Was a smoother, more organized, less frantic routine part of your New Year’s Resolutions?
On an average day, there is simply isn’t enough time to do all the things that I would like to do. Distraction free time with my family, writing, blog maintenance and upkeep, client work, marketing, working out, household tasks, riding my horse, spending time with friends…I need a 48 hour day, at least! I have always felt that way, but after having my son it felt like my hours compressed dramatically.
I’ve worked for years now to build a career that allowed me to work at home. Between moving every few years for my husband’s military career, my personal goals and the kind of parent I wanted to be, it was far and away the best fit for our family. But that same flexibility presents an ongoing challenge. I no longer have the structure naturally created by having an office to drive to and boss who expects me at certain times. I still need to be consistently productive. How do I make that work together?
Routine vs Schedule
When my first monetized blog started bringing in income, I decided that taking it seriously meant creating a schedule. I set hours for myself – during these set times, I would work on my blog. Which apparently made life laugh because that schedule might have lasted a day or two, My kiddo’s regular-as-clockwork naps went wonky, the dog got sick and needed multiple vet appoints and several events popped up on the calendar that I had to attend.
That schedule? It didn’t really work any better than working outside the home did. It still left me feeling tugged between the various parts of my life, convinced I was letting someone down. I needed more flexibility from day to day but enough structure to ensure that my work tasks and necessary household stuff got done!
As I experimented and read time management books and made note of what did and didn’t work for me, a few patterns quickly emerged:
- Plan to plan
Those needs of mine? They don’t allow for a schedule. Instead, I needed a routine that flexed and evolved as my work at home life did.
Plan to plan
One of my husband’s favorite stories to tell people about me comes from when we were planning our wedding. He was deployed to Iraq, our families are spread across the United States and we were planning what was essentially a destination wedding in Savannah, GA. In the short amount of time between when he came home and our wedding, there were a lot of lists. I’m a list maker. I especially love making lists on white boards. One day shortly his return from Iraq, he walked into my home office and found a list of wedding to do’s on my white board. First on that list? Made a wedding day to do list.
So, we’ll just say that I appreciate the importance of planning to plan!
When it comes to creating an effective and livable work at home routine, it’s more than important. If I don’t create the room to plan, then even the best routine will go off the tracks within a week or two. So when I started outlining my routine, I knew that it had to include regular, consistent and non-negotiable space to plan.
I give myself 20 minutes at the end of every day to make notes about what needs to happen tomorrow and ensure my calendars are up to date. I block time every week to sync calendars, catch up on email and my project management software. I make an appointment with myself every month to do the admin work of checking my stats, tracking trends and planning any adjustments that may need to be made moving forward based on that information. I schedule a couple days every quarter to do my 90 day plans – the hard, intensive work of turning my big ideas and dreams into actionable steps to be taken in the next 3 months.
All of that planning means that my work time is efficiently and effectively moving me closer to my goals. There is no worse feeling, to me, than that sensation of flailing or treading water. I hate to feel like I’m putting in all this effort and not getting anywhere. Regular, scheduled planning means that I’m able to make adjustments to keep my routine moving me forward.
You sit down determined to get caught up – ahead even!- on your blogging tasks. So, you make a list. Finish that blog post, create those images, all the social media, oh and there’s that collaboration you need to send some emails about.
Before you know, that list is a mile long and you’re even more overwhelmed than you were before because you know there’s more that probably needs to get down but you’re already running out of room.
First. Deep breath.
A to do list is not the same thing as prioritization. There have been points in my blogging journey where I told myself I was an organized person because of my to do lists. But, while I knew all the things that needed to get done, I wasn’t any closer to a completed project! I still felt a bit frantic and behind. Over time, I read hundreds of time management books (I’m a reader, it’s what I do) and over and over again, these experts talk about priorities. But when you are an entrepreneur, a mom, the go to parent with a spouse in a high demand job – everything is a priority. So how do I decide what a priority is?
First, you have to know what you want. In KickStart, we start with your big dreams and your ideal day. Knowing what those two things look like is essential to deciding how to best use your time. I want to focus on my family in those key afternoon hours between school and bedtime, with time to get dinner on the table for an unhurried meal. On my blog, I’m creating a welcoming, supportive online place for my readers to find encouragement and information. So, when I look at the tasks that have to happen, those that contribute to those two things take the top spot.
Then, I look at timing. What has to happen today to keep my plan for the week moving forward? I can generally ask these questions:
- What needs to get done to meet this week’s deadlines?
- What on my to do list doesn’t need to happen?
- What on my list can wait?
From there, it comes down to what is more important to you. I have a few non-negotiables. In general, I spend the hour before school with my son. I spend the time between school and dinner with him. I don’t miss his events for work. Saturdays are family days. With the time left by those checkpoints, I focus on my work. My priorities, in order, for my work are: community building, income drivers, visibility and new content.
You know what frequently drops off the list when I do my prioritization?
- laundry ( I usually fit it in the evenings while I’m cooking dinner or sitting with my husband while he watches tv)
- picking up the general untidiness of everyday life (I make a point of really picking up every Sunday night and don’t stress about it the rest of the time)
- cleaning my son’s room
- personal Facebook time
- keeping up with TV
- grocery shopping the old way (I order online and pick up!)
And dropping those things from that must-do status? It’s ok! My house is a little messier, I take a little longer to share kiddo pics with the grandparents on Facebook and I’m hopelessly out of touch with prime time TV. And that’s okay, too. Because the things that are most important to me – my family and a growing, supportive Blogging In Balance community – are taken care of. Those less important things can happen in the corners, when I have the space.
Communication Work at Home Style
Do you get tired of hearing how important communication is? We all know it! But how do you do it?
I’m not a communication expert in any way, shape or form. But I do know that I had to consciously be much more deliberate about my communication after making the switch to working from home.
Communicating with Partners
I started my work at home journey with a very part time remote position. This meant that I still had a boss, occasional meetings and deliverables. But I didn’t have that proximity to check in and clarify or for them to oversee what I was working on. Both my boss and I had to figure out how to effectively manage communication without that face to face contact. It required an additional level of specificity and clarity that had never been demanded of me before. As my work evolved and I was working with brands, clear communication became even more important. They were expecting the same level of professionalism as they would receive when working with a PR or advertising agency. My emails needed to be clear, gracious and authoritative. I couldn’t jot off emails on my phone without much thought. Those communications required thought, careful review for errors and clarity. It ties back into time management – I had to treat those communications as a business task and give myself the room to do it well.
Communicating with your Village
It’s one of my favorite sayings – it takes a village to grow a blog. Developing a support network of bloggers and other entrepreneurs and people who support is vital. Developing and maintaining this relationships takes a little work, but it is so worth the investment. The key here is understanding and communicating your limits. If you are considering a collaboration, be up front about how much is on your plate and what your timelines are. Even when you are busy, take a few minutes here and there to check in on your blogger tribe and ask how they are doing. It takes so little effort to let people know that you care and are thinking of them. And that’s a powerful thing!
Communicating with your spouse/family
One of the most frequent questions that pops up when I do live chats or round tables goes something like this:
My husband/friends/parents don’t really understand what I do, how do I explain it?
Why does everyone thing I just sit around doing nothing and get free things?
My significant other doesn’t support my blog and says I spend too much time on the computer.
Like I said, I’m no communication expert. However, I have navigated marriage as a work at home professional blogger along with the added stresses of military life. Here, again, communicating your needs and expectations (and being reasonable about them) is essential.
My husband does not especially understand what I do. He has a general grasp, but I get a giggle when he explains to someone in introduction. He does, however, understand that when I block off time on our shared Google calendar he will need to be available to care for our son. He helps to make sure the house is quiet when I am taking meetings. He pokes his head into the office to ask if I need a snack or something to drink when I’m mid-way through a monthly workbook for my members and barely coming up for air.
It has taken time for him to value the contribution that my writing brings to the table. But until then, I was able to ask for the space and understanding to work on it. Those times when I get frantic, when I feel like I’m struggling under the weight of too many responsibilities and I’m spread too thin – it means there has been a communication break down. I have to know, be able to articulate and communicate what it is that I need from those I love and care about.
I’m a planner. But between military life and being a mom, I’ve learned that my plan is really just a general outline. The real key to my productivity is for my routine to flex with the demands of day to day life.
I have what I call my routine template. This is how I plan to break up my workday. More than any kind of hard schedule, this gives me a vehicle for planning my week. That 20 minutes or so that I spend planning the next day? It’s using this.
The best part of my template is that it changes. This, generally, gives me my more hours than I need to do my content creation. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, I am available for client coaching or collaboration calls. My dedicated content creation time is the part of the day that I have the most control over – early morning.
My Google Cal template helps to keep me on track daily, but the real power behind my routine’s flexibility is the switch to weekly planning. Several years ago a friend recommended Laura VanderKam’s book 168 Hours. Essentially, she says that we all have the same amount of time each week. It’s all in how you use it. I think it’s important to point out that this isn’t about having a multi-million dollar business. It’s about allocating resources – time, energy, money, attention – in a way that is in line with what parts of your life are most important. I rarely split my day evenly between my various priorities but over the course of a week it works out pretty close. When I look at my time in terms of 7 days, I have the room to give my family, myself and my business the attention they need.
Building Your Routine
How do you put this into action for you?
First, what do you need to get yourself organized? Figuring out how and when you will plan is key to creating a sustainable routine. Your calendar can be online, a paper planner or a white board hung on the wall. It may be some combination of those.
Next, get specific and detailed about your priorities. What must happen for your week to be successful? Just as important, what can you let slide or outsource? Make both of those lists now, even if they get edited as you go, so you don’t have to decide on the fly.
Now, how will communicate your schedule and your needs to those around you? If you are working with freelance clients, consider a project management software like Asana or Dubsado. If you have a spouse or partner, how will you let them know when you are busy or what you need from them?
And to get it to work, give yourself a little grace. Things won’t go completely according to plan. For those of us that work at home, there has to be some flex. The neighbor will be mowing the lawn right when you have an important phone call. The internet will go down when you’re on a deadline. The kiddos will get sick and stay home from school when you are already behind. And that’s ok. It’s part of the process. Build a routine that is resilient, tailored to your priorities.
Is your work at home routine doing the job? What parts of your day are the most challenging?