Anyone with a home office needs an arsenal of tools and tricks of the trade. Parents, however, need not only the basic office supplies, but other essentials as well to balance their obligations to family and professional lives. The needs of each individual and family can vary, but here are a few of my essentials as a work-at-home parent.
Your Own Computer
If you’re sharing a computer with the rest of the family, not only are you going to have territory issues, you’re going to risk losing files and you’ll likely wind up with family members “accidentally” closing out half-finished emails to play their games or sending smiling faces to clients via IM.
If your budget can stretch, find a way to get your own computer and let the rest of the family fight over the other one – taking a business seriously means taking your equipment and work space seriously as well.
Personally, I believe in the iPhone, but there are other phones that would work as well to check emails, respond to clients, chat and check various things online while playing parent. You might be forced to sit in the playroom to break up fights over Thomas and the other engines, but you can still check emails and even send basic responses to clients without being tied to your computer. Very useful in drop-off and pick-up lines as well as baseball and soccer practices.
Bulletin Boards and Boxes
I have a few bulletin boards and file boxes that I keep high off the ground – out of the reach of little hands always grasping for paper to draw on. Any important receipts and papers go up high on the board or are tossed into the box to await a day of filing, which is really a night taken off to watch a movie and stick things in folders in my universe. Leaving anything down low is putting it at risk of scribbles and very carefully constructed backwards Ks around here.
Unless you’re lucky enough to get plenty of sleep (and I secretly loathe you for it), you’ll need caffeine in some form or another. Tea, coffee and soft drinks all work wonders when you’re ready to fall on the floor and sleep instead of crawl into the chair and work. Take a five minute coffee break before starting work to remove the fog and clear up that creative vision.
Life with work and children at home is stressful and I have the waistline to prove it. There can be a powerful temptation to munch while working or to take breaks from long projects and find yourself in the kitchen next to the plate of cookies you baked that evening for the PreK holiday party tomorrow.
When temptation calls, a frequent occurrence at least for this working mom, pop some gum in your mouth. An alternative is brushing your teeth, but I find gum keeps my mouth busy and my mind nicely en pointe for a while, especially when I opt for the bold peppermint flavor.
A Baby Monitor
If your children will still allow you to put a monitor in their rooms, do it. Or if you can’t get away with their rooms, find a spot near the top of the stairs that you can stash a baby monitor. The goal is to not have to keep an ear on your children while you work. If you’re straining to hear every sound at the top of the stairs, you’re not being as productive as possible in the short amount of time you have.
With a monitor buzzing off to your side, you can relax knowing that every cough, sneeze, wheeze, bad dream, deep breath and attempt to sneak out will be known to you the second it occurs. And until it does, you can work with a mind free of distractions.