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Daily Work-At-Home Rhythms & Things I Have Learned

I’ve received a few requests recently for a post about my work-at-home schedule or more specifically, “what does your day look like?” and “how do you fit it all in?

My work at home journey started about six or seven years ago and it’s been continually evolving and changing over time. These changes reflect the passage of time, my workload, the change of seasons (literally and more figuratively), the addition of family members, Chris’ work, inspiration, travel, and on and on.

We struggle with the same issues many families face, and some that are more unique to our own personal situation. Some days things completely fall apart and other days everything hums right along. My hope is that through sharing these details of our lives you might find one little thing that will make a positive impact for you and your family. If find it’s often simply one little thing that acts a springboard for making life-affirming adjustments.

To begin I want to share two lines from Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day that I keep top of mind and close to my heart as I approach and schedule my days:

For me that thought, those specific words, are a marker, a springboard, and a measuring stick.

When I need to re-evaluate anything, Mary’s words come to mind…”one wild and precious life.” They lead me back to my core beliefs and help me make decisions that mesh with those things that are most precious to me.

This is our life. Real, basic, wonderfully imperfect everyday life.

THE RHYTHM OF MY DAY

MORNING | Chris and I are up early, usually 6am. Simon’s alarm goes off at 6:15am. Anna yells “Mama” sometime around 6:30am.

The day starts with a simple breakfast (toast, bagel with cream cheese, or bowl of cereal) for Chris and the kids and something hot to drink for the adults. I usually have a bowl of oatmeal after everyone else has started their day.

Simon gets up early enough that he doesn’t have to rush. He takes his time while eating breakfast (there are lots of reminders from us that usually sound like “Keep eating Simon.”) I’m not a fan of rushing and would much rather get up a bit earlier to give us all a little more time to adjust to the start of a new day. After breakfast he gets himself dressed, brushes his teeth, we brush his hair, and then we wait together for the bus.

The bus comes for Simon at 7:10.

Most days I don’t take a shower until later in the day after I’ve exercised (more on that below).

I also often throw in a load of laundry first thing. I’m a fan of hearing those machines humming along.

CHILDCARE | We have two babysitters that share childcare responsibilities – both are an integral part of the way we function during the week. One is a long-time friend and the other we found through Care.com. Both are loved as a member of our family. Two days a week Anna is cared for outside our house and the other three days she and the babysitter are here. Childcare began for Anna when she was about 6 months old.

On two days of the week Anna goes to one of their houses for childcare – she gets picked up around 7am. On the opposite days of the week our other babysitter comes here and watches Anna at our house. She arrives at 8am.

WORK | After the kids are on their way or settled in, I go upstairs to work.

In our home we have a bonus room that is used as my office. I like that it’s away from the regular traffic within the house. I like that I “go to” work in a specific place. I also like that it has a door that can be closed at the end of my work day. I feel this set up has helped me be more present in both my work hours and my family hours.

My daily work schedule is flexible. It’s a mix of email, writing, creating stuff with my hands, designing products, photographing, linking, uploading, creating content, dreaming up ideas, telling stories, monitoring classrooms & message boards, answering questions, and more writing. There’s also billing and planning and occasional phone calls.

I don’t have a set schedule I follow during my work hours but I do tend to have an agenda each day. I have an ongoing project/task list and a calendar – both keep me in tune with project deadlines. There are many ways I could be more efficient – efficient is a word that comes to me often during the day.

I use a program called Things for keeping track of projects. My sister just introduced me to TeuxDeux (an online to-do list) that I might test out. It’s even simpler than Things. Right now I’m just trying to see if it would actually be helpful for me or just add another level of list-making.

I’m working on not adding other layers of lists/stuff/places to visit – too many makes me less efficient. Sometimes it’s easy to spend way too much time searching for “just the right thing” when in reality whatever I was using was just fine.

I’m thankful everyday for my flexible schedule.

EXERCISE | Over the last year making exercise happen during the day has become very important to me. I now see it simply as a part of my day.

I run from home. I bike from home. I run and swim at the gym.

Some days I exercise before I start working. Other days I wait until later, depending on what’s on my work agenda, when I worked-out the day before, and what activity I wan to do that day. I used to feel like I needed to have a fixed schedule for this – now my one and only goal is to exercise once a day. I find myself exercising more consistently since I’ve given myself more flexibility.

As I’ve been running more I find it really hard to sit at my desk for long periods of time like I used to and this is awesome since I’ve been working on not being married to my computer. Often I’ll just get up and run outside when I get to the point that I just can’t take sitting at my computer for another minute (or when I find myself mindlessly surfing or being hopelessly inefficient). Getting out and getting it done has definitely helped me be more focused when I return to my computer.

People often say that running clears their head and heart. I have found that to be absolutely true.

AFTERNOON | Simon returns home from school around 2:45pm. He usually plays legos or video games for a bit and has a snack before he tackles the homework. We’re working on incorporating daily reading time for him as well – having him have an interest in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is totally helping (he’s also starting to enjoy reading before bed). After his homework is done it’s usually more legos or a video or playing outside when it’s warmer or chasing Anna around inside when it’s raining.

Right now he’s not in swimming lessons but I’d like to get him back into those as well.

While Simon is doing homework Anna is usually hanging out in the kitchen/dining room area playing or coloring or painting. Our babysitter facilitates this afternoon routine on the days she is here.

On the days she’s not here I meet Simon when he gets off the bus (it comes to our house) and hang out with him while he transitions to being at home. Depending on what I’m working on I try to have something I can do on my laptop so I can hangout with him in the kitchen/dining room area or I do things like move the laundry around, fold clothes, pick up toys, empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, etc.

DINNER | Dinner gets underway around 5:30pm. The kids are hungry at that time and I like to eat early and I enjoy how the day flows into night with dinner as the transition point. Depending on Chris’ schedule he’s able to make it or not (different times of the year are different for him). I do a general meal plan (sometimes written out and sometimes often just in my head) for the week that usually includes three main cooking nights with a specific recipe while other nights are leftovers or weekly favorites like tostadas or baked potatoes. On the days that I’m here with Simon in the afternoon I’ll often spend some of that time prepping dinner.

I like to cook. I especially like to cook with a plan in place and the correct ingredients on hand. Grocery shopping happens once a week with maybe one additional stop for more OJ or milk.

We’ve been making progress with Simon and his eating habits and that’s been really, really nice. It’s still drama-filled at times, but it’s so much better than it used to be. At least now we can usually get him to eat what’s on his plate – or at least try it. The best thing is that I’m not cooking more than one meal anymore. Whatever I make is what we’re having and we have a balance of things each week that he can rely on and likes combined with the new foods (like we always have tostadas – his favorite – once a week). He seems more open to the new foods when we can say “last night we had tostadas, tonight we’re having spaghetti” (a non-preferred food).

Eating together, all four of us at the table, is really one of my favorite things. Even when it’s challenging with Simon, even when we end up sitting there for almost an hour as he takes one tiny bite at a time, even when Anna’s ready to get down from her booster chair after one bite, even then it’s still something I treasure. It’s often the only time of the day when we are all together in one room at the same time.

I’m hoping to get a new table to eat out in our backyard this summer.

 

EVENING | After the dinner dishes are done we hang out – playing hide & go seek is the recent favorite – before the bedtime routines begin. Bedtime for Anna is between 7 and 7:30pm with a bath before. Simon’s been staying up until 8 or 8:30pm.

Sometimes the dishes stay in the sink until the next morning. My preference is to get them done after dinner, but I go with the flow and the mood and the opportunity.

Once the kids are in bed it’s time to do more work or hang out on the couch with Chris. We watch DVR’d Jon Stewart, Modern Family, 60 Minutes, Glee, or American Idol, or a Netflix movie we might have on hand. Sometimes we both have our computers on our laps and other times we’re just hanging out.

I like to be in bed by 10pm or earlier. Most nights I read in bed – no computer or TV in our bedroom.

And then we do it all again.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED (AND AM STILL LEARNING)

TRIAL + ERROR = EVOLUTION | There’s no magic formula. There’s no prescription, no set things to do or a specific set of things to follow. It’s simply trial and error and evolution. When our schedule/set-up starts not working, I change things up. This time next year it’s likely that things will have changed again.

I think one of the most important things in setting up your day is to be fully aware of your core values. If you don’t know what you value most it’s pretty difficult to keep that focus first and foremost in your heart and mind. What do you want your life to be about? How do you want to spend your time? What’s most important to you? If those things aren’t being nurtured it’s likely time to make some changes.

ESTABLISH A FLOWING ROUTINE | Over the years our daily routines have come and gone. Being open to going with the flow and adapting to the established routines with as little upset as possible is a part of our daily life. There have been times when we stick really close to certain routines (especially when Simon was younger) and other times when it’s been easier to be flexible.

For me, knowing the flow of activities throughout the day works better than having set times. Waking up flows into breakfast flows into getting dressed flows into brushing teeth, etc.

WEEKENDS = FAMILY | I work hard to keep most of my work within the confines of Monday through Friday. The weekends are family-time, relaxation, adventure or just doing nothing. I work ahead during the week so I’m not stressing on Sunday night that I don’t have something lined up for Monday morning.

SAY NO | I say “no” a lot. I still say “yes” quite a bit, but saying no has gotten easier and it gives me more freedom to focus on what I care about most (both in work and family life).

SYSTEMS | I like things to be organized and have a natural tendency towards order. I like the things we own to have a home -  a specific place to be put away. We each have a shoe basket in our entry. We each have a dirty clothes basket in our bedroom closets. I’m keenly aware of how I feel when certain systems aren’t working as I’d like and I change them up to see if something new will work better.

I find it’s easier to keep our stuff picked up when there’s a very specific place to put that stuff away. I’m one of those people that functions better in general when things are in their right place. I work with the kids to keep things picked up but I don’t stress about it and I’m not fanatical – I just take care of it.

CHOICES | I’m not a do-it-all person. I’m more of a do-less person. Actually, there are lots of things I like to do, many of which include just hanging out with my family without being distracted by a myriad of other obligations. I take very seriously the choices I make in how I spend my time. I have no desire to be super-busy. When I’m super busy I find myself complaining way too much (all complaints about being busy) when I should be enjoying whatever it is that’s happening around me.

I want to live a full life. Busy does not equal full.

Last Thursday night I read this post from Tara Whitney which included this statement: “Being busy does not bring meaning to my life.” This is one of those things I believe wholeheartedly. I make time for what I love. The pace of our days is important to me.

Leo from Zen Habits also has a post on this that's inspiring: The End Of Busy. Also check out How To Live In The Land Of Enough: Time from Be More With Less.

PERSPECTIVE & ATTITUDE | Since starting my work at home journey, along with all my other work and life adventures over the last six or so years, I find my perspective continually evolving: 

  • I don’t want to always be working on trying to find that magic place where everything runs smoothly. I don’t want that to be my focus. I’d much rather simply focus on being engaged with my kids when it’s that time and engaged with my work when it’s that time and engaged with Chris when it’s that time and engaged with myself when it's me time. I’m acutely aware when my attitude is heading downhill. I’m working on taking a deep breath and refocusing on what’s most important.
  • A big challenge for me occurs on the days when childcare issues come up. My first inclination is to let the stress and pressure rise up as I think of my to-do list and my deadlines and any other agenda items that might be on my list for the day. My second inclination is to get mad and think, “how come it’s me that has to give up what was on my list for the day?” I round that all out with a firm GET OVER IT and a reminder to myself to embrace the wonderful opportunity to spend special time with Anna. Attitude, attitude, attitude.
  • It’s easy to get trapped in the cycle of always trying to find that elusive perfect balance when in reality what you have at any given time might be just right. These days I'm less focused on trying to find the perfect balance (not sure it even exists) and more focused on something I mentioned above: being engaged with my kids when it’s that time, engaged with my work when it’s that time, engaged with Chris when it’s that time, engaged with myself when it's me time.
  • Even with a list of things to-do a mile long, so many things on my list can wait. "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
  • Things are always changing.

READ | I like to read about ways to bring peace and calm into our lives. But what I’m really working on is reading less about it and doing more about simply living that way. Here’s some recent blog posts I’ve encountered that speak to some of these issues: 


I love being a working Mom. I love my family. I love my work. I love that I get to work from home. I especially love that my family is a big part of the things I create and the work I do.

My "wild and precious life" is evolving one day at a time. And I am oh so thankful for it every single day.

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220 thoughts

  1. Anna says…
    01/26/2011

    I'm a working mom and it is such a challenge. I found this post enlightening. Thanks for sharing so much of your personal life.

    (also thanks for the tip on TeuxDeux...that can save me from making so many lists on paper...love it)

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Megan says…
    01/26/2011

    So weird that with such divergent ages of our kids I could have almost literally written this post word. for. word. Until dinner time, which for us is usually late due to 3 semi-adult schedules. Then it's to-hell-in-handbasket. And dishes always get done at night, even if it's midnight, which I hate, until I wake up to a clean kitchen. :) And I too love Tara's quote about busyness. It's how I roll.

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Paula G says…
    01/26/2011

    Another thank you - in your post I see similarities in both where your life is now as well as where your life has been - all compared to where mine is now. I have stopped sweating alot of small stuff, I am still seeking balance w/out the need for perfection, and my girl is still in the mode where I am serving more than 1 meal at the dinner table. Instead of reading your post and feeling either jealous or like a failure because I haven't turned every corner with my child that you have with Simon - as I once may have felt - I take things in stride and I am at a stage where I can enjoy other people's accomplishments whether or not I'm quite there yet :) We all have things that are going great and things that are "works in progress" and that's ok. My kids are 13 and 20....at these ages I am sometimes sentimental and emotional (aka wanting them to be little again) or I can sometimes feel lighter and more free to do things for myself or with my hubby. It's a time of transition and being flexible to the changes is helping alot. I did have one question - how do your kids do when you travel for business? My daughter is not at the point where she isnt distraught while I'm gone, even though I've tried all sorts of techniques to minimize this. Last but not least, thanks so much for sharing what's in your heart :)

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Ali says…
      01/27/2011

      Amen to this "We all have things that are going great and things that are “works in progress” and that’s ok."

    2. Ali says…
      01/27/2011

      On the business travel - it's not their favorite thing. For both of them though, it's simply a part of what their normal life is like. I've been traveling since both were young. They do fine once I'm out the door and just do their normal stuff while I'm gone. They're excited when I come home - which is awesome to come home to.

      Luckily I've cut way back on the amount of travel I do. My love is being here at home.

  4. Angie Blom says…
    01/26/2011

    What a wonderful post! It is always wonderful to get to know more about you. I must say I agree with the statment about “Being busy does not bring meaning to my life.”last year my life was so busy.. And family lost out.. so I took a hold of it and let go of a string of things ..it is much better now not sonmany obligations.. I so got that statement! I would love to see how you organize your shoes.. That needs a photo!! Great post, thanks

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. dawn says…
      01/27/2011

      I wanted to ask the same question about the shoes. We are trying to makeover the little bit of entryway we have and with 5 people here there are so many by the front door and I'm trying to think of a easy, organized way to store them. Thanks Ali if you can help and pictures would be fun too, thanks.

  5. marisa says…
    01/26/2011

    What a day! Thanks for sharing! I have 5 kiddos, one with autism and another with SID and routines and schedules are the only way we manage to make it through somewhat peacefully. Mealtimes is rough with my special needs children but we are working on it.

    it's nice to see how other Mom's do it too :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Teresa says…
    01/26/2011

    Wow! It seems like you get so much accomplished in your day. I work outside the home. A full and a part time job. And I am so overwhelmed with things that aren't getting done. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Kathi says…
    01/26/2011

    Do you have a housekeeper? There is no mention of any cleaning except laundry. So for my sanity I will assume you have someone come in and clean. Hey, you can't do it all.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      01/27/2011

      I do have someone that comes once a week to do the main cleaning: toilets, etc. I do daily upkeep and pick-up and wipe down the kitchen counters and table :). Our floors don't get vacuumed or swept every day.

      I definitely can't do it all :).

  8. Sarah says…
    01/26/2011

    WOW, what a FANTASTIC LOOK @ LIFE!

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. 2girlsandapoodle (joanne) says…
    01/27/2011

    i also love that quote. it has a way of cutting right to the heart of things.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. DeDe Smith says…
    01/27/2011

    Thank you so much for this Ali. I also work at home, but find that I am way too busy to fit it all in. I definitely need to find a schedule that works for me and this has really inspired me. Thank you!

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Hannie says…
    01/27/2011

    Ali, when I'm reading your post, I felt that I am right in your shoes. I felt that my elder is just like Simon and we are still struggling with his eating habit, even homework is so hard on him. I also felt that I can totally relate to your point of view and agree that I need to do what I've know and read about life.
    Thanks so much in prompting it out and put them into words for me.
    Yes, I need to keep on reminding myself about my core value and my time spent with my family.

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Radish says…
    01/27/2011

    This is an absolutely wonderful post. I loved how you notated things.
    this is frank, I expect honest, detailed, and hope giving. This you can take to your star in the crown bank.

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Nancy Wyatt says…
    01/27/2011

    This was an awesome post and loved learning so much about your Daily at home Rhythm!! Thanks again Ali for sharing all that you do! Hugs from Conroe, TX!

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Megan says…
    01/27/2011

    Fabulous post about evaluating priorities in life. We each need to take time to do this as it is about individual choices that are appropriate at different points in our lives. Thanks for sharing and always inspiring.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Kirsten says…
    01/27/2011

    Thanks for the post Ali, it's nice to hear that trial and error is part of those who seem to have everything in control.

    When life alters from the plan, I have now learned to embrace what happens instead of fighting what I thought should happen. Since doing so - those are some of the best unplanned opportunities that I may have missed in the past.

    And about all the balance we keep seeking - remember that you always wobble along the way, it's just making the adjustments to bring you back to middle ground.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Jess says…
    01/27/2011

    My husband and I have been trying to start a family, and I'm in the midst of starting a creative business, while working part time. It's nice to know its possible to do what you love, while having a family. My husband is always telling me to slow down and relax, but this is the life I chose and I love every minute of it.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. jennifer mercede says…
    01/27/2011

    WOW!
    Thank you! I just came back from a Time Management class and this was so related. You have inspired me :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Jennifer @ Live Art.fully says…
    01/27/2011

    Ali,

    I loved your words here: "I want to live a full life. Busy does not equal full." They stopped me in my tracks and I re-read them a few times before going on. I feel exactly the same way.

    I work at home (part-time) and homeschool my daughters. We do not have the girls in hardly any afterschool activities or classes. So many young families seem to be constantly on the go these days, meals in the car between events, no time to have real conversations, stress & hurry & chaos.

    That's not the life for me.

    I intent to live with intention and to enjoy these years when my girls are young. There's plenty to do without stuffing the days so full.

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Miss Sarah says…
    01/27/2011

    Thank you Ali, for this wonderful post. I also work from home, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote about "perfect balance" and that what you already have or are doing is probably perfectly okay. I also love how you described how you aim to stay engaged in whatever you end up doing - I too find that when an unplanned obstacle pops up in my day my first instinct is to feel stressed, and I too now tell myself to buck up and get over it, and remind myself of my blessings (and this works a treat!). Thank you again for sharing :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Alida says…
    01/27/2011

    Awesome Ali. Your positive attitude shines through it all. I'm definitely taking something life altering out of this post.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Domibruz says…
    01/27/2011

    I don't feel ok today, so reading your comment helps me.
    thank you for the way you share your experience

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Amber says…
    01/27/2011

    I'm loving this post Ali. So much of what you say rings true for me. With just one kid (and one that still naps!) I wonder why I can't do it all. I'm learning to let go of the little things that don't really matter. I might have to get child care thing because since I started my new site I've been up until one or two most nights, it's killer.... Especially when Tuesday wakes up over and over in the night!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      01/27/2011

      We need to get together one of these days :).

      When Simon was the girl's age I never really considered childcare - it was a combination of all kinds of stuff: money, not wanting someone else to care for him, not thinking of myself in "professional" terms and trying to do it all myself. It was a really challenging time for me. Things are definitely different this time around both financially and in how I see myself and value my time.

  23. Tan says…
    01/27/2011

    Can you post the recipe for your Tostadas? I've never heard of them before but they sound yummy!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. anneberit says…
    01/27/2011

    Thank you so much for sharing of your life, I always love reading one of your posts. This time a special thanks for reminding us to be present in our life right where we are. As a single + working mom it is so easy to just move on to the next thing on the agenda and miss out on the moment here and now.

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. Linda says…
    01/27/2011

    Thank you for this blog post. It was so inspiring for me to read. I, myself, work at home with a small jewelry business and I sometimes struggle to focus and keep my days structured. I think I have been way to focused on everything being structured instead of letting it flow. Perhaps that'll fit me better.

    Reply 0 Replies

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