I work at an untidy desk, at a computer that is used by the whole family. It’s located in a corner of our large living area, and if I turn my head to the right, I can see the television, and the mess. So I try not to look some days. Most days.
For almost three years I’ve lived like this. Juggling writing and blogging in between throwing a load of laundry in the washer, or playing referee to my two kids.
It’s probably the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. But it’s also the most challenging.
Some days I swear I’m going stir-crazy. It’s hard to try and write a romantic scene (if I’m writing fiction that day), or craft an interesting blog post (on days I can’t bare to look at the book), when your three year old is bugging you every five minutes for another banana, or you need to rush her to the bathroom immediately (isn’t toilet training fun?).
Sometimes, when I’m being interrupted constantly from work, and can’t think from the noise, I dream of a peaceful office, a clean desk, and my own computer that only my un-sticky fingertips can touch. But most of the time I feel fortunate to be so lucky that I can be a work-from-home, stay-at-home writer mama. Not everyone is so lucky.
Over the years, there are things I’ve picked up, on how to make it work. For me at least, and hopefully you might find some tips too.
1. Have a regular schedule
I’ve tried jumping onto the computer when I get a spare minute. It doesn’t work. I NEVER have spare minutes, or when I do I’d rather spend that time with coffee in one hand and remote in the other.
The only thing that works is to have a regular schedule. My main priority each day is to keep the house somewhat organized, acknowledge that I have children by talking to them, and writing.
On the day’s my daughter is home from child-care, I run on a half-hour schedule. Thirty minutes for work, thirty minutes for house cleaning, thirty for spending time with her. Rinse and repeat. That usually means I can get around two hours a day of work in before my son gets home from school (in which the schedule goes out the window as he wants the computer for homework).
2. Have separate profiles on the computer
Each of us has a separate profile on the computer to log in and out of. Me, my husband, and my son (my daughter is still too young). That keeps all of our files separate and prevents someone ‘accidentally’ deleting my files.
It also means I can control what my kids can and can’t do online. But that’s another post entirely.
If you have multiple users on your family computer then I also suggest a good back up system.
3. Lower your standards
As much as I would like to live in a perfect Pinterest home, I know it’s not gonna happen. It’s a good day if I can get the clothes washed and the dishes done. If the toys aren’t picked up, then so be it. Writing comes first.
I’m obsessively protective of the hours that I can spend working, I simply can’t have it all. Don’t sacrifice your working hours for other jobs if you can help it.
4. Make a priority list
Even though you cling to your working hours, there are still only so many hours in day to get everything done. And you aren’t going to get everything done, so you need to prioritize what’s most important.
On my, always growing, to-do list I circle three things I’m aiming to complete that day. Only three things. If I can get them done then I’m happy and can start working on other things on my list.
Knowing in advance what you are working on can stop procrastination and writers block in it’s tracks.
5. Get help
I’m earning enough now that I can put my daughter in child care twice per week. That’s only a recent change, and I wish I would have been able to do it sooner. The days when I have those five uninterrupted hours to write, I get more done than I do in a week.
Childcare can be expensive, but if you have family, or can swap babysitting with another mother, it’s worth it. Even just for your sanity at having a coherent thought that is allowed to play out.
6. Be organized.
I’ve already talked about being organized in your work day by having a to-do list, but being organized around the home is also important. Having a set day (or days) to grocery shop, knowing ahead of time what you are making for dinner (meal planning saves time and stress), and having a calendar of all the activities that you and your kids have to do each day is invaluable.
If you know what each day looks like, you can start to combine tasks. I’ve been known to edit a manuscript while my daughter is taking a ballet lesson, or research blog ideas from my phone while waiting for my son to finish class.
7. Embrace technology.
How did we manage before iPhone’s?
Whether it’s handing my daughter the iPad while I finish tidying the kitchen, to project planning my writing schedule and deadlines through the calendar function or apps like Evernote (I’ve started getting into Evernote again since they began using reminders), using technology has become a necessity for being organized.
If I’m using the calendar function, every person gets a different color, or if I’m writing each project gets a code (or tag) so I can find it easily. So for my current novel I’m using #FB2 (initials of the title and it’s the 2nd in the series), or #traceyblog if I’m writing a post for my main blog.
Having said that, in addition I still do use a regular paper calendar stuck to the kitchen door so the family can keep track of what everyone is doing, too.
In our fantasy world, having a good plan or schedule would mean that things run smoothly and you’ll be able to juggle everything perfectly.
We both know that isn’t true though. You’ll have good days and bad. One day you’ll fly through your to-do lists and other’s you’ll be too tired to turn the computer on. On those days, it’s perfectly okay to sit with coffee in one hand and television remote in the other.
Because there is always tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll get it all done.