Posted in Blog

A Slice of Life View of Working from Home with Two Elementary Kids

I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, so I’m going to skip the money series post this week and pick it up next Wednesday instead. Today I wanted to share a glimpse of what it’s like to work from home with two young elementary kids in virtual school all day. Here’s a day in the life of this working mom:

  • 1:30am – Woke up to my alarm to take Mr. 4 year old to the potty
  • 6:15am – Woke up to Mr. 4 year old wanting snuggles
  • 6:30am – Up with my alarm to start working after Mr. 4 year old fell back to sleep
  • 7:30am – Get kids and myself fed and ready for the day
  • 8:15am – Take the kids outside to walk and ride scooters
  • 8:45am – Get the kids logged into school and clean up the kitchen
  • 9:30am – Take a work call while sometimes answering kid questions and baking banana bread
  • 10:15am – Eat said banana bread snack with kids during their school break
  • 10:30am – Back to work
  • 12pm – Make, eat, and clean up lunch
  • 1pm – Bathe Mr. 4 year old who got covered in mud while playing outside in the rain and mud puddles
  • 1:15pm – Kids log back into school, while I write a blog post and respond to personal emails
  • 2pm – Back to work
  • 4:15pm – Read with Mr. 4 year old
  • 4:45pm – Make dinner and talk with husband
  • 5:45pm – Eat then clean up
  • 6:30pm – Scroll online
  • 7:15pm – Kids and I read together
  • 8pm – Kids to bed

From 8pm to my bedtime (which is anywhere from 9pm to 11pm) I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I sometimes write, like tonight, but typically I watch a show or read a book. I’m spent and need to recharge.

Overall, this schedule is doable. We’re making it work with employers who are being flexible and two adults at home, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

In the past, I wrote about my experiment with time tracking. I don’t continue to track my time each week. However, in the future I’d like to take another week to track my time, then compare it to a pre-COVID week. I have a feeling that, although my days are more fragmented than ever before, the percentage of time I spent in each category (e.g., family, self-care, work, etc.) is likely the same. We shall see!

Photo: Today’s visitor while I was answering personal emails this afternoon.

Posted in Blog

Creating Boundaries With Your Work Time

Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation at work of being professional about drawing boundaries around my availability. I definitely became better at this when I returned from maternity leave after Mr. 7 year old was born because I just didn’t have the energy to sneak in extra work hours outside of the office like I used to.

How have I done it? Here’s the gist.

Live Your Goals

First, you have to know your own professional development goals, those of your teams, and those of your projects/employers. (I’m a senior manager of training design and development teams for multiple clients, so there are many stakeholders to satisfy.) I recommend playing to your strengths when crafting goals. You’ll be more motivated to work on something you’re already good at, rather than try to improve a weakness that you could potentially outsource to someone else.

Once you have your goals, live by them. Get invited to a meeting that doesn’t align with your personal goals or those of your client? Politely decline. I’m not saying you can skip every boring meeting or work task, but you can be selective about how you spend your time. (Probably more so than you think!)

Decline with Grace

I swear tactfully pushing back is a large part of the art of “managing up.” I rarely say no to my clients and managers. I provide more information instead. For example, if I’m asked to move a deadline up that isn’t feasible, I’ll state that we can do that if X conditions or concessions are made.

If I’m asked to join a committee or project that I can’t make work, I say thank you for the opportunity but I’m regretfully not available. And, here’s the key, I also provide a recommended solution, whether that’s another team member who would be a good fit or a time in my schedule when I could take on the opportunity.

I am the messenger that provides the details to help us all make better decisions, while making sure the solution will work for me and my teams.

Diversify Your Happiness

Don’t let work be the most interesting thing about you. Find other things you enjoy and add them to your life. This can be hobbies, pets, family, fitness, or volunteer work. Not only will these interests help when you have a bad day at the office and need to reset your mood, but they can be used to get you out of the office and away from work at a reasonable hour. If you commit to a hobby, be that a 8:30am fitness class three days a week or tutoring high school kids every Wednesday at 6pm, then you can block your calendar and work around it. I swear I became 10 times more efficient at my work when I knew I needed to log off each day by 3:30 to get my kids off the bus. (Remember that time when kids used to go to school in person?! The good old days….) Work tends to expand to the amount of time available.

I admit that some of these tips are easy to say and harder to do. It’s taken me some time of exploration at work, being a part of multiple teams and projects, to learn my strengths, set meaningful goals, and be comfortable pushing back on leadership. However, I think it’s important to realize that we only have this one life to live, so we better enjoy it. It’s harkens back to my motto to reflect on what you want, plan how to make it happen, and then start living and, in the famous words of Captain Picard, make it so.

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Time Tracking

I view time as a limited resource. We only get 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, and typically 2,920 hours a year. I want to make the most out of those hours as possible.

I’m technically a part-time working mom who puts in 30 hours a week, so I feel like I should have a good balance between my work and home life. After long days at work, though, I was finding myself drained, frazzled, and upset that I wasn’t getting the “balance” I thought I signed up for.

My lack of energy in the evening was putting me in a rut. I’d stop working, get the kids and chores taken care of, and collapse onto the couch in a comatose state until way later than bedtime. I can easily find myself staying there scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or Reddit or binging one of the myriad of TV options out there. And all of that to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

I’d had enough. I followed Laura Vanderkam’s advice and tracked my time for a week. (I actually tracked my time for several months, just to look for trends.) It was an interesting exercise that only took a few minutes a day.

Basically, I used an Excel spreadsheet that broke down a week into 30-minute intervals. I then jotted down a few words noting what I spent my time doing in each interval (e.g., took Mr. 4-year-old to school, worked, made dinner). Vanderkam suggests looking at any given week’s time to see if you’re spending your hours the way you want to live your life.

I took Vanderkam’s technique a step further. I classified the time using various colors in Excel to track my mood or perspective of what I was spending time on. For instance, work was all orange, chores were yellow, time with family was green, and self-care activities were pink. I wanted to see if work and chores were really taking over my days, or if I really was getting a good chunk of time with family and personal pursuits.

I was not hard and fast on the rules for classifying activities. The classification was based on how I felt. Some days, making dinner was a chore. We were rushing to get it done before soccer practices or Cub Scout meetings. Sometimes, the kids played together and I could try a new recipe while listening to a podcast. In those cases, making dinner was self-care. If my husband and I made dinner together while chatting about our day, it was family time.

What this exercise showed me is that when you look at the whole week, I was actually getting more balance than I realized on any given day. Sure, I may have to work late one day a week, but that’s because I took time out of another workday to visit my son’s school. That’s a great perk that I should recognize and appreciate!

I also learned to better monitor my energy. I have a tendency to put 100% into whatever task I start for the day, which is often something work related. Then, by the time my family sees me, I’m totally drained and they aren’t getting my best self. To counter this, I’ve been trying to end my work day just a few minutes earlier so I can reset my energy before diving into family time. (The added complexity to this is that I work from home, so I was falling into the routine of working until the exact minute I need to run and pick up kids…always moving, always frantic.)

This exercise also gave me a chance to reflect on whether I’m spending my self-care time on the right activities. I quickly realized I didn’t like the life story of my TV and social media rut. I had more time for hobbies than I realized. I just wasn’t leveraging it.

The time study I did for myself is a big reason why this site exists today. I’ve always fancied myself as a writer. This notion in my head that I’ll get to it someday isn’t going to happen if I wait for some magical, miracle moment to appear. I can make the time with the right priorities on my time.

I say all this to show you how time tracking benefited me and added a new perspective to how I manage my time these days. I would recommend that others take Vanderkam’s time tracking challenge and see what you uncover about how you spend your time.