How to schedule your life around working from home

It’s 4 a.m. in the life of a work-at-home mother of 3. I’m starting this blog post in my mind while dressing the 3-yr-old and thinking about what she can eat all day while riding shotgun in the semi with Dad.

Then I nap.

At 7 a.m. I’m thinking over my scheduled meetings and virtual obligations, as well as project deadlines while finding backpacks and exclaiming about how nice the lower case “r’s” look in last week’s homework.

As any work-from-home mom can tell you, the guilt that builds up with the laundry, and splitting time between kissing boo-boos and talking with clients is a hard act to juggle. Here are 3 tips to help you manage the chaos.

Here are my top 3 tips to schedule your life around working from home.

Tip #1: Talk it Out

Working from home can be tough without cooperation from the rest of the family unit. Communicate clearly with your spouse and kids/grandparents/friends that the time you spend in your office is actual work time. And only a little bit of social media…

Do not treat your business like a hobby or entertainment, but rather as though someone is actually watching over your shoulder to make sure you get your work done. Help your family to understand that work time is not to be interrupted if they’re old enough to understand (but sometimes the 3-yr-old just needs a hug – and that’s OK).

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*ironic side note*

During the writing of this blog post, I had to run across town to pick up my husband’s employee who needed a ride. So things aren’t perfect, but we’re working on it.

Show your family the projects you have going on, and let them know if you won’t be available at certain times of the day.

Make arrangements to have enough alone time to get your projects, follow-ups and marketing done every month.

This leads me to my next tip…

Tip #2: Make Friends with your Calendar

Before you get the wrong impression, know that I’m not, by nature, an organized person. Enter subject #1: My Desk is not pretty. In order to keep my business running smoothly, I’ve created a schedule for meals, a schedule for client projects, and, more importantly, I keep a schedule for myself.

Educate clients at the start of working with you about when you are available to work – in my case, all holidays, weekends and ‘no school’ days are not working days. There are exceptions, of course.

It’s my belief that family comes first, and when kids get off the bus from school, they want their ‘mom’ time. They want to be understood, listened to, and appreciated. Schedule time to listen to and respond to their transition time from the school day into home time.

A schedule keeps work-from-home business owners grounded and sane.

I’ve created a template calendar based on advice I’ve received over the years from various mentors. And yes, I deviate from my calendar. We all do. The creation of the calendar went like this –

MENTOR: “You should really have a calendar.”
ME: “But it’s too hard to stick to a schedule! I’m creative and I like to go with the flow!”
MENTOR: “You would work better with some down time.”
ME: “But I never know what I’m doing from day to day, and things change!”
MENTOR: “You should work on a schedule.”
ME: “Do I have to?” *whine*
MENTOR: “How’s the calendar working?”
ME: “Everyone should work off a calendar! My clients respect the time I set aside for them, I only run errands one day each week, and I work on my marketing EVERY week, instead of whenever the feeling hits. Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

A schedule helps you to prepare during the week, and even a week ahead of time.

Say, for example, an email comes into your email about a tool or software system that you want to learn about. Instead of taking the time now to read it, schedule it under “Business Marketing” for the next week.

This way, you always have a specific item scheduled into each slot, and you don’t waste time jumping from one interesting shiny object to another.

Want to see what my calendar looks like?


And yes, I do more production work than I have scheduled into my calendar. Some things are rush jobs, some hours come up with I have unexpected time on my hands (kids away with cousins, for example.)

Scheduling business time leaves more space for the next tip – personal freedom.

Tip #3: Say NO to Grey

Because we love to work (is design really work?) we sometimes forget that the body needs food, or the kids need clothes, or your spouse is coming home expecting a hug and time to talk about the day. So onto the schedule go meal times, break times, and personal time.

Work in black time, and live in white time. Black time gets spent on your business. White time gets spent on everything else. Remember that there is no grey area.

As you focus on one or the other, you’ll get more done in less time.

This past year I made a big change that really helps me focus: a separate office in my house.

It’s away from dirty dishes.

It’s far from flinging crayons and lego pieces that don’t want to get shared.

It reminds me that I do not have to work every hour that I’m able, and to appreciate the family and life that I’ve created by working from home.

It’s not a large office, but sufficient.

Also be sure to put time into your schedule that is personal, but not work related. These things include time for personal care (massage, anyone?), dates with your spouse or friends, and play time.

Time away from your business has been proven to build your brain in ways that constant work cannot.

Obviously, it takes time and work to make communication and scheduling effortless. There are days when I’m sure that I should quit working from home and hold babies all day long. I find myself frustrated when there are breakdowns in communication that make me miss my personal time.

Scheduling my time has ultimately created flexibility in my life. Looking back on the past 3 years, I can see how the systems I’ve created have set me up to provide financially for my family, and also keep my creative soul alive and nourished.

Now, time for a break.

Have something to add? Leave a comment and let’s chat about it.

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  1. I know I’m late to the game in responding to this, but it resonated with me. I have three young kids too and like you I came kicking and screaming to a schedule, but love it now. I also homeschool, so if I didn’t use a schedule then things would be a huge mess!

  2. Thank you for this great article. As a full-time designer working in the office 3x/week AND at home 2x/week with my 2 little ones while also trying to grow my freelance business (to hopefully become my own boss one day), my time management skills have been struggling! Part of my stress, I know, is that I don’t have any time for myself. I’m definitely going to try to mock up a calendar to see if that helps alleviate some of my stress.

    1. You’re welcome Meghan!

      I’ll be working on a more detailed description of how the template calendar works for me. Managing time between being a mom and bringing in a paycheck takes dedication! Personal time is the most important part of that, because (like they say in flight) if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will not be able to help others.

    Thanks for your sample schedule. Been trying to work around that but that little voice behind kept postponing it.


    1. The template schedule is really the building block behind my actual schedule. And – full disclosure here – I was on vacation when this post went live, so I couldn’t post my comments until now! I had a really hard time keeping my mind on vacation and not checking in on the comments, but my husband kept me to my scheduled time off!

      Let me know when you get your schedule created – it really creates a shift.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve worked at home for 2 years now and have found an office space to be invaluable as well.

    I don’t mind some interruptions (sick kid staying at home, accepting a delivery, breastfeeding) as I see being able to do these things one of the perks of working from home, but it drives me crazy that no one in my family takes my work seriously unless I’m shut behind a door! Not to mention, it’s too tempting for me to check emails if the computer is constantly in sight.

    There’s a fine balance between creating routine and structure vs the benefits of working from home, which I think can only be found through a lot of trial and error. I think I’m still fine-tuning 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Amanda

      Working from home is a constant push-pull between flexibility and structure.

  5. I think this is a great article. I also had a mentor that helped me with prioritizing my work-from-home schedule. My kids are older, so that helps, but trust me, they seem to be no less needy when we’re all home together. I struggle with my office being in an open room in the middle of the house, and I think with time, I’ll build a second location where I can shut a door when needed. The calendar thing is helpful, we live by our calendar in the house here. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks for the comment Amanda!

      Do your older kids participate in creating the calendar? As in, do they schedule their own events by checking the calendar first? I’m curious to see how this works out in my own household as the kids get older. (and would love some advice.)

  6. This is JUST what I needed. Thank you Andrea! I’ve been working from home intermittently for a couple of years now but this year I’ve started to pick up more client work and less contract admin (I work as a Graphic Designer and also a Virtual Business Assistant to keep the money coming in) and I have quite a few once a month meetings I need to attend, so it is getting quite tricky to make sure I get all the jobs done + keep up with housework etc. (one of my biggest problems is I can’t concentrate if the house is messy and I don’t have an office but rather half of the lounge is my designated workspace). I appreciate you sharing your actual calendar rather than just a template, it’s been very insightful for me. Sorry about this waffley comment! I look forward to reading more of your work.

    1. Jay – I love the pink diamond avatar!

      I hate working in a messy house! (but love that my office is finally separate so I can’t see it…) I schedule house cleaning time, so I know it will get done – later.

      I will have to share more of my actual calendar in a later post so you can see how the template works in action.

  7. Thank you for the article. Do you have an app that you use or recommend for making your weekly schedules?

    1. Andrew – thanks for the question.

      I stick to my Google Calendar, which I can see online, on my phone, and tablet. One calendar is my template (as posted above), then I have separate calendars for internal projects, client projects, and business meetings.

      I also have calendars attached to my personal Google account for the kids’ activities, one for my husband, personal meetings (events like church, weddings, etc.). These show up on my work calendar so I know not to schedule work events during personal events.

  8. Great article Andrea, it tells me everything I know I should be doing but don’t do! LOL It’s taking that first step to creating a schedule that I find the hardest, I enjoy the flexibility of being a work-from-home person and the thought of scheduling goes against my grain … but having said that I know it is something I should do as it would certainly get rid of the grey areas. Thanks for the inspiring article.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Grace.

      Is there one area where you could start in scheduling, then add in more as you are comfortable with it? Perhaps try some personal time that’s not related to work.

      It was really hard for me to structure my creative time for fear that it would stifle me, but I’m really glad I got over that limiting belief. I feel more free to work when I know I have time scheduled for other things as well.

  9. Such wonderful tips! The biggest thing about being a freelancer or working from home is budgeting your time. It’s not easy but thank you for such an informative post.

    1. You’re welcome, Robert.

      Time is the only resource that cannot be bought or created. We each have only 24 hours in a day.

    1. I’m glad I could inspire you! Let me know where you get stuck in sticking to your schedule.

  10. Great article Andrea! Thanks for sharing — I needed that. Same scenario here. Started using a calendar but only have work stuff on it. I’m at a point in my life where I desperately need that distinction between work and home life and also defining what each is as you’re exactly right things aren’t always so set and there are times when I’m sitting here with unexpected time on my hands too but then there are times where I do forget to eat, etc. My question to you is how to exactly, and gently explain to client these parameters on which I would like to set for myself? Presently working on monthly magazine and a bi-monthly magazine where the goal post of production start is constantly being moved a few days [for several issues in a row now due to sales needing more time to sell etc.] and I’m expected to cram in and make up for it by working evenings, etc. Starting to become a habit with them… Any insight on wording and on whether this is something to set up a meeting and do face to face for example would be appreciated. 🙂 Thank you in advance. PS: due to this constant “turmoil” and set time, not only my personal time but my time for my only personal marketing is suffering. Been trying to update/recreate my website forever… it’s so dated now.

    1. Hi Margaret – thanks for the comment.

      I usually start by asking the client when they are expecting certain touch points of the project (proofs, final files, etc.) I then lead into my available times, and explain to them that my family comes first, and I have scheduled time with them as well.

      I was taught to schedule my personal time into my calendar first, then family/non-work time, then work time. It has helped me shift my thinking on prioritizing time. This works especially well for those of us who are self-employed and love to work.

      When the client shifts deadlines (earlier and earlier) I try to anticipate this at the start of the project and write those possibilities into the contract with extra fees. In short – the more info you can get on the front end, the better. I worked in the newspaper industry for many years and understand the stress of constant deadlines – it’s a tough road!

      With your website —
      Can you break down the steps you want to take on developing your own site and schedule 1/2 hour blocks into your calendar for the next month? A website is never ‘complete’ but changes with time and technology.

      For example:
      Day 1 block = review contact page, rewrite copy in Google Doc.
      Day 2 block = review core product/service, rewrite copy in Google Doc.
      Day 3 block = find images for contact and core service/product page. (do not edit, just compile in folder)
      Day 4 block = new website template search.
      Day 5 block = start new working website (not replacing current site)
      etc. etc.
      etc. etc.

  11. I’ve come to the same habits, but through trial and error over the course of the last 18 months.

    One tip I would add is to “Get out and network at least once or twice a week”. I’ve recently joined the local chamber of commerce to network with other entrepreneurs and professionals, and I’ve been doing one or two breakfast/lunch with friends and acquaintances.

    I wasn’t doing this at first, and quickly felt isolated. Making sure you nourish you local network is good for morale and great for your business!

    1. Yes @David!

      In-person networking is a great tip. I’m also involved in 3-4 local business events each month where I get to show my face and hear about other businesses.

      For those of you who are not already meeting other business owners in person, try visiting your local chamber, BNI, Meetups, or search on craigslist for meetings of business owners.

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