Working from home: How moms can focus

Mother and baby in home office with laptop
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(MoneyWatch) Most working mothers say that they continually work to better balance their career and family. But for moms who telecommute or freelance from home, that balance can seem particularly elusive. Distractions come in all forms for any freelancers, of course, but a crying baby, a needy toddler or a noisy teenager are exponentially more effective at thwarting productivity than, say, the kitchen or TV. Here are six tips from real moms who work from home on how they manage to get down to business.

Set boundaries

"My kids know that when my office door is closed that 1) I am either on a phone call, on deadline or other situation and I cannot be interrupted unless it is a 'true' emergency; and 2) that they need to keep the volume down and clear of my office, such as not running around the house screaming paying hide and seek. They have been conditioned to respect the 'signal' of the closed office door." -- Merilee Kern, president of Kern Communications

Have them help clean up before your work starts

"I have difficulty focusing if there is clutter about. If I have a big writing job in front of me, I would rather fold laundry. Since I work while my kids are in school and when they are in bed, I require them to clean up twice a day. Before bed, homework is packed, clothes are in the laundry, dishes are in the dishwasher, toys are put away, coats are hung up. Before they go to school, all toys are put away, dishes are in dishwasher." -- Lisa Merriam, founder of Merriam Associates

Get a designated work phone

"Invest in a good phone, with multiple extensions, excellent speakers and a mute button with a light that goes on when in use (for conference calls). Make it a different number than the house phone, and be sure it looks different than the house phone and has a different ring. This means no more mad dashing to your office from the kitchen or family room. Simply pick up the extension where you are and pretend you are in your office." -- communications consultant Laura Lubman Hamburg

Share some of your work with them

"Fob off some of your work on your kids so they understand what you are doing when you are working and so they are invested in the outcome. My kids are now older (9 and 11) and are curious about what I do. They love doing research and sometimes have very interesting ideas. They are tickled when they see an idea make it into a pitch or into a client presentation. I sometimes read copy to them to see if it flows and if they understand it. You know your work is good and free of jargon when a child can understand it." -- Merriam

Keep your office and school supplies separate

"Buy them plenty of their own stash or you will never have what you need. The paper cutter and hole punch you can share. The printer -- not so much. It will always be out of paper and toner." --Lubman Hamburg

Reward them for good behavior

"Without the cooperation of your children, you cannot be successful in your work. Be sure you are 'paying them' for a job well done. Consider what motivates your children -- time with you, a movie night, their favorite meal. It doesn't need to be expensive, but it does need to be sincere. When you give them the reward, reinforce the reason they are getting it by telling them, 'Thank you for being such a wonderful helper. Without your helping by being quiet or keeping your brother busy, etc. I could not have done it!'" -- Christine C. Durst, co-founder of RatRaceRebellion.com and Staffcentrix, LLC.

This is part 5 of a 5-part series on working motherhood. Read part 1, "Job seekers: 5 signs a workplace is family-friendly," here. Read part 2, "Working Moms: 6 must-dos before maternity leave," here. Read part 3, "Things to do your first week back from maternity leave,"here. Read part 4, "Famous moms share their secrets to success," here.

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.