I’ve been told by friends and family members that there is a way to do it all. This happens when I complain that there aren’t enough hours in my day to do all of my work plus the necessary house tidying before 3. That fine hour is when I hit the “pause” button on work, fetch my sons from school and begin the arduous process of “Homework”.
While they play afterwards, I go back and hit “play” myself – on work that is – while keeping a careful eye on the floor and their wrestling. I resume my tasks while I simultaneously entertain them, make dinner (or pour bowls of cheerios) and scramble to pseudo-clean so it isn’t total chaos.
I don’t “watch the clock” while working from my home office. I often inevitably go over the allotted number of monthly hours for each of my projects because I need to garner results. Determined to be ever the uber-professional, I strategize, devise, rethink, write and rewrite, then document all of that work. Hence, there are not enough hours in my day.
In an effort to figure out a better way to manage my time (and clean the damn house!), I interviewed 75 women who work, whether it be professional work or caring for a child (which, of course, is the hardest job) from home like myself. During the course of my interviews, some common themes emerged: having a supportive husband (check! Got that.), learning to delegate (who to?), setting a timer to clean, then getting back to work and cleaning again (sounds like “lather, rinse, repeat,” and this occurs in 15 minute increments each), and keeping planners (one unbelievably organized “Alpha Mom” said she has daily, weekly, monthly and yearly to-do planners!).
Mia Redrick is a mom not unlike me, who started her own business and works from home. She founded Finding Definitions, LLC, which offers coaching, classes and seminars “on topics relevant for a mother’s personal growth on her journey throughout motherhood.” She advises moms (she herself is a mom to 3) to “DIPP: Delegate, Incorporate, Plan and Purge.” Also the author of “Time for Mom-me, 5 Essential Self-Care Strategies for a Mother’s Self-Care,” Mia explains how these 4 steps get her through the daily grind:
· Delegate: ask family members to help with household chores or baby duty tasks.
· Incorporate others in your space; consider outsourcing laundry or household cleaning. Hire a mother’s helper from the neighborhood to come over for a few hours to give you a hand.
· Plan by taking 15 minutes in the morning and considering what it is you would like to accomplish that day.
· Purge means getting rid of the unnecessary and learning to say “no” to what’s unrealistic or too much to take on.”
I liked Mia’s tips because, frankly, I’m fond of cute acronyms (DIPP), but implementing the tips is not as realistic for me. My family members are all busy working (my dad’s a busy pediatrician and my mom, a high school principal) and I haven’t been able to find cleaning help that’s both economical and thorough. I “purged” myself of a demanding boss years ago, but now I have myself to answer to, and catching myself for 15 minutes prior to morning prep (of getting the kids dressed and fed before bringing them to their respective places) is quite impossible: I like to sleep for as long as I can before my kids crow to the rising sun through (and despite) the darkest of blackout shades.
LiRon Anderson-Bell of PR firm Crisis Contingency Partners (just hearing the name of her firm stresses me out) is also a self-professed “soccer mom” of 2 kids. “I run the agency out of a dedicated space in my home,” says LiRon, and I realize that she and I have something in common. I start to wonder if her laptop charger cord is tangled up with that of her husband’s, and if press kits sit to the right of her desk with legos at her feet.
“I have a hard stop to my work day at 3pm.” I marvel that there’s someone similar to me, experiencing that same mad dash to get it all done by 3. She ends up playing chauffer to various sports and after school extracurricular activities. Liron goes on to explain that it’s tough, that she’s not in bed before midnight most nights, which implies that she resumes working once the kids go to bed.
She credits the support she gets from her husband, who “wrangles the kids in the morning” (breakfast, school/camp drop-off), so she can start her workday no later than 7. LiRon loves the flexibility of her job and the fact that she never has to explain why she needs the afternoon off.
I love that too. After all, before I became my own boss, I had a boss who wrote me a nasty email with expletives when I left work early because my son was rushed to the emergency room. I quit on the spot. Now, if I have to run out, I don’t need to excuse myself – to anyone. With my day cut short, I also get some of my work done at night. LiRon feels that by taking a break and making that “hard stop” at 3, she is able to recharge for working later on.
But cleaning – the bane of my existence! – What about cleaning?! LiRon doesn’t mention anything about fitting in time to clean, but Brandy Yearous, a stay-at-home mother of two writing a fitness book for women who don’t have the time or money for the gym, does. She says that she allots an hour after breakfast for pure, unadulterated and uninterrupted cleaning time. I consider this: My morning is too hectic. I don’t have an hour before or after breakfast to clean because it’s all super-rushed before we get in the car. When I return from driving my kids, I need to glue my butt to the desk chair and check deadline-driven reporter queries posted to various PR services.
I’m too afraid to miss a potential opportunity in the busy morning hours. Alas, the morning cleaning hour won’t work for me. Morning is prime business time.
Cynthia Powell, owner of home-based business Chicks & Cubs is a work-at-home mom of three kids, who manages her time by using a timer.
I like her approach because for the ADD folks like me who also require breaks for the sake of their dry computer eyes, it prevents boredom, lethargy and discomfort by mixing up the routine. “I set my timer for 15-20 minutes,” she explains. “In that amount of time, I work on the computer for my business. When the timer goes off, I reset it, go to work in the kitchen or wherever in the house. Timer goes off, I reset it and go back to business again.”
Sounds like a game of musical chairs? Cynthia says this strategy keeps her focused, gives her necessary breaks, and assures that she works on the business and the house. I’m going to try it. Now, must locate that timer. Cynthia also uses what she calls a “check off sheet” for each day of the week. I call this a “to do list” but tomato tomahhhto – the fact that bible and prayer are at the top of Cynthia’s list, with exercise a close third, is admirable in and of itself. Her list reads like this: Bible Prayer
Exercise Dishes Laundry Then, each day of the week consists of a house task and an important business task: Monday: Mop Kitchen, Shoe Bronzing Orders Tuesday: Change Sheets, Web Link Exchanges Wednesday: Bathrooms, Detailed Paperwork Cynthia’s list is impressive: Not only does she fit in time for exercise and shoe-bronzing, she finds time to be religious.
Maybe it is Cynthia’s faith that carries her along and because of that, God grants her the miracle of getting it all done. Note to self: I haven’t got a prayer.
After email threads and discussions with these 75 women, one recurrent piece of advice rings through repeatedly: “Lower your Standards.” For some, like Tara Bloom, a divorced mom of a teen daughter who manages online maternity and baby business Maternitique.com, those “standards” apply to the definition of “clean home.”
For others like Atlanta-based freelance journalist and mom Paige Bowers, the standards apply to quantitative workload: “Learning to say no has been a major thing for me,” she says. “Understanding that my priorities are my family, friends and writing career helps drive a lot of the decisions I make. If it doesn’t fit, then I don’t commit.”
For stay-at-home mom Sophie Sacca, lowering standards means not being so hard on her-self, and setting aside “me time” which for her includes playing piano, reading a novel and deep relaxation.
For Caryn Sabes Hacker, a psychotherapist, it’s about taking the best possible care of herself. “I credit nutritional supplements for my energy and concentration today,” chuckles the mom whose kids are now grown, “but my commitment to daily exercise and taking time to unwind in the early morning always got me through the work day when the kids were young. Setting aside the time for physical activity and meditation complements my healthy lifestyle and is what still gets me through a multitude of daily assignments.”
When that’s not enough for Caryn, she breaks everything down into groups of 20: handling 20 pieces of paper on the desk, putting away 20 dishes or 20 pieces of clothing. She advises other moms to do the same, saying: “Turn the big job into lots of little jobs and spread that throughout a very long day.”
For publicist Renee Glick, lowering standards is about not expecting herself to be everywhere at once. Instead of going to the store, she orders groceries, shoes and clothing for herself and the kids via the Internet. She pays her bills and does her banking online as well.
Still, others stressed that discipline is essential for how they do it all: “Discipline is key,” stresses work-at-home mom and professional writer Janice Rice, who toils away from the moment her two grade school kids walk out the door at 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., when she goes to pick them up. “During that time, I focus on my professional work—not on laundry or cleaning my house. I try to leave the hours between 2 and 9 p.m. open for kids and home activities, and then round out my work day between 9 and midnight. I figure the tradeoff is worth the flexibility, and I’ve discovered—as has every new mom—that the human body can accommodate a different schedule.”
Pediatric nurses Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN and Laura Hunter, LPN burn the midnight oil many nights. From their cheery dispositions when I once asked about my son’s chronic diaper rash (years ago), it seems they don’t get tired. It helps that they were trained as pediatric nurses. Always on the go, with eight children between them (including a set of twins each!), they shuffle between consultations with frazzled new parents, teaching toddler seminars) and answering parents’ questions via email.
Next to a smiling picture of Laura from the “Moms on Call” web site are the words “Laura is a juggler — she juggles life (can you relate?).”
Kelly Robbins of The Copywriting Institute writes to me from her home office: She’s determined to make family time strictly family time, and offers this pithy suggestion that I’ll take most to heart: “When the kids are in school, don’t screw around!”