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by Sarah Markley

Sarah Markley speaks regularly for conferences, MOPs meetings and church groups. She also writes for (in)courage and A Deeper Story. Sarah has two daughters, a husband, a dog, and a cat, and lives in Southern California. You can find her on her blog, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

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How I created true office hours as a WAHM

I have been a work-at-home-mom for the last seven years. Gradually, as I’ve taken more writing jobs and non-profit jobs and projects, and as my children have begun to both go to school full time, my life has really morphed into a very busy one.

I’m working most of the time my children are at school each day of the week. And 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 be devoting to homework help and by the end of the day I would frustrated because I felt divided. All of my life meshed with every other part of my life and I longed to be able to close the laptop at a reasonable time each day.

Some of my friends work real jobs. At offices. Not that my work isn’t “real,” but I remember the days when I could leave work AT work, rather than take it home. Because for a lot of us, there is no work versus home – both are the same.

I’ve known for a long time that I needed office hours. I have known that I needed to devote part of my weekly schedule to work, no matter what. And I’m finding that in order to do that, I might not need to be home when I did.

At home, naps, magazines and even laundry are at times more interesting than my to-do list. And in my house I don’t have the luxury of having 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 and want a “room of my own.”

So I made a few changes this fall. And it has only been good for me, my kids, and my professional life.

If you are a WAHM and you’re feeling 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 think 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.

Essentially, a co-working space is a shared space where people who work for themselves, or have mobile offices, can go to work. They are becoming more and more popular in urban centers. It is one step up from a coffee house. It depends on the space, but most offer wifi, printing, coffee, etc., and the desks are either reserved or are first come, first served. Welcome to my first “office” in over 12 years.

2. I pay for it. There is something about paying for something that keeps me motivated. If I pay for an exercise class, I rarely hit that snooze button again. Last week someone wanted to schedule a meeting on a day that I’d scheduled myself to be in the office and I had to decline. “I’m in my office that day and I pay for it,” was my answer.

This morning, Friday, at the end of an intensely long week, I waffled between going in and not going in. And again, I-pay-for-it came across my thinking and so yes, here I am, typing typing typing in the office. I don’t pay a lot and I only come a couple days a week on my “mom schedule” but I do pay for it. It helps.

Maybe “paying for it” for you means hiring a sitter if your kids are at home. She can be with your kids while you sit at a coffee shop. I guarantee that paying for something makes all of us take it more seriously.

3. Other people keep me accountable. When I go into my office, there are people there (I’ve gotten to know the awesome people who also office there) that know I’m coming in. I also tell my husband that I’ll be “in the office” today which essentially means, don’t send me crazy Reddit links because I’m WORKING!

4. I keep an appointment with myself. I’m not what you might consider your most self-disciplined person. I go in and out of seasons of being able to keep myself on track and seasons of a little more indulgence, but I always keep appointments. I very rarely cancel on people and I am infrequently late.

So as I schedule out my week and month, I hold my Tuesdays and Fridays very preciously and don’t schedule anything else at all 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 usually not time sensitive. For the most part, my non-profit work can be looked at twice a week during my scheduled work hours, so it has alleviated some of my in-between feelings of urgency. I work when I’m supposed to work and unless something is burning down, I try not to work much on the days in between.

6. Even when I can’t go “in,” I schedule times to work. Let’s face it, two days a week doesn’t always cut it. There are some projects that I work on for which I’m legitimately working close to a 40 hour work week. And sometimes the work space isn’t feasible or my life takes me elsewhere in the city.

Or maybe you’re not near to a co-working space or it’s something that isn’t in the current budget (the prices vary from city to city – mine happens to be very reasonable). I’ve created ways to “trick” my brain into making sure I keep my hours. Yesterday I drove a little further to a new coffee place, rather than roll over to my neighborhood one, to make it feel like I was keeping an appointment. It worked. I’ve done things like turned off my phone, turned off internet, and rearranged the rest of my life in order to make it work.

If you can leave, I highly suggest it. It is really the only thing that has worked for me. But I know all our lives look a little different and maybe you still have your littles at home. Maybe you can’t leave.

If you can’t, bring a sitter in and sit on your back porch. Or create office hours in the evening. Or swap with a friend during the day once a week. It has to work for you – that is the key.

What’s ironic about this, is that I wasn’t able to finish this article during my normal office hours this last week, so I’m writing this at my kitchen table on a Saturday morning while my family swirls around me. The irony isn’t lost on me, I know.

But we do what we can do to make it work. And this is what works for me today.

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