When I wrote How She Does It: an everywoman’s guide to breaking old rules, getting creative, and making time for work in your actual, everyday life, our family’s situation was quite different than it is now.
Our family has changed. Back then, our youngest child was two; our oldest was nine. Now those boys are five and twelve. There is a huge difference, lifestyle-wise, between having four kids between two and nine and four kids between five and twelve. We have different schedules, different routines, and different challenges now than we did then.
Our work has changed. Back then, Will worked nontraditional days and hours for a nonprofit. I worked part time at a law firm, and wrote on the side. When he was at work, the kids were with me—and vice versa. Now, he works a traditional-ish Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 5:00 job in the private sector. As my writing business has grown, my hours at the law firm have steadily decreased.
While How She Does It is packed with examples of how women in numerous stages of life are navigating work/life balance, it’s time for an update about what my life looks like right now.
You may remember that I don’t love the phrase “work/life balance,” nor its implications. I don’t believe work and life should be set against each other, nor should they necessarily be equal. I’m using it here not because I’ve changed my mind about it, but because when you say work/life balance, everyone at least knows what you’re talking about.
And you’re talking about it—as I write this in the coffee shop, the words work/life balance just floated up from the table next to me. When I talk about work/life balance, I’m talking about the role my work plays in my life, and the way my life affects my work.
Here’s a candid look at what that juggle looks like for me right now.
I tracked my time for a few weeks earlier this year (using Toggl, love it), and found out that I usually spend 25 hours per week on my writing business (which in my head includes blogging, freelance work, and long-term projects that may or may not ever see the light of day). This includes the time I spend in front of my computer or a legal pad, but not time I spend reading.
(I’m in the slow process of retiring from the law firm: I still spend a few hours a week there, but I expect this to end in the next few months, or at least by the end of the year.)
I put in 60-90 minutes writing every morning before the kids wake up. We have a babysitter (although I don’t think that word does her justice) who comes two days a week from 8-1. The kids are with my mom from 9-4 most Wednesdays. Will covers homeschool on Thursday mornings so I can work, and so he can stay attuned to what the kids are doing in school.
(We are still homeschooling, but the older two kids are attending a cottage school this year for some of their classes. Read more about my homeschool day in the life at Simple Homeschool.)
I’m usually home with the kids between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m., and I’m hardly ever behind the computer during this time. I finally figured out that my mental energy ebbs from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., so I use this time on low-energy activities: I may read, start dinner, ride bikes with the kids, or (occasionally) blitz my email.
The 5:00 hour is when I tie up loose ends on the computer so I don’t have to do any work after the kids go to bed. This is a big change from the How She Does It days. Back then, all our kids were in bed by 7:30, giving Will and me a nice, long evening to chat, unwind, and get some work done before we turned out the lights at 10:00. Now the kids go to bed between 8:30 and 9:00 and there just isn’t time. It was a big adjustment for us to lose that split shift.
On the weekends, I always put in my 60-90 minutes in the morning, but don’t spend any other time on the computer unless I have a special project or big deadline. I don’t usually take the weekends entirely off, but I try to do a different kind of work, and less of it, on Saturdays and Sundays. This is when I do big picture planning, projects, and photography. Work isn’t a priority on the weekends: just 2 1/2 years ago, we didn’t get to enjoy weekends as a family, and I’m vigilant about not taking that time for granted.
Where I work
We have a lovely home office, but I don’t work from home during my core work hours, not even when I have the house to myself. I find I get more done when I write at the library or a coffee shop. It’s so much easier for me to concentrate.
What’s working for me right now
I love that we have a regular routine, including regular childcare providers that everyone adores. It felt like a big step (with our schedules and with our finances) when we put regular childcare in place a couple of years ago, but it has been absolutely worth it.
I also love that Will and I know what happens when, so that I’m able to spend my work time working, instead of figuring out when I can work. When it comes to household-type stuff—carpool, grocery shopping, dental visits—we’re sharing the load, although more tends to fall to me.
I also appreciate that we both have some flexibility with our schedules. If I need to leave town, or schedule a meeting, or put in extra hours to finish a project—or vice versa—we can usually figure it out. The same goes for family events, like kids’ ball games and birthdays. If there’s an important event happening, we can probably be there.
Since I usually work by myself, I’ve learned to be deliberate about seeing other people during the week. Otherwise self-employment gets lonely.
My kids are young enough to still do play dates with my friends’ kids; I also meet friends for coffee and schedule family get-togethers on the weekends. I used to always try and schedule a coffee date during my long 9-4 workday, because it seemed like a nice way to break up the day, but after reading this piece about how one meeting can affect the whole day for those of us on a maker’s schedule, I changed my mind.
I’ve learned that a steady diet of reading, walking, and exercise does wonders for my sense of well-being, and I usually can enjoy these things (minus solo walks) while the kids are home and otherwise occupied. That’s a huge change from 2 1/2 years ago.
What’s challenging for me right now
Honestly? I wish I had more time to work. I love what I do and my work would absolutely benefit by putting in extra hours. We’ve talked about it and talked about it and even though I would theoretically like to add more work hours, there’s not another place in my weekly calendar that I want to subtract hours from. At least not right now.
While I wish I had more time to work, this limitation forces me to work smart and work hard during the hours I do have. I see this as a good thing.