One of my favorite recent books was 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam. In it she writes about each week having 168 Hours and urges us to ask where our hours are going each week. If you work 40 and sleep 55, then you have 73 hours, or more than ten hours each day, to do other things. After reading it I’ve been more judicious with my choices.
Recently she wrote a post about how she was trying to get work in while staying home with her kids. Vanderkam wrote:
“If you get 3 hours of preschool, 2 hours of nap or enforced quiet time, do 30 minutes here and there while dealing with the kids, and maybe 90 minutes after bedtime, that’s 7 hours a day. That’s basically full time.”
This has been my routine for the past six years. When I was teaching college classes we only got a babysitter if I had class or a meeting. When I was working with students it was the same, only face-to-face time meant I wasn’t at home. Office hours I held digitally, papers were graded at night, emails got sent on weekends during free time.
In the early days I remember thinking on a Friday night that if I could just get five papers graded then my work for the weekend and next week would be a lot easier. Even now as I’m trying a career shift there is no extra childcare. How can I pay a babysitter when I’m not being paid myself? After six years I’ve realized a few things that do help me work well from home. Here are a few tips I’ve learned.
1. Don’t fret about TV being a babysitter. I’m very judicious about letting my kids watch TV. There is a consistent theme in research that suggests TV may not be bad for you, it has a high opportunity cost. Where you could be reading with your kids or they could be playing outside they are not. In Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Bryan Caplan first suggested it to me to use it as a spot babysitter and I’ll do this on occasion. My now 6-year-old and 4-year-old can sit through Frozen (again) but as Vanderkam wrote it can be hit or miss for how much deep work you can do, which leads me to the next thing I learned.
2. Do the work that the moment requires. I’m writing this post at 7:00AM on a Saturday. Mornings before my daughters and wife wake up are times for me to dive into something that requires a clear head and sharp focus. I do nearly all my writing in the morning. Email and social media I save for moments that pop up throughout the day like trips to the park or when my kids are playing nicely. I do most of my editing during the afternoon hours and my reading takes up time in the late morning or night when the kids are asleep. Learning what to do when has made the hours I get more productive but also the quarter hours that pop up surprisingly. Like finding a twenty dollar bill in an old coat I spend that on groceries rather than an impulse.
3. Hit the ground running. My best days of work are days when I have a plan, and this applies to both writing and my personal life. Today’s writing plan looked like this.
- Draft post on Vanderkam (this one)
- Install new writing scripts
- Compile Evernote inbox
- Get books into Evernote
- Outline post on Evernote and Kindle usage
- Clean up 4 Bodies project
As soon as I sat down with my coffee I began work. Without my first items I lack the focus to start the march forward.
4. My ideas improve from percolating. A few times a day I’ll activate Siri and begin saying, “Email Evernote, Subject….” and dictate an idea. It turns out that even though I can’t work all day, that’s not a bad thing. After tracking my working time in the mornings I’ve found that after four hours my work becomes loose when I want it tight. I need to take mental breaks and time spent with my daughters it the perfect antidote for a tired mind and fertile ground for unconscious ideas.
“Life’s no soft affair.” Recently I’ve kept this quote from Seneca in the front of my mind when facing challenges, even as small as time management ones. Life is designed to be an uphill, hard working slug. There would be no point to life without obstacles to overcome, the celebration of victory, and the attitude to approach another.
Do you work from home, let me know your tips on Twitter, @MikeDariano.
// Photo is from the Fort Findlay playground in Findlay Ohio. A great place for kids to play, and adults to knock out a few emails.