A couple of months into my work-at-home-mother journey, it became obvious that something needed to change. I had the time and ability to do everything I needed to do. But somehow, every day was a disaster. Every second of my time was taken up, but somehow I was getting nothing done. And my nerves were frayed to the breaking point.
I washed dishes while I waited to hear back from colleagues or interview sources. I checked work emails while feeding and playing with Graham. When I got a few minutes to myself, to refill my tank, all I wanted to do was sleep. By the time Brian got home from work, we'd eat dinner, and then I'd hand Graham to him and go upstairs to get a few, elusive quiet minutes to myself - inevitably interrupted by a screaming baby who wanted his dinner.
The problem wasn't that I didn't have the time. The problem was that I wasn't managing that time well. I was multitasking. Nobody was getting my best, least of all me.
Despite my many mishaps, I think it is possible to be a successful work-at-home mom. It's a work in progress, but I'm slowly learning how to balance, how to be flexible enough to meet the ever-changing needs of a baby boy and a journalism career. It's taught me to be flexible. Literally nothing is the same from day-to-day. EVER. Here are a few tips that have served me well.
1// Automate household chores. The biggest problem, in my opinion, about working from home is not only seeing your overflowing inbox and calendar chock-full of interviews, but also seeing everything at home that needs to be done. I'd take a restroom break and realize the guest toilet needed to be cleaned - badly. I'd go to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee and see the pile of pump supplies I'd forgotten to wash earlier. Then I'd start cleaning, get distracted, and before I knew it, Graham had woken from his nap and I hadn't gotten any work done.
A daily chore calendar may seem oppressive or rigid, but knowing what I'm supposed to do - and ONLY what I'm supposed to do - each day to keep our household running smoothly has gone a long way in helping me focus both on Graham and on work. On Mondays, I wash a load of mine and Brian's clothes and I clean the toilets. That's it. And if something else - say, dusting the coffee table - needs to be done? Sorry. That's Wednesday's chore.
Creating a weekly chore list has freed up a lot of brain space - I don't have to think about anything. It's also given me permission to relax once work is finished and Graham is asleep. I can take a few minutes to read, nap, write a blog post, or undertake a fun household project, such as reorganizing.
2 // Make "me time" a priority. I never understood the focus on self-care before having a child. It seemed kind of...well...selfish, actually. Over the top. Didn't everyone take care of themselves every day? Why does anyone need more self care?
And then Graham showed up.
Suddenly, I got it. I am not a person that likes to be dirty, but I found myself going a day (or two - facepalm!) without a shower - and let's not even talk about how greasy my hair was! Food was shoved in before Graham could start screaming, and often eaten while nursing him. If I got a few minutes to myself, it was almost always spent on sleep. But not having any awake time to myself left me drained and extremely resentful of both my job and my child.
So I've managed to work some time for myself into my schedule, and it's been amazing. For instance, my in-laws watch Graham while I go to my weekly yoga class on Tuesday mornings. After class, I stop at Caviar and Bananas for an iced coffee and whatever sweet treat strikes my fancy. It's nothing expensive or wildly decadent, but I always come back from yoga and coffee feeling so refreshed, ready to see my little man, and ready to get back to work.
It may be nearly impossible. Your parents or in-laws may not be readily available to babysit. But try to dedicate some time to YOU, even if it's only 15 minutes to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in peace. Your work and your baby will thank you. I promise.
3 // Schedule set times to check email. Because I use an app to track Graham's feedings and diaper changes, I have my phone with me constantly. But that makes it all too easy to check my email every. single. second. I feel like if I'm not constantly checking in, I'm a bad employee.
But I'm not a brain surgeon. I'm a writer at a monthly magazine. I rarely, if ever, have deadlines that are closer than two weeks away. Checking my email every five minutes is actually counterproductive. I spend so much time looking at work emails that when I do sit down to actually work, I often wonder what I'm doing. Haven't I already BEEN working?
If something is urgent, the phone will ring. Until then, I've made a new habit of checking my email only once per hour, or if I'm actually sitting down at the computer. It's done wonders for my peace of mind, and allowed me to give my attention fully to Graham when I'm with him.
I'm so very grateful I can continue my career while staying at home with my baby. By making a few tweaks, working at home has gone from a three-ring circus to the beautiful, flexible opportunity that it is.
Do you work from home with a little one? If so, what have you found helpful to achieve the ever-elusive balance? Let me know in the comments below!