“I don’t know how you do it.” This is something I hear a lot from various mom friends. As a freelance writer and aspiring novelist, I work from home. But only during naptime.
This presents an interesting problem. How much can I really get done in a window of 1-2 hours, while still maintaining a house that is sort of in order, doing laundry and cooking dinner?
The truth is, it’s a total crap shoot that depends entirely on my daughters.
Some days I am super productive, churning out pages of writing, while other days I only get a paragraph done before one of my children wakes up. There are far too many days when I get my kids down for their naps, clean up the house and finally settle down to write only to hear my younger daughter crying on the monitor, wanting to get up.
I’ve learned that I have to be super organized. I have to make lists and plan out what needs to be done on a day to day basis. I try to clean as I go and enforce clean up time with my kids so I’m not stuck picking up their mess when I finally have precious alone time.
All my working friends tell me that being a working parent means being extra efficient. You spend less time in the office because you have to drop off and pick up children, but you end up getting more done. There’s no time for lengthy lunches with colleagues or the opportunity to waste 30 minutes fooling around online. You get in, get your work done and get out.
It’s the same with working from home. Since my work is freelance, I get to set my own hours and due dates. Here’s where being a very organized person comes in handy. I aim to write two articles for She’s It per week. Then I have two Tinkergarten classes a week that I need to prep for. I also work on a book review blog, which often gets pushed to the back burner since it isn’t a paying gig. Finally, I try to devote a little time each day to working on a novel.
As the day approaches naptime, I think about what the priorities are. It’s challenging to write when my kids are around, but I can easily plan a Tinkergarten class or do housework while they’re entertaining themselves.
One of my daughters goes down for a nap at 1 p.m., the other at 2 p.m. If I’m lucky, I have time to work until 4. The little one is usually happy to play in her crib until I go get her. Once I get them up, they’re both a little groggy and prefer to have a snack and watch TV or a movie. I limit screen time to that post-nap/pre-dinner period, which serves to give me the chance to cook dinner, put away laundry, read or cram in a little more writing, if I can concentrate.
When people say “I don’t know how you do it,” I want to reply that I’m just very driven to accomplish a lot in a very little time. This is definitely true, but I also have needed to develop a strong routine and organize my time ruthlessly to ensure I am productive during that nap time window.
Here are some tips that have helped me:
Have a Designated Work Space
When my older daughter was a baby, I used to work at our kitchen table. I would make sure my computer was all set up with the charger and baby monitor nearby before I even put her down for a nap so I could come straight down and get to work. Eventually, I started working on our living room sectional, which is more comfortable. Still, I make sure I set everything up before putting the girls down for a nap.
Create a Comfortable Working Environment
I like to have music playing all day, but I work better when instrumental music is on. Before going up for naps, I ask Alexa to play classical or instrumental music to help me concentrate on my work.
Communicate When Work Time Is
My kids know I can’t linger over putting them down because that afternoon stretch is when I schedule phone interviews or focus on work. By 2 PM, they must both be in bed. If a friend or family member calls, I remind them that I’m doing work while the kids nap. That schedule is so familiar now that people will say “we’re sorry to bother you while you’re working” or “we know you can’t talk long.” And I make sure I don’t stay on the phone too long so I can get back to work.
The internet is a powerful tool, and a powerful distraction. I limit myself to checking social media only one or two times during a work period. There are a ton of apps that allow you to turn off your phone in order to more fully focus on the task at hand. I use Flipd periodically, although I find that once I get on a roll, I avoid distractions anyway.
Take a Break When Needed
Around 3 PM, I start to get hungry, so while I eat a snack, I use that brief time to read or scroll through social media. Once I’m done, it’s back to work. Getting the mail is also often a short break that gives me a little burst of fresh air, invigorating me to continue working.
This is hard to do with young kids, but I find that I can’t concentrate when I know there are dishes in the sink or toys all over the floor. All of that needs to be cleaned so I can concentrate. Fortunately my girls are at an age when they like playing together so I can take a little time to clean while they’re out of my hair. I always do a sweep of the main floor before working to see if anything else needs to be cleaned up.
Enlist Kids’ Help
Besides cleaning (which isn’t on the top of their lists for fun), my kids love helping with random chores like putting away laundry, emptying the dishwasher or preparing dinner. I know this won’t last forever, so I’m taking advantage of it while I can. If my older daughter wants to fold towels or put the silverware away, it’s one less thing I have to do and I figure I’m helping her learn how to be responsible around the house.
Make a List
I keep a running to do list on my phone and also use the iPhone’s reminders feature to keep track of what needs to be done. I also take notes about story ideas on my phone so when I sit down to work, I’m not drawing a blank. I spend a great deal of time planning out scenes for novels or She’s It articles in my head so I know exactly what I want to write when the afternoon arrives.
So that’s how I do it. I am very aware of my limited time each day. Sometimes I end the day very frustrated that I was unable to finish something that had been a goal because I got stuck on a phone call or had more cleaning to do than I thought I did. But for the most part, I stick to a strict routine that I absolutely don’t deviate from.
Working from home is definitely a challenge, but it is doable as long as you’re willing to be efficient and organized! You can strengthen your well-being by staying productive and having a game plan!