I started this work from home dad blog, really, to give my son the best possible life he can have. My wife earns a pretty decent income, but starting a family is expensive.
I was a work from home freelance writer before Sam was born, but I was struggling to keep up financially. So I needed something new to really put a dent in our expenses.
One of the most troubling side effects of depression for me is that it saps your productivity away like a vampire. It tells you that there’s no point in getting out of bed or off the couch. The best way to counteract this is to have a plan of action. You need to know exactly what you’re going to get done tomorrow and when you’re going to do it.
Here’s how I originally set things up:
How to (Successfully) Work from Home with a Newborn Baby
Step 1: Set Up a Workspace for Yourself
Ask any work from home parent what’s necessary to get stuff every single one will have “office” on their list. It’s almost impossible to be productive without having a dedicated area for work.
With little ones running around, you may have to stretch that definition to include your living room or wherever you need to be. Just try to have one dedicated area. Before they’re mobile, you can just bring their playpen or activity center into the office with you.
Though it becomes less helpful once the kids start darting from room to room, it’s still good to have a dedicated workspace that you can escape to when the kids are away, or being supervised by someone else.
Step 2: Buy a Whiteboard
This may seem like a weird action item, but if you work from home, hanging a giant whiteboard on the wall in your workspace will exponentially increase your productivity.
Living in our digital age, it might seem like an app can do everything a whiteboard can do and more! In most ways, you’d be right, but the advantage of the whiteboard is that your schedule, goals, action steps, and list, will be staring you in the face all day long.
You can use it to track all your different projects, goals, and tasks. Or you can use it to divide and conquer the little tasks of a large project (like starting a parenting blog). I have blocked off sections of my whiteboard for potential future posts, blog design notes, career goals, my weekly schedule, and hourly time blocks (more on that later.)
Step 3: Make a List of Goals
This is the step that most people will skip to save time, but it might be one of the most important ones if you want to work from home successfully. Sit down and make a list of all your current goals. Everything from starting a business to doing the dishes to paying off the house to losing weight to whatever.
Write all your goals up on your whiteboard, and make a list of actionable steps to work toward each of those goals. Having them up in front of you every day keeps you from getting complacent about them.
Step 4: Categorize and Prioritize Your Tasks
If you’re using your whiteboard for one big project. Divide your different project goals into different categories and order them by priority. I like to color code my different categories, so I have a visual representation of everything going on with my projects at any time.
Prioritizing lets you tackle the most important tasks first, but it also allows you to start off with your easiest tasks so you don’t get burnt out all at once on the hard stuff.
Step 5: Create a Schedule for the Week
One of the best things you can do for your productivity is to split all your upcoming tasks by weekdays. DON’T just make a list and try to get done “as much as you can,” or paradoxically, you’ll end up getting very little done. Even worse, you’ll have that big list in front of you that doesn’t look any smaller.
Track your schedule for a few days and determine how much time it tends to take you to do things. This includes feeding and calming down a fussy baby. Figure out how much you can get done in one day, and split your week up, accomplishing a few tasks each day.
Protip: Err on the side of caution and set lower goals. If you set too many tasks in one day, you end up not finishing and feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Set too few, and you can either jump on one of tomorrow’s goals or relax for the day. Either way, you feel more on top of things.
Step 6: Make Time Blocks
If you really can’t focus or bring yourself to do anything, divide your current day into hour-long or half-hour blocks. Schedule light. Days are hectic and may end up bumping goals from your list.
Don’t forget to schedule in meal times, baby feedings, etc. And let yourself have a break when you need it. The key to this whole method is to avoid letting yourself feel overwhelmed.
Step 7: Take That First Step
You have everything set up. Your schedule is set. You know exactly what you need to do next. The most important task. Take that first step. Pull yourself out of bed, and sit in front of your whiteboard. Read your first action item and get started.
When depression is dragging you down, starting is the hardest part. If you get to the point where you’re seated in front of your whiteboard, you’ve already completed the hardest task of the day. Each new task after that will be just a little bit easier, and at the end of the day, you’ll be proud of how much you accomplished.
That Was My Original Work From Home Setup, But…
Well, a baby doesn’t make it easy to follow an hour-by-hour schedule. They decide not to nap at all one day. They refuse to be put down. There’s no predictability.
The original structure of my whiteboard was good, but it had to be more adaptable. And as I continued to work on setting up my blog, my goals changed or got more specific.
Thankfully, the whiteboard is perfect for these sudden scheduling/goal shifts.
In Part 2, I’ll show you how I adapted for Sam’s ever-shifting no-nap cycle!