By Rhonda Barfield
As a freelance writer, author, publisher, CEO, and janitor of my own company, Lilac Publishing, part-time booking agent, marketer, and now a coach with WriteAtHome.com and an at-home piano teacher, I’ve been self-employed for more than two decades, and I’ve needed to learn how to work from home effectively. I love my work—all of it. I can hardly wait to get up in the morning and get started. That’s the plus side of being my own boss.
There are definitely downsides, though. Social security tax costs double for self-employed people. Stress levels can run high—especially if you’re on a deadline and life happens—which, of course, always does. Sometimes you’re slammed with work, and sometimes there is none. I have never been able to figure out a way to make a consistent amount of money each month, and often, it’s not enough.
Six Tips For How To Work From Home Effectively
But good or bad, if you currently work at home—or are entertaining the idea—I can offer some suggestions that may ease the pressure. Here’s what I’ve found helpful.
1. Start early in the morning, or work late at night.
I once complained to a fellow author that I couldn’t get enough writing done during the week. Jill told me her solution: go to bed earlier and begin work at 4 a.m. Sounds crazy, right? But I tried it, rising at 4:30 and typing like a mad woman until 6:30. It worked so well for me that I continued the routine almost every day for several years. Night owls can utilize the opposite approach, as did a romance novelist I met who wrote late at night, after her children went to bed. The idea is to pick a time when you can go strong without interruptions.
2. Set “work times” and try to stick with them.
Make sure your kids understand when you’re available and when you’re not. As one work-at-home mom I know used to tell her offspring, “Don’t bother me unless someone is bleeding.” You can’t take this approach with toddlers or preschoolers, of course, but when children are old enough to entertain themselves and siblings, they can learn to leave mom alone for a while. For example, when I needed to make important marketing calls (and this had to happen during daytime hours), I tried to make sure our children were occupied and at least two siblings were watching my feisty toddler. Cloistered in a back bedroom, I could check on them between two minute calls and still manage to get in several a day.
3. Make a to-do list, but keep it flexible.
You may not be able to cross off every item on your daily list, but the goal is to make progress. As my husband used to remind me, “Our children are your number one priority.” That’s helped me keep my business in perspective and either carry some to-dos over to the next day (or even the next week), but also to reevaluate their importance. Usually, many chores can wait. And if I found I began to consistently fall behind on what I needed to do, it was time to evaluate the work load and the way I was trying to tackle it. Often this could be remedied by Michael babysitting for a day while I caught up.
4. Get the kids involved in helping.
For a few years, Michael and I paid Eric, Christian, and Lisa a small sum to stuff books into mailers (the ones I’d addressed earlier), seal them, and add four stamps to each. This taught them a valuable lesson: that the faster you do your work well, the more money you make. The kids also earned some income and saved me quite a bit of time.
5. Interact as much as you can with your children during your non-work hours.
For us, that meant shared time while homeschooling, driving to kids’ activities, running errands, cooking together in both morning and evening (see my earlier article on the 15-minute cooking system), doing household and outside chores, traveling on weekends to help take care of my aging parents, and an annual vacation. As much as possible, we worked together and we played together.
6. Do mindless business stuff when the kids are around but don’t really need you.
Throughout several years of writing five books and dozens of articles, I was also mailing out hundreds of books to individual buyers. I often hand-addressed envelopes while our kids were on recess break from school, or practicing musical instruments, or reading. That way, I was available to them and they had my attention when needed, but I was able to finish my no-brainer projects for the day.
After nearly twenty-two years of working at home, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s self-motivated, disciplined, and enthusiastic about being your own boss. It’s not an easy road, but a rewarding one … especially if you know, in advance, a few tricks of the trade for how to work from home effectively.
Rhonda Barfield is a professional homemaker, wife to Michael, former homeschool teacher (for 20 years) and mother of four grown children: Eric, Christian, Lisa, and Mary. She’s authored five books and written more than 80 published articles. In addition, Rhonda coaches writing students for WriteAtHome.com and teaches piano.