What work/life balance looks like for me right now.

What work/life balance looks like for me right now.

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.

Daily schedules

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.

Me time

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.

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17 comments

  1. Laura says:

    Anne, do you have a cleaning lady (not a PC term but you know–someone to help with housework)? I feel like I could be on top of everything with child-rearing and writing and work and cooking, except that I never find time to keep the house clean, and it’s a drag to have the house dirty.

    • Anne says:

      We’ve tried it in the past but aren’t using a service right now. But I’ve been feeling like it’s time to try again: we’re actively looking right now.

  2. I love hearing how you “get stuff done” (and wow, do you ever get a lot done!!) I’m still working full-time as a lawyer and writing on the side and trying to keep all the balls in the air (some days are better than others…) I’m SO intrigued by this long term writing project that you mentioned… Best of luck and look forward to hearing more when you’re ready to share.

  3. Katia says:

    I am fascinated by other people’s schedules, so thank you for sharing yours. And I also share your sentiments regarding the term ‘work/life balance.’ I truly admire stay-at-home-moms who are able to homeschool and also run a business. It’s a special skill. Right now, I’m working full-time in the corporate world and my kids are still very young (5.5 and 3), but because my husband and I don’t return home until around 6 p.m., it takes a while for us all to eat dinner, clean up, etc. By the time the kids are in bed, it’s often 8 or 9 p.m., and then I only have enough time to read a few pages before myself going to bed. I take things one day at a time and ignore the messy home on weeknights. I do most of my cleaning on the weekends, but that’s also the time for us to spend together as a family, so it’s a challenge. And the bigger challenge is trying to maintain a semblance of social life in-between all that. Phew. Yet, we must keep going. I actually find that when I stop to contemplate how overwhelming life gets from time to time, that’s when I lose my balance. If I focus on each day as it comes, without think too much about the past or the future, everything continues to move smoothly.

  4. I keep reassuring myself that schedules do change over time . . . Right now, I’m in college full-time, working as a 911 dispatcher part-time, definitely still “learning” my husband, and trying to make time for the ever-so essentials of writing and reading . . .

    I love that you don’t try to tell us that you’re 100% satisfied with your current schedule, but that you are trying to make it work and enjoying the benefits that it does provide.

  5. Thanks for linking to the split shift piece. Right now I’m really not getting my split shift time either (because I am sooo tired at night) but I look forward to getting it back. I go to sleep before my big boys many nights. They have to stay in their room; I figure they’ll self-regulate on the sleep front eventually. I also sympathize with wanting to work more. It can be very frustrating to have great opportunities and not have the capacity to go after them (without certain trade offs).

  6. Bethann says:

    Thanks for updating and sharing your work/family schedule. I too, push back at the work/family balance phrase and how it sets up an argument. I appreciate your sharing this part of your life!

  7. Jamie says:

    Thanks for taking the time to writing that out. It really helps. Cheers to family time on the weekends and adjusting with each new rhythm of life.

  8. Amy says:

    You’re one of the few blogs I read daily, and I just want to chime in that I appreciate this post. I love your book posts, but it’s refreshing to keep variety. Also, as a mom who educates at home, good job on finding a path that works well for your family—and continuing to seek that out as growth and change happen. My eldest is graduating, and I’m thrilled with the results. Honestly, though, I don’t know if the results have been as great for me personally. Finding that “balance” takes shifts, both minor and major, at each new season and sometimes in between.

    • Anne says:

      I appreciate your thoughts on this (the “me personally” part, in addition to the “great for the kids” part). It’s nice knowing so many of us are figuring this whole thing out together.

  9. Natalie says:

    Really appreciate your ability to balance such a busy life! As aspiring freelance author and teacher, young wife and back-to-school graduate student I am at a stage of decorating my first own home office. However I read that working at home does not work for you. To be honest, I am also afraid whether I will be able to stay motivated at home, on the other hand though, I can’t Imagine reading without a cup of hot coffee, can’t stand snoring and talking undergrads in library. Also, comuting with the heavy bag full of books and computer is not for me as well as paying for the car park in the city center on regular basis.
    In a nutshell, I got a bit disturbed that you are not able to focus at home. Could you elaborate on it? And why is it better in library or cafe?

    • Anne says:

      Don’t be disturbed: it’s a very common writer problem. 🙂 I CAN focus, but I’m personally prone to distractions, and don’t have this problem at all when I’m at the library or cafe because I can’t wander down the hall to get a snack or go find that book I was just thinking of. I also never, ever use my laptop for social media when I’m out: that’s a personal rule, and it helps me get stuff done. And I’ve read research that says the steady buzz of background chatter at a coffee shop is good for focus and creativity. (I always work at home if I need our fast internet or lots of heavy books.)

      Also, the kids are often home with the sitter while I’m working, and while I CAN lock myself in my office, I think it’s better for everyone if I’m physically off the premises.

      I think the most important thing is to create personal work routines and stick to them so they become habits, in the best possible sense of the word.

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