I have been a work-at-home-mom for the last seven years. Gradually, as I’ve taken more writing and non-profit jobs and projects, and as my children have both started school full-time, my life has morphed into a busy one.
I’m working most of the time my children are at school, every weekday. I also find myself working at night, and on weekends, and early in the morning. Basically, I’m working whenever I have a free moment.
Some time this earlier this year, I broke.
I looked at my life and realized I worked all the time. I never had a break or a division between professional life and home life. I’d be writing and taking phone calls during times I was supposed to devote to homework help, and by the end of the day I was frustrated because I felt divided. All of my life meshed with every other part of my life, and I longed to close the laptop at a reasonable time each day.
I’ve known for a long time that I needed office hours. In order to do that, I might not need to be home when I did.
Naps, magazines, and even laundry are sometimes more interesting at home than my to-do list. In my house I don’t have the luxury of a true office—I don’t have an extra room or even an extra corner to insert a desk. At times I feel like Virginia Woolf, pining for a “room of my own.”
So, I made a few changes this fall.
If you are a WAHM and feel stuck between your deadlines and your dirty dishes, here’s a few things I’ve done to help create true office hours.
1. I looked into a co-working space.
A couple months ago, I googled “creative workspace orange county,” (where I live) and a few co-working spaces popped up. I found one near my house, emailed the owner, and went down that week to meet her and check out the space.
A co-working space is a shared space where people who work for themselves, or have mobile offices, can go work. It’s one step up from a coffee house, and it depends on the space, but most offer wifi, printing, and coffee, and the desks are either reserved or are first come, first served.
Welcome to my first office in over twelve years.
2. I pay for it.
There’s something about paying for something that keeps me motivated (if I pay for an exercise class, I rarely hit that snooze button). Last week, someone wanted to schedule a meeting on a day I’d already scheduled my office hours, and so, I declined.
This morning, Friday—at the end of an intensely long week—I waffled about going in. And again, I-pay-for-it played in my brain, so yes, here I am, typing typing typing in the office.
I don’t pay much, and I only come several days a week, but it helps.
For you, maybe “paying for it” means hiring a sitter while your kids are at home. She can be with your kids while you work from a coffee shop.
3. Other people keep me accountable.
When I go into my office, other people are there who know I’m coming in. I also tell my family that I’ll be in the office today, which means, “Don’t send me crazy Reddit links because I’m WORKING.”
4. I keep an appointment with myself.
I’m not a naturally self-disciplined person. I go in and out of seasons of keeping myself on track, but I always keep appointments. I very rarely cancel on people, and I am infrequently late.
As I schedule out my week and month, I hold my Tuesdays and Fridays preciously, and I don’t schedule anything else on those days. No Target. No Trader Joe’s. No conference calls, even. No meetings. I’m in the office from 9:30 to 2:30, and I work.
5. I’m learning to prioritize.
The nature of what I do outside of writing is not usually time-sensitive. My non-profit work can be looked at twice a week during scheduled work hours, so it’s alleviated a sense of urgency. I work when I’m supposed to work, and unless something is burning down, I try not to work on the days in between.
6. Even when I can’t go in, I schedule times to work.
Let’s face it: two days per week doesn’t always cut it. There are some work projects that call for a 40-hour work week, and sometimes the work space isn’t feasible (or my life takes me elsewhere).
I create ways to trick my brain into making sure I keep my hours. Yesterday, I drove a bit further to a new coffee place, to make it feel like I was keeping an appointment, and it worked. I turn off my phone, sometimes turn off internet, and rearrange the rest of my day to make it work.
If you can leave, do—it’s the only thing that’s worked for me. But maybe you can’t.
If you can’t, bring a sitter in and sit on your back porch. Create office hours in the evening. Swap with a friend during the day once per week.
What’s ironic is that I wasn’t able to finish this essay during my normal office hours last week, so I’m writing this at my kitchen table on a Saturday morning while my family swirls around me.
But we do what we can do to make it work. And this is what works for me today.