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.


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.


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. Jen Thompson says…

    loved every single thing about this Ali. so many wonderful reminders about what is most important in life.

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. helena says…

    thanks for sharing all the details and for describing it as the RHYTHM of your day - rhythm is my word for 2011, in exactly the way that you used it. I've jsut started wroking from home and really feel the need to evolve some rhythms that work. I love your reminder to concentrate on what is important and what works

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Debora Prass says…

    Thanks for sharing, I loved hearing about it! I just moved to another city because my husband was transfered, and I will be working more from home than before. I have 2 kids, 5 and 12 (actually, almost a teen, right?), and next week school starts, and that will be on a diferent time also. So this week I'm thinking a lot about our (new) routine for this year, I loved to read about yours, Specially about ATTITUDE, this is important for me as well. I can't control what happens around me, but I CAN control how I deal with it!!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Mama Doi says…

    Thank you for letting us peek into your day Ali, organised but flexible is key in my book too. I live by the Serentiy Poem and the thought that we only get to do this life once, so make it a happy one. Every day IS a good day, some days are just better than others!

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Diane says…

    thank you so much for this. I know that I have found myself in your words of when is it my turn and why is it always me who has to change their schedule in order to take care of situations that arise. I find the most blessings I could possibly need in those times. However lately it seems to be all the time. I see that you have allowed yourself sitters to help with the children so you can work at home and that is exactly what i am going to look for.
    My husband and I are raising our special needs grand daughter. She is such a blessing to us but at the same time I became a stay at home grandma but have many interests that I want to do to fulfill who I am.
    I need my space and time for that.
    I appreciate you and how you put yourself out there for all of your readers to look at and to admire and to learn from.
    After all one of the things I want to accomplish is your class Yesterday and Today which I have not been able to do much so far except collect the photos.
    Bless you and your family. Your incredible.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Michelle B says…

    I have 3 kiddos (6, 4, and 5 mo) I work outside the home, but I find my scheudle is very much like yours! I also do better when less "busy" and trying to learn to say "no". One question for you... do you have someone come in and clean your house? The scrubbing and vacuuming? I feel like I spend so much time just picking-up and have a hard time puting the deeper cleaning of the house on my list. How do you approach it? thanks so much for sharing Ali!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…

      I do have someone that comes to clean once a week for the bathrooms, vaccuming, dusting, floors. I definitely do general pick-up, up-keep, washing and wiping throughout the weeks. I do not vacuum or sweep daily...

  7. Mary-Ann Labuschagne says…

    Love the 1st quote! Must say I can relate to your busy day, wouldn't want it any other way though :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Jill says…

    Just what I needed this morning. Been feeling the winter blues and blahs here in the Midwest and a little better perspective on life and work and balance is always helpful. Thanks so very much for taking the time to share this with your readers. It truly helps.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. katie says…

    Ali, What a great post!! I love how you so eloquently shared your quest for living simply and balanced.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. wendy says…

    wonderful ali. love the peek into your life and the wisdom that you share. thank you.

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Amy says…

    Thank you Ali for such an insightful post. You are truly an inspiration on so many levels.

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Ruth says…

    Thank you, Ali, for such an honest post about your approach to your life. You've given me plenty to think about ~ especially about how I can incorporate some of what you said works for you into my One Little Word for 2011 ~ Better.

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Monika Wright says…

    Having just become a working from home mom after being a SAHM is new for me {just seven months since I opened my Etsy shop, began blogging and doing some design team work} and I'm still working out a schedule to make it all work. My 2011 goal was to plan my days/week just as if I were still the working Mom I was almost 8 years ago in hopes that weekend time is family time. As successful as you are, it's encouraging for the rest of us to hear that your process is still evolving to make it work for your changing lifestyle. You're just a Mom trying to make it work. Thanks, and bless you, for uttering the words, "How come I'm the one that has to give up my plans to make this day work?" - obviously a paraphrase -

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Liz says…

    Loved reading through your post Ali... we had 4 children in the house once and I firmly believe that eating an evening meal together makes a family 'work' so much more - it's an opportunity for everyone to share their day, etc, and goes a long way to achieving far better communication between family members. Oh how I wish the 4 children were at home again! Still, my husband and I always eat our evening meal together so I'm happy!

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Susan Wilson says…

    A thoughtful and honest post, Ali. You've managed to establish your goals with understanding of your wants and needs.....I think a bit unusual in someone your age. Good for you! I imagine your great imagination and creativity are increased by your doing this self-evaluation on a regular basis.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Tejal says…

    In simple words, a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your life with me. It connects, it feels real..and I love seeing pictures of Anna and Simon.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Melissa says…

    Thank you for sharing such a personal view of your life, and family. Each day I wake and wonder what can I do to make it the best day. Letting go of perfectionism, 'shoulds', and the to-do list that can be a mile long is WAY harder than I could have ever imagined, but its getting easier. I read the poem and those two lines that you mentioned are very powerful. Puts my view of life in a different perspective, as in I really get it now, that there is only one life. Its never too late to make changes, right? = )

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Shirley says…

    "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

    yep pretty much needed to hear this today!!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Amy says…

    wonderful terrific post today Ali. Thank you!

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Cynthia H says…

    Thanks so much for sharing this -- it is really nice to get a glimpse of the "behind the scenes". I was curious, though, do you also scrapbook outside of your M-F work hours? Or does all your scrapbooking and creating happen during that time?

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…

      These days I really try to keep it during the work-week. I've done lots of variations in the past but have found that this works best for me right now :). I really want the weekends to be "us" time.

  21. Renee says…

    Thanks for such a well thought out description of what your day entails. I too am a work at home mom. Often times people do not realize all that it entails. I am working diligently on "being" in the moment with my people. I have recently been bitten by an exercise bug that I can share with my children. This has made an evolution in our process. It has been great.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. elisa says…

    wow. i am going to have to visit this post often! totally changing my mindset! but now i'm craving tostadas! got a recipe you recommend?

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Nicole LeBlanc says…

    I just love to hear how others spend their day! I think I'll blog about mine :-) Organization and having a plan is the key!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. michelle elaine says…


    I never comment, mainly because I know you're busy. But, I wanted to thank you for giving us a peek into your life. I've wondered how you "do it all". I realize it's a process. I love the quotes as well, they will be hanging on our wall soon.

    My son is 11, and he LOVES Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Once he got through those he wanted to find out what else was out there. I love that he always makes sure he has a book with him.


    Reply 0 Replies
  25. michelle elaine says…

    p.s. Would you share your tostada recipe??

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. audra says…

      I'm interested in this as well. I make a shrimp tostada recipe,(that's a big hit around here) & wonder what yours is like.

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