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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Working at Home with Small Children

While transcriptionists come from all walks of life and different backgrounds, there is no doubt that there are many of us who work at home and have young children at home with us during the day. For us, there is a daily challenge to balance the responsibility of caring for our children and homes with our professional commitments. Undoubtedly, we all face days where nothing seems to go right! Below are some tips from the three of us on how we strive to find this balance each day.

As the mom of three little girls – three-and-a-half years old, two years old and seven months – every day is a juggling act of making sure that my children are not only fed and kept safe but also loved and cherished, all while working full time as a transcriptionist. One key for me is admitting that I simply cannot do it all. This may mean putting off a project or chore until the weekend or relying on my husband to pick up the slack when he gets home in the evenings. However, as I’ve added babies and increased my workload over the past three-and-a-half years, I’ve also learned some things I can do to make our days go smoother.

For me, it is absolutely crucial that I start out the week with a clean house and most of the weekly chores completed. Like Shaina, who is the mother of three children with another on the way, I do my best to not work on the weekends so that I can focus on my family and home. We spend a lot of quality time together as a family on Saturdays and Sundays, but we also clean, catch up on laundry, grocery shop, run errands and get projects done so that those things aren’t also vying for my attention during the week.

Tara, the mother of five little ones five and under, says that having some type of schedule in place so that everyone knows what to expect and you know how to plan your day always helps. Whether this be an actual schedule or just basic routines that you follow throughout the day, I couldn’t agree with her more.

I think our most important routine is our morning routine. I get up early to complete as much of my daily work as I can before any of my girls gets up for the day. Once they start waking up, though, I focus on getting our day started right, singing a silly “Good Morning!” song while we quickly get dressed, make beds, brush teeth and hair and straighten up. Many mornings, I will get them situated with breakfast and then start dinner preparations or a load of laundry. This time is a great jump start to each day for me.

While I’ll often joke about my children needing to be fed again because mealtime can be one of the most time consuming parts of the day, I try to follow Shaina’s approach and plan out a list of snacks and meals for the week so that I’m not racking my brain to think of something while facing a deadline. I also try to include several casserole-type meals that can be made in the morning or even the night before, as well as one or two that my husband can prepare if I’m still working.

It’s also important to be realistic about how much work you can get done in a certain amount of time. We all know how fast we would be if we didn’t have little ones interrupting us, but as Tara says, it’s important “to try and be as realistic as possible when calculating how long it’s going to take you to actually complete a file. Build in enough time to allow yourself to take frequent breaks when the kids need you. Even just stopping for 10-15 minutes every hour or so for a little one-on-one time can go a long way toward preempting a tantrum.”

Shaina reiterates this point, adding, “When I schedule work I always take into account that I need to schedule time with the kids for things like breakfast, lunch, getting dressed in the morning. I also take into consideration that I need to schedule time for them to need me and to play with them. This isn't foolproof, but it does allow me to make sure my kids are getting what they need.”

Staying ahead of the game is definitely key, and Shaina shares one way she does this: “I prepare activities for my kids to do when I need to be working and they are up. Even if it is just getting out a toy for them (like bringing out the Lincoln Logs), I try to make sure they have something to keep them busy that isn't just the objects that are in the room on an everyday basis and that the TV isn't on for more than an hour a day. I do let them pick out one or two programs/videos from a list to watch for the day, and there are days the TV is never on because they have other things that keep them occupied. I also have art projects for them and activities they can do at the kitchen table where I can supervise them.”

For all three of us, having a laptop to work on makes this juggling act just a little bit easier. Being mobile allows us more freedom. Last fall, I would often move outside to the porch and work while the girls played so that we could all enjoy the fresh air, and I’m looking forward to that again as spring approaches.

Below are a few more “tricks of the trade” that help me as well:

□ Using a sling while transcribing is a great way to give a baby or toddler the cuddle time they need.

□ An afternoon quiet time is a must even for those children who may not be napping anymore so that you can focus on your work uninterrupted. My oldest is in the process of giving up her naps, but she still goes up for nap time. Our motto is, “You don’t have to sleep, but you do have to play quietly.”

□ It’s important to develop a reliable system to track what work you have outstanding and when it’s due so that you can quickly see at a glance what you need to do and plan accordingly. Whether you use Outlook Tasks, an Excel document or a folder system, this can save you from realizing you have a looming deadline that you had forgotten about.

□ I like to keep a few “special” toys or activities hidden away for those times when I’m facing a deadline and the girls are getting antsy. Getting out something that will hold their attention for 30 minutes to an hour can take a little bit of the pressure off.

It doesn’t matter how organized you are or how many tricks you have up your sleeve; there will be times when we’re all keenly aware of the numerous balls we’re trying to keep in the air. However, realizing this and preparing for those times can make a big difference in the way we work through them so that neither our families nor our work suffers.

1 Comment:

dori said...

Hi - this is dori (from TE, criscollrjmom) and just wanted to say, what a great blog you guys are building here! I linked you to my (sadly ignored) business blog over and will be back to visit a lot.

You've motivated me to get going on my blog - perhaps I can do a post later today :D

Great tips on working at home with the kids. I hope to have a laptop to use by next summer for that purpose!!!