Tracy McArdle: Are you one of those people lucky enough to work "remotely"? Moms know better than anyone that saving an hour or more a day in commuting time is worth the sometimes-frustrating struggle of balancing work and home. After all, an hour in "mom time" is like a whole day for civilians.
Here are some tips and tricks to make working from home easier. Of course, depending on the ages of your kids, it may seem easy or impossible. Toddlers might be hardest -- and that's what I've got. I hope this list helps you. And if you've got other tips, please share!
1) Get a room -- and stay there! If you have a home office or study, great: Use it. Use the door. Use the lock. Do not attempt to "work" at the kitchen table, on the sofa in the den or in your bedroom (unless there is a desk and you won't be tempted to lie on the bed and nap). Depending on what you do for work, a dedicated phone line is also a good idea.
2) Get a sitter! This may seem obvious, but may not be if you have a newborn who sleeps a lot. If you really want to get anything done, you need to have help so that you can work uninterrupted for several hours. One way to maximize productivity is to begin working during naptime (if you are blessed with steady nappers) and have the sitter arrive toward the end. Get the kids accustomed to someone else waking them up.
3) Make the rules and stick to them -- and explain them to the kids. Unless there is an emergency (and "He took my Popsicle" is not one), the kids are not to disturb you when the door is closed, or when you are "in your office" -- or whatever your particular code is for "I'm working!" This needs to be as important as "no hitting" and "say please and thank you."
4) Bribe and threaten. As with all toddler behavior, don't be ashamed of bribes ("If you let Mommy work until dinnertime without disturbing her, we will have ice cream tonight") and threats ("We will not watch 'Cars' tonight if you bother Mommy while she is working"). Child experts and uptight mommy bloggers may have a field day with me on this, but it works and I'm sticking to it.
5) Plan meals and bathroom breaks. You're mid-report and working in a nice rhythm when it occurs to you that you're starving. You dummy! Always have snacks on hand in your "office" so as not to be caught by a lonely toddler on your way to the kitchen. Ditto the potty.
6) Have local alternatives (the library, a friend's house, etc.). Sometimes the only way to get anything done when you're working at home is to leave. Going to my local coffee shop or library is a free or inexpensive way for me to have a "private office" where none of my children are waiting to sabotage my productivity. Get a sitter first (duh).
7) Be a MAN. In other words, learn to pretend that you do not see dirty laundry, dirty dishes, scattered toys, etc. around the house. Seriously, this takes years, but once you master it, you will find a newfound sense of freedom in working from home. Designate certain hours to do laundry, dishes and pick up toys -- NOT your working hours. Oh, and try to get people to pick up after themselves. (If you figure out how to do that, please let me know.)
8) Find and schedule activities for the kids to get them out of the house. A nanny or babysitter can take them to storytime, museums, puppet shows, indoor gyms, music classes, playdates, etc. If they have places to be and things to do, they may be less upset that they can't be with you. Note: Get a babysitter who can drive.
9) Be clear with your sitter. You need someone who is strong but kind with your kids, and who understands that you are working and not to bother you unless absolutely necessary. "Pretend I am not here -- unless my children are on fire," usually works for me.
10) Schedule your work wisely. Can you do a conference call during naptime? That's better than dinnertime. Can you work late at night, early in the morning or generally outside of office hours? Do it. There's nothing like finishing an assignment early on a beautiful day so you can tackle that pile of laundry!
And hey -- good luck!