop/Go or Do Not Enter/Enter.

Do the Math - Lastly and most importantly, implement a basic yet magical math equation I learned from my young son: if you give them 5, they give you back 15. Stop and give full attention to your child, making eye contact and spending quality time with him. Read a story, listen to his long-winded fairy tale, help him make a snack, or just let him sit nearby to help you check your email. After a short break with you, he'll be ready to run and play blocks, watch a Disney movie, or explore the cavern in his closet. Usually this will last up to 30 minutes, depending on the attention span and creativity of your own child. Amazingly, after interviewing dozens of parents of children from 18 months to age 10, I have found this math equation to be true and factual.

Regardless of the nature of your business, its importance, or a looming deadline, if you use simple screening tools, enforce house rules, and do the math, you'll find yourself being more productive as a business owner and parent. Your system will be streamlined and you may even create some time you didn't know you had. Now that IS magic!

Debbie Williams is an organizing coach and founder of the online organizing site Organizedtimes.com. She is the author of Home Management 101: A Guide for Busy Parents and Put Your House In Order: Organizing Strategies Straight From The Word.

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