The WAH life: how I manage my time

This post is part of an ongoing series on blogging as a profession and working from home in general. To read the whole series, click here.

time management

One of the things aspiring WAHMs ask me about most is time management. While I’m still working on my own “perfect” blend of family and work time and have definitely been known to fritter away minutes on Candy Crush, my 10+ years as a work-at-home-mom has taught me a lot about how to make the most of a limited number of work hours. Here are some of the questions I’m most commonly asked – and my answers:

“How do you find time to work?”

I’ve answered this question approximately eight hundred times since I started working from home with young kids, and my answer is always the same: I don’t find time. I make it.

I like to tell my writing students that there’s no magical time fairy that will come grant you an extra eight hours a day so you can launch your business. You might not have the resources for child care for quite some time while your venture is in the gestation phase. So you’ll have to do what the rest of us do, or did: find unclaimed pockets of time, and/or shift your priorities so that you spend time differently. 

How that looks for you will depend a lot on your kids’ ages, your schedule, and your energy cycles. Maybe you’ll get up early or stay up late. Maybe you’ll ask your spouse to take over on the weekends so you can escape to the library. Maybe you’ll figure out how to work efficiently in small pockets of time – during your toddler’s nap or while your three-year-old plays on the floor. Maybe you’ll give up an activity or club or commitment. These sacrifices don’t have to – and likely won’t – last forever, but if you don’t have full-time child care you’re going to have to figure out ways to work within your reality.

The good news? Lots of people have done it, and you can too. Let your passion and excitement for whatever it is you’re launching carry you through. If you’re doing something you really love, you can find energy and time you never knew you had.

“Do you work a regular schedule?”

Well, my work day definitely doesn’t follow a 9-5 structure, but that’s not to say there’s no structure. On the contrary, I sit down to my computer around the same time every morning, and knock off work around the same time most afternoons.

What happens in the middle, though, changes as often as my socks. (For the record: daily.) I used to feel weird about that, thinking that in order to be a “successful” WAHM I needed to work at a steady pace for a pre-determined number of hours per day. But then I thought: says who?

My natural energy rhythm seems to favor this cycle: a day or two of intense activity, followed by several days of active rest. On most “active rest” days I am technically working, but I stick to easy, routine tasks that don’t require a ton of brainpower. I also take frequent breaks and will often knock off in the middle of the day to grocery shop or take kids to the park.

As long as it all evens out over time, I’m meeting all my commitments, and I’m making time to pursue big-picture projects that get me excited, I try not to worry too much about how many hours a week I’m actually working or on which days. As a result, sometimes I work a 20-hour week and sometimes it looks more like 50+. And I’m fine with that.

“How do you protect your family time?”

One of the trickiest things about working from home is that you’re never really “off”. There’s always something more you COULD be doing, and home life and work life tend to mix in a way that can be both awesome and troublesome.

Truthfully, I like it when my home, family and work lives meld. I like being able to get up from my desk when I’m stuck and throw in a load of laundry. I like that some days I can work in my yoga pants and my “office” moves around the house depending on the lighting and my mood. (I find I do some of my best creative work reclining on my bed, while I sit at my desk or the dining room table when I want to feel businesslike, and I often work on the sofa when I’m doing tasks that don’t require a lot of attention.)

I’ve taken several outside-the-home offices, always to give them up because I’d just rather work at home than anywhere else. But that has meant having to set boundaries when it comes to my “off” hours.

On the other hand, as I mentioned above, I’m not great about sticking to a pre-determined work schedule. So rather than try to set a schedule of when I WILL work, I have created pockets of “protected” time when I WON’T work:

  • I close my computer at 4 PM, when my elementary-school boys get home from school. After that, I will usually check in sometime after dinner, and sometimes after bedtime. But from 4 – 9 I’m mostly not working.
  • I shut down work a little early on Fridays to ease into the weekend, and unless there is a super pressing need, I keep my computer closed Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. I don’t typically work on Sundays either, but sometimes find that a lazy Sunday afternoon is a creatively rich time for me, so I leave the option open unless we have family plans.
  • I give myself freedom to knock off work for a while when I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing much. You know that wheel-spinning you can start to do when you sit at the computer too long…it looks like you’re working, but you’re really just refreshing your email again and again? If I find myself in that spiral, I walk away and take the kids out for ice cream or something. I’d much rather squeeze in some family time when my heart and mind just aren’t into work, than force myself to stay at my desk just because I’m “supposed” to be working. (And nine times out of ten, taking a brief break makes me more energized and efficient when I return.)

“What does a “typical” day look like for you?”

Truthfully, in my world there’s no such thing as a typical day. But, depending on the time of year, we do have certain routines we fall into. In my next post in this series, I’ll be sharing a “day in the life” look at my own school-year work life. Check back a week from today to get a sneak peek of how my days REALLY go.

If you’re hoping to start a home business – or already have one but want to help it grow – you might be interested in a mentoring program I’m launching this fall. Just send an email to meaganfrancis@gmail.com with “WAHM” in the subject line, and we’ll make sure to get you more information – or you can subscribe to our mailing list and get the news that way.

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