One of the great joys of working from home is being able to be there for your kids. Visions of blissful workdays filled with productivity, dotted by small sojourns of playtime, fill the mind of those dreaming of making the leap into a home-based business. What a perfect setup!
But for anyone who has worked for longer than 1.3 seconds at home knows, the myths of the idyllic home-workday are quickly shattered. Here I will attempt to provide some workarounds (because like with buggy software, there are no real fixes) to some of the most commonly held misconceptions of those making the transition to the Professional Nest Life.
I. Sleeping Baby Myth
“I’ll work while the baby sleeps.” Even after 14 years of working from home (9 of those with kids) and 3 babies, I still find myself believing this one. So it’s hard for me not to buy into it when others say it. The truth is you will NOT work while the baby sleeps. Because scheduling work time during baby’s naptime, is a guarantee that she won’t sleep. At all.
Despite what the experts say, I’ve come to realize that babies only need about 45 minutes of sleep a day. This is done in 3 15-minutes increments – while running errands. Since it’s next to impossible to get work done while running errands, the “work while baby is sleeping” plan quickly falls apart.
In addition, babies have never read David Allen’s Getting Thing Done book. They do not understand the concept of Next Actions or @Waiting. So trying to schedule around them becomes problematic.
This may seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised by how many don’t get it – be flexible. The great thing about working from home is the flexibility it can offer. Instead of scheduling critical things like conference calls during a specific time when you think the baby will be sleeping, try to offer a time range. Say something like, “I really have a crazy schedule today. Would it be okay to call sometime between 10 and noon?”
The other thing is to work with what’s going on. If the baby tends to sleep better and longer while you’re rocking him, take the time to do some “mind work.” There’s something cathartic and meditative about rocking a baby, so use it to your advantage. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas, articles, designs, and plans while rocking the baby. If you aren’t good at keeping stuff in your head, keep a small notebook nearby.
II. The Closed Door Myth
For years, I was under the false assumption that a closed door offers some measure of privacy and protection from interruption. Then I had kids.
Though I’ve worked from home their entire lives, they still act as though this is new to them. The rule is that if the door is closed, it means daddy is on the phone or working hard (possible organizing my iPod playlists). The excuse for barging in or pounding and yelling (knocking softly is never considered) is that they didn’t hear anything, so the figured it was okay. They don’t seem to understand that one of the marks of a great professional is to do more listening than talking. It never occurs to them that I could be LISTENING on the phone.
To be fair, all they want is my attention. Which is great, because when they’re teenagers, they won’t want it. I love getting visits from the kids during the day. The key is to create boundaries that work.
Many folks have offered tips about hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on the door, so that the kids know that you may be on the phone, for instance. The problem with this is that it gets to be ignored as often as the closed door.
Working off the fact that they just want my attention, I created a sign that uses cartoons to give a message – “Daddy is on the phone. Instead of knocking or coming in, please slide a picture or note under the door for me to see when I get off.” The note under the door approach has worked great (though it has unfortunately expanded to other closed doors, such as the bathroom). They know that they will get my attention, and it’s cool to find the stuff they send under. If I’m working on a critical call or project, I may even add a picture of ice cream, pizza, or the park to let them know what we can do when I’m finished.
III. The Boss Myth
Being your own boss. That’s a big allure for the work-from-home set. The problem is that though you may be the CEO, you have a Board of Directors. A Board that has power.
The Chairperson is the youngest in your household (see Myth #1), and the Vice-Chair is held by your spouse. The Board is rounded out by the rest of your kids, and may or may not include a dog, a cat, or a rodent of some kind.
This is more of a “work-with” than a workaround. The point here is to understand that a home-based business is really run by the whole household. Not only are they your Board, they are your investors. They have a huge stake in what you are doing, and it directly affects the lives of your Board.
Make sure you see any issues or complaints clearly as they arise. Take into consideration how your decisions and schedule will affect them. And let them be part of the process. A good Board can help ensure the success of any company.
IV. The Acceptance Myth
Many work-at-home parents that I talk to seem to think that their clients will understand and accept the fact that they have kids at home with them. For some this is true. If you are a family photographer or make children’s toys for example, having your kids with you can be a plus. But it’s interesting when people think that its okay to have kids in the background when dealing with say, a corporate client.
Unfortunately, there are still people who don’t consider a home-based business a “real” business. It’s an old way of thinking for sure, but it’s still pretty pervasive. Though I think it’s adorable that my 18-month old sings “Henry the Octopus” as “Henry the Apple Juice,” I’m not sure my corporate clients would feel the same.
The most important thing to remember is to maintain your level of professionalism at all times. Most of my clients are surprised to find that I’m home based. Because of the way I have things set up, I always appear as a competent professional. Which I am. I just happen to be a competent professional who works from home.
Clients will take away from the perceptions you project. If you come across as a professional, most could care less where you do your work. But if you seem like a dabbler who is juggling a crazy household along with the work they are paying you for, you won’t keep clients for very long.
Just like most things, the main goal is balance. When you’re working, you’re the highly skilled professional. When you’re playing, you’re the consummate parent. You can be both – if you find a balance.
V. The Envious Neighbor Myth
This one always is so funny to me. Though not specific to just work from home parents, it actually comes up more often then you’d think. It’s the idea that all your neighbors will be so envious seeing you at home all day, being a great parent, and loving life. It’s surprising how many people consider this when thinking of the pros of working from home.
In actuality, most neighbors will just assume you’re out of work. I tend to get speculative looks when I’m out walking the dog in the middle of the day – unshaven, in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and a hat. I’m sure they wonder how I can afford to live, since I’ve been out of work for so long and my wife doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, aside from bragging, there’s not really a good workaround for this one. The main thing to take away from this is that you have to be comfortable with who you are, and not rely on what others think. You have the pleasure of working from home and being there for your kids. What others think is irrelevant.
So the best workaround for the nosey neighbors is best expressed by Skipper the Penguin at the end of Madagascar:
“Just smile and wave, boys; smile and wave.” (MP3)
I hope that I have made some strides is clearing up these common misconceptions. Though working from home can be difficult, especially for parents, it is also one of the most fulfilling and enriching things you can do for your family. Never missing baby’s first step, a game, a recital, or a play is the bonus to doing what you love and contributing something great to both your family and the world.
This post is part of the Group Writing Project over at Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger site. There’s a big list of some really great reads. Be sure to have a look.