Tips to Successfully Work from Home (Yes, even when you are a grad student and work from home mom!)

If you work from home or spend a lot of time studying at home AND you are a parent, that’s, let’s say, um… NOT EASY! Trust me, I know. I share your plight–I am a PhD candidate who teaches at the college-level with an energetic 5-year-old often attached to my hip when I am at home writing my dissertation (not to mention a partner who travels a lot for work on weekdays). Phew!

It is not easy managing grad school and motherhood or two jobs or any number of commitments that require you to ideally have a body double to accomplish everything you need to do on any given day. On top of which, we choose to work from home perhaps because of a difficult commute or because we can’t hire a full-time babysitter. Having children around is not the most conducive to increasing your working from home productivity. But it can be done. This post pulls together a few tips for working from home successfully even when you have small children around.

How to Work at Home

Before we get started on increasing working from home productivity, please repeat the following words of wisdom from Susan Griffin-Black:

I say “integrated life” because I don’t believe in the idea of “work-life balance.” I feel like that whole concept is setting women up to be disappointed in themselves for not spending enough time doing such and such.

That’s right. There is NO work-life balance. It is a MYTH, fed to women to do everything they can, as perfectly as they can, and to do it without asking for help. Let go of the idea of perfection, and if you have a partner who is available to share your responsibilities, offer them the choice to be a team-player. Now to the fun stuff!

1. Always make sure that your kitchen is clean and your kitchen sink is emptied out and cleaned every night before you go to sleep.

Clean kitchen sink and wash dishes before you go to sleep to increase your working from home productivity

How much do you hate waking up in the morning and wading through piles of dishes in the sink to find a mug and scrub it clean before you can have that first cup of coffee? (Yeah, that me.) Kitchens are perhaps the most important spaces within our homes. It is the heart and hearth of our houses. And if our hearts are messy, how productive can we be!

Start your day right by making sure that you have a clean kitchen, if not, at least a clean sink and dishes. If you start the day of with a chore (cleaning) and not a task (writing that report), then your spirit has already suffered a defeat. The act of tidying up the kitchen and home on the night previous is therapeutic. At least for me. I feel like I have accomplished something as I go to bed and it puts me in a better mood knowing I don’t have a chore waiting for me when I wake up.

2. Plan ahead.

Plan ahead for the week to increase working from home productivity

This is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT idea that you can take away from this post. You have to have a plan of action, not just for your day but for your entire week. While this does not have to be a play-by-play account of how each week and day goes (boy, that would be a crazy thing to do!), you weekly and daily plans have to be prepared ahead of the week of/day of so that you start the day knowing exactly what you are supposed to do. (I have separate blog post on how to plan your week stress-free and you might want to read that after this one.)

Having a FEW (not more than three at a time) tasks already set up for a given day ensures that you start the day with purpose. Without purpose and a clear idea of what to do on that day, you are about to browse social media while your drink you first cup of coffee from a mug that you fished out of that mountain of dishes you have to do.

3. Keep your child or dependents in mind when you are planning.

Tips to successfully work from home: Plan to include kids and their schedules in your work day.

Does your child have play dates? Does she have a doctor’s appointment? (While we are at it, do you have an annual physical that you need to do? Put that on the calendar!) Do your children take naps? Do you want to perhaps get a lunch date this week with your partner?

Plan smartly. Having family, especially young children, will mean that your day is really contingent on other lives. So minimize surprises as much as you possibly can by blocking away time as needed for the activities or appointments. Time-blocking is a wonderful way to get this done.

Plan around their schedules if needed. Devise ways (if it is possible) to get your child to have a schedule that allows you to work. If your child is an enthusiastic boy who loves spending time with his mommy when he is awake, develop your schedule around that fact.

My son loves hanging out with me. He interrupts me every few minutes even when I have given him projects that he loves doing on his own. And I know I cannot work on my dissertation which requires undiluted attention when he is awake. So I use this time for other things–writing this blog, for example. I also trained him to nap for 2-3 hours in the afternoon. And voila! There’s that chunk of concentrated time that I could dedicate to PhD-related writing and reading tasks.

2-3 hours may not sound like a lot. But if that’s what you get, you take it and you work with it.

4. Embrace the idea of the work day broken into chunks of time.

Tips to successfully work from home: Break your work day into intervals that work for you.

Working from home gives you the flexibility of working at any time (unless of course you have to be in meetings and take calls). But generally, it does provide you with flexibility. So there’s no need to work continuously from 9-5 or whatever a traditional work schedule may look like.

Why not wake up earlier in the morning and work for a couple of hours before your family wakes up? You can respond to emails for 45 minutes while your kid is playing at the park. If you have to be on a conference call where you don’t have to talk a lot, use that time to shop for groceries? You know you are going to mute the call at your end anyway.

The point is: if family is around, you may not get the liberty of long periods of uninterrupted work from home time, so prepare yourself to shed that ideal and work with the time you have.

5. Give Yourself A Break!

Give yourself a break to increase working from home productivity

Somedays, nothing will get done, regardless of your best efforts and even if you planned the day down to a T. When those days inevitably make an appearance, go with the flow and don’t beat yourself up. It is much easier to get back on the productivity wagon when you haven’t beaten your morale into a pulp the night before.


6. Have your meals ready the night before.

Prep your meals ahead of time to increase working from home productivity

As a parent working from home, your time is invaluable. Don’t spend your ideal peak work hours trying to figure out what to eat, or worse, having to cook. Prepare your meals ahead of time. If you are ordering in, make sure you have placed the order ahead of time so that you are not wasting time browsing menus on your food delivery app. Trust me, knowing what your next meal is, is a great motivator to finish your work.

Related: meal-prepping is your friend. If you want to know how I meal-prep and plan meals for the week, drop a line in the comments.

7. Devise activities that your child or children can do on their own. (This is a little bit hard depending on the age of your child and requires some prep ahead of time.)

Devise activities to keep your child busy but near you as tips to successfully work from home.

Children are curious about their surroundings and love experimenting with textures, patterns, and colors so take advantage of it. Find at-home activities that your child will love. Devote some time to prepare the activity (preferably done with the child so that you can double it up as quality parent-kid time) ahead of time and when you are ready to get into work mode, unleash the activity on them! The success of this strategy lies in the ability of YOU to find activities that require little to no involvement of the parent and minimal supervision. I have listed a few of my favorites in a separate post if you want to take a look.

8. Have a morning routine that works for you (and one that does not make you work for it!) and your kids.

Design a morning routine that works for you to increase working from home productivity.

Develop a morning routine if you don’t have one already as morning routines are the single BEST way to signal to your brain that you are ready for the day. There are tons of articles on the topic of morning routines (this one from 21 Day Hero is quite comprehensive) so I am not going to belabor that point here. But from my own experience, waking up early and following a consistent morning routine, has helped me increase my productivity exponentially. (If you want to know how to develop a personalized morning routine that you can follow as a grad student or an academic mom, or to see mine looks like, drop me a line in the comments below.)

The key to a successful morning routine for a working parent is to develop two morning routines–one for the parent and one for the child/children. Systematizing your mornings are a great way to signal to your children also that mommy is getting ready for a work day. (The key here is to have unstructured mornings without any routine on days that you don’t work so that they distinguish between work days and holidays.)


Make the morning routine work FOR YOU. That is, don’t plan to wake up at 4am if you are not a morning person. Don’t plan your workout for mornings if you hate working out in the morning. Don’t meditate just because someone says that is what you ought to include in your morning routine. Design a morning routine that is YOU, customized for you, that will make your days start well and continue to provide your with the zest for life that you need to go through the day.

9. Dress up as if you are going to work even if you are working in your living room.

Dress up in the morning as your would if you were going in to work

Artist Hayden Dunham gets ready each day to work at her studio by herself. She wears heels to shift her energy before she gets to work. While I don’t recommend wearing heels at home (generally bad for your back to be wearing heels at all), dress as if you will have to get on a work meeting via Skype–business casuals and comfortable shoes, and if you feel the need, a touch of mascara. Getting dressed, like morning routines, helps your mind get ready for the day. It is a signal to your brain that you are in work mode, much like how warriors in ancient time sung war songs (and actually did some opiates but I won’t advise that) to prepare themselves for battle.

Plus, if you are in your PJs, chances are that you will crawl back into bed when you are taking a break.. your kids will join you for a cuddle.. and then before you know you have napped for like an hour. (Speaking from personal experience here.)

10. Don’t be afraid to extend your work days into the weekend.

I.e. ask your partner to take the kids out by themselves for a couple of hours to get some shit done. It is OKAY to work on weekends as long as you are getting quality kid time, partner time, and family time throughout the week with them. In the world that we live in where our companies are spread over the globe and our work partners live miles if not many hours away, the concept of the weekday and the weekend as being designate days, are outdated. Update your week to suit your lifestyle and family.

Some other points to remember:

  • Do not schedule housekeeping activities (shopping for groceries, tidying up etc.) during designated work hours.
  • Don’t be afraid to be firm with your children when you are in the middle of something. They will get their time with mommy or daddy soon enough.
  • Take a nap if you need it. But if you are an exceptionally heavy sleeper like me who cannot just sleep for just an hour, stay away from the bed like there are bed bugs on them.

Do you have any tips for working remotely especially when you have little humans around? Drop a line in the comments below!