Want to work from home? Find your routine.
Pepper, our new kitten, is figure-eighting around my ankles as I sit at my desk. Finn isn’t far away, exploring every nook and cranny of the floor. I’m also giving Tate a spelling test in a few minutes; she’s at her table behind me, practicing her list of words. I hear Reed somewhere in the distance: “Mom! Mom! Mom!” Kyle responds, “Reed, Mom is working. If you need something, ask me.”
My work tasks today are to draft this post you’re reading, button up some other posts, take a few photos and tweak them in Photoshop, set up a Skype chat with a potential advertiser, mail some paperwork for my upcoming trip to the Philippines, and process my email inbox (currently 97 unread emails — not too bad, honestly).
It’s just another day in the life. Lots of you are interested in the nitty-gritty, practical side of how I work. In this post, I’ll pull back the curtain and show you how. (And in advance, I apologize for the length of this post.)
As with most of these “how I work” posts, this is descriptive, not prescriptive. Lots of bloggers work in different ways (and I’ll share some of their routines as well). I’ve also worked much differently in different seasons, and in a few weeks, my schedule will change again.
As I work with my seasons and not against them, I’m required to ebb and flow, staying fluid with my expectations. So I’ll tell you what my work routine is like today. In one month, it will probably be different.
My weekly routine
This is displayed on our fridge:
It’s our weekly calendar, written each Sunday evening as Kyle and I flesh out our upcoming week together. There’s a certain pattern, for sure, but every week looks different. There’s no such thing as a master, perfect routine, but we’ve found a template that we can loosely copy. Honestly, it’s nothing fancy.
Our oldest, Tate, is in half-day kindergarten, and her school is about a 30 minute drive in traffic. This means it makes more sense to stay near her school and work at a coffee shop (or a friend’s house), because otherwise, we’d take an hour to get to school and back home, then another hour to repeat the process a mere three hours later. Not worth the gas money.
Kyle and I switch off taking her in the morning; whoever takes her works in the morning, then the other parent works in the afternoon at home. My work routine looks something like this:
• Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings — work at a coffee shop
• Tuesday and Thursday afternoons — work at home
…or vice versa. And I don’t need to tell you that when I’m not “working” (ha), I’m cleaning, cooking, folding laundry, and being with the younger two kids. Kyle does these tasks when I’m working on the blog and writing.
During busy seasons, one or both of us also work in the evening, when the kids are in bed. This was the case when my book was released last fall, and is also the case right now for the ministry we’re preparing for (Kyle’s main gig). It’s not preferable — my batteries drain pretty fast in the evening, and I’d rather have that time to veg and catch up with Kyle.
But the beauty of us both working so closely on all our projects is that even when we do have to work in the evenings, we’re still spending time together, and we get what the other person is doing. We couldn’t cope any other way.
What I work on, when
Now, I don’t just do whatever at any time. The hours outlined above aren’t enough to finish everything I need to do to keep SLM running, so there’s always stuff left undone. Always.
But I have found that tapping into my natural rhythms helps me get a lot more mileage out of my efforts. For instance:
• If I’m out of the house, I try to do most of my first-run writing on Monday mornings, when my brain is much clearer than any other time. If I’m at home, I save that writing for Tuesday mornings. I can’t finish a sentence when I’m with the kiddos, much less write a coherent thought. It still happens, though — such as the writing of this post.
• The other mornings, I tweak the first drafts, making them much more readable. Editing takes me twice as long as writing.
• In the afternoons, I work on email, schedule Skype chats, and generally emerge from my hole to interact with other people online.
• If I work in the evenings, it’s usually to do much more auto-pilot stuff — embedding links, crediting photos, creating graphics, and the like.
A “typical” morning of work:
This is in pencil, of course, but a session of work could look like this:
• 8:45-9:00: Imbibe caffeine; give a quick glance at email; toss out a tweet or Facebook question. Then close these platforms.
• 9:00-12:00: Write, edit, and/or format posts.
• 12:00-12:30: Check email, Facebook, and Twitter one last time before picking up Tate. Reply to a few pressing inquiries, if necessary.
A “typical” afternoon of work:
• 2:00-3:00: Spend more time replying to emails; interact on Twitter and Facebook (only 10-15 minutes on the latter).
• 3:00-4:30: Finalize any posts while I simultaneously hold Skype chats, phone meetings, take photos for posts, and other sundry.
I do a few other things with my time to help me work smart, and not just hard:
The other SLM editors, the ad manager, and I meet over Skype once per month, lately on the first Thursday. Here, we discuss upcoming events or content series, brainstorm ideas, and provide each other feedback and encouragement.
We also catch up on each other’s “real” lives, share prayer requests, and generally laugh our heads off as we juggle kids’ naptimes and diaper changes. Ask Jamie Martin about her accidental use of the puke emoticon.
Every Tuesday afternoon, I hold open Skype hours for the other SLM editors and the Simple Mom contributors. I leave Skype up as I work, and these people know that this is the best time to shoot me a quick question, ask for some help, toss out an idea, or generally find my attention. It’s akin to a professor’s open office hours for her students.
I have too much email to find their quick-but-important questions, but it’s essential that I respond to them in a timely manner. This is my solution, and it seems to work.
If I’m on house duty Tuesday afternoons, I listen for the Skype “ping” as I fold laundry and chop veggies for dinner.
I have a site privy only to those who write regularly for the SLM blogs. Here, writers can find the editorial calendar, a master Style Guide that I wrote, buttons and other often-used code, and each other’s email addresses and Twitter handles.
This eliminates the need to spend hours answering the same questions.
Simple Mom’s content is planned a month at a time, at minimum. My preference is two months at a time, just for my sanity. All SLM sites’ editorial calendars are on Google Calendar, and we can all access them at any time, to see what’s on the docket for each site. Each contributor can also see the calendar of the site they write for.
We’ve created network-wide themes for each month. We don’t stick to this religiously, and not every post is about the month’s theme. But it gives us direction when we’re stuck on post ideas, and it provides some coherency to our content.
Taking a month off
Last year, I took about six weeks off when Finn was born. This maternity leave was just what I needed, because I was starting to feel a bit burned out, and was craving a good chunk of offline time. I came back refreshed, excited about my writing, and ready to devote more energy.
I’ve found that for some reason, I start feeling fazed and distracted around this time each year. I’m not sure why. But for me, it’s a sign that it’s time to take a little break.
Starting this year, I’m going to schedule a month off of heavy blogging into my work routine. I’ll still pop on Twitter and Facebook a couple times a week, check my email, and otherwise make sure the sites aren’t imploding. But I’m not going to produce new content, hold my Skype hours, or otherwise focus on daily blog tasks.
This year, it will be June, since we’ll be busy moving across the country. I’m pre-writing new posts, my contributors will still publish on Wednesdays, and I’ll most likely toss in a few reruns as well. On the front end, it won’t look different (it’s a business, after all, and we have advertisers). But on the back end, I’ll be catching up on offline projects (sewing!), spending time as a family, and yes, working on some longer-term writing projects, like my next book manuscript.
If I espouse balanced living, I need to live it, too. I’m all about intentional down time, because it makes my work time that much more productive. My writing is better, too.
What others do
Here’s how a few others work differently:
• Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project says, “As a person who loves routine and predictability, after I had my children, I struggled for a long time to settle back into a daily writing schedule. I finally realized that it will be a long time before I have a regular routine again. Instead of getting frustrated by the fact that I can’t plan on working between certain hours, I aim to work a certain number of hours, and fit those hours in when I can, during the course of a day. I think it’s very important for a writer to work frequently, steadily, and productively. I make sure to write every day (including weekends). But I no longer try to have a specific schedule.”
• Katie Goodman of Good Life Eats says, “This past school year my son started kindergarten (full-day). My daughter attended two days of preschool (also full-day). I do as much cooking and photographing as possible on the two days that I have no children at home. The days my daughter is home I do things like grocery shopping for ingredients, since that is something we can do together, and some writing. She is really wonderful at occupying herself. …Some weeks I’m incredibly organized and caught up and I don’t really have to do much when the kids are home. Other weeks I’ve fallen behind or blogging has taken a back seat to other more pressing issues. When both kids are home it is near impossible to get much done productively. I can see that this summer I will have to work more in the evenings after they’re in bed and on the weekends.”
The Nester, creating her usual brilliance on Nesting Place.
• Nester of Nesting Place says, “I am home three days a week without children from 8-2 (my husband is off one of those days as well), so that’s when I try to get the bulk of my writing done. …I’ve learned not to use my silent alone time for cleaning or grocery shopping and try to devote that time to something that will benefit Nesting Place, like writing, it could be doing a project at home and taking photos or maybe it’s stopping in at a thrift store. I am rarely online after 5 pm, not because I’m disciplined but more because I’m not a night person.”
• Mandi Ehman of Life… Your Way says, “We’ve been incredibly blessed that the business has grown in the last year, and with the addition of two assistants, I’ve been able to scale back tremendously. My schedule now looks a lot more like this:
6-10 am: work
10-12 pm: homeschool
12-4 pm: work
4-8 pm: dinner, chores, family time
8-10 pm: whatever I feel like”
• Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky says, “My Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are basically my writing days:
6 am – Wake up. Time with my husband to read and pray.
7 am – Kids up. Breakfast, make lunches, walk to school.
9 am – Take youngest to pre-school.
9:30 – Workout. Ish. And shower. Also -ish.
10 am – Take computer to Starbucks or stay at my kitchen table and write like a maniac. Fret. Cry. Stare out the window.
1 pm – Pick up youngest from preschool and worry that everything I wrote for the last 3 hours was ridiculous. Look forward to the next writing day.”
• Melissa Michaels of The Inspired Room says, “On a typical day, I wake up, have some quiet time while my husband packs my son’s lunch, then I run around opening blinds, picking up, and drinking coffee and pretending I don’t have to work. I always hug my son goodbye as he leaves for school. I’ll do a quick check of email and my blog to make sure nothing urgent is going on since I’m on the west coast and it is already noon on the east coast by the time I check email! Sometimes I’ll do a couple of quick posts in the morning or check up on my Facebook page. Then I usually shut down my computer, take a shower and get the day going around the house. …I’m always at home to greet my son when he gets home from school, and both my husband and I are home with him most evenings, or we take him with us if we have a meeting. It is nice to have jobs that are flexible and allow us to be home with our son when he is home. If it is a really crazy week I might open my computer again late at night when my house is quiet.”
• Nicole Bennett of Simple Organic and Gidget Goes Home says, “I don’t have a set work schedule these days. I generally spend some time writing/planning while my daughter is at preschool (maybe an hour or two on some Tuesdays and Thursdays), or during afternoon nap/rest time (maybe a half hour to an hour tops on any given day). Other than that, I usually spend one or two nights a week doing a larger chunk of work while my hubby watches a game or TV show.”
Learn your natural rhythms, and work with them, not against them. More of a night owl? Do most of your work then. A bumbling idiot after 9 p.m., like me? Do you brain-heavy work in the morning.
Take the time on the front end to automate or streamline repeated tasks, so that you’ll save time and energy on the back end. This is why my staff site helps so much.
Use technology to your advantage. I couldn’t do any of these things without Skype, Google Docs or Calendar, social media, or Gmail.
Schedule intentional downtime to prevent burnout. Work hard, but goof off a little each day, and take a longer sabbatical each year.
Learn from others, copy what works, and throw out what doesn’t. Don’t feel like you have to work just like someone else.
When do you work? What time of day are you at your best?
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