I guess it may seem ironic that I’m writing this in the depths of one of my least time-management-efficient times yet, but here we are. I work with a baby. You asked me to write about it. I’m avoiding the stack of student loan paperwork on the desk. Let’s do this.
The two major pieces of working with a baby have been 1. figuring out realistic expectations of my workflow and 2. figuring out realistic expectations of my two year old. But, of course, there are a couple of caveats. For one, things got worlds easier when Little J hit about one year old (and it just keeps getting easier all the time). That first year (particularly the first few months) were really hard for me. I was adjusting to just plain old having him around, adjusting to being home, adjusting to some rapidfire career changes. But, also? Small babies eat constantly. They also aren’t very good at just, you know, keeping to themselves. Hangin out.
Two years in, not only is he more self reliant, but he can actually communicate with me when he needs or wants something (saving me a whole lot of time-consuming “Why is he crying!? Hungry? Wet? Tired? Cold? Bored?” guesswork). But also, I just know him better now. I know that he needs at least a few days a week outside. I know that if I have a work-heavy stretch, I need to carve out some “just us” time or he’ll feel neglected. I also know which activities make me feel like we’ve connected and spent real time together. Not too shabby for two short years.
The other caveat? I still don’t really know how much of what my kid does is “normal kid stuff” and how much is unique to him. Maybe every single tip I share today is useless to everyone who doesn’t have a kid exactly like mine? I don’t really know. Maybe my boy is just actually really friggin awesome? Possible.
-Schedule whatever work you can. Sure, there are unexpected pieces to owning your own business. But, I regularly have to make trips to the post office. I have a weekly column to write. Holidays impact workflow, and those are laid out on nice, regularly scheduled dates on the calendar. So, for those predictable aspects of business, I look ahead and schedule. I set specific work time on my calendar- a day each week to make a post office drop, a day to write, a month to prepare for Christmas. I also set myself deadlines. But, generous deadlines. If it normally takes me two days of uninterrupted worktime to complete something, I give myself five days to do it. There are numerous aspects of working from home that are unpredictable. Having those generous deadlines means that if things pop up, I’m not immediately weeded.
I thrive on deadlines and to-do lists. If I don’t build them into what I’m doing, I just end up futzing around and reading Mad Men recaps while eating handfuls of cereal from the box. For a little while there in the beginning, I set very strict deadlines for myself. But, I didn’t adequately account for, say, randomly needing to stop what I’m doing because someone has climbed in my lap with a choo choo book. I was frustrated constantly. Just constantly. He wasn’t letting me work! I had things to do! Then I would feel guilty for being frustrated instead of savoring those minutes with a chubby boy on my lap with his choo choo book.
I got tired of being so frustrated and torn, so after a few months of that headache, I stopped setting any deadlines and schedules at all. They weren’t working. So, why bother? Then, as a result, I spent a few months not accomplishing anything, because my time was quickly swallowed with walks to the park and those Mad Men recaps I mentioned.
So, now I set deadlines and I schedule specific days to do specific work. But, those days to do that work are a few days out from the deadline, so if I hit a snag and really, really, really need to stop and color in a circus coloring book for five minutes, nobody dies.
-Schedule kid time. This part wasn’t as obvious to me as the above, but now that I do it, it makes so much sense. If this day is for painting and this day is for writing, then that day is for a library walk and that day is for the park. In the same way that I slack on work if I don’t set deadlines for myself, I can easily get to the end of the week and realize I was “too busy” to spend any time with my son at all. Sometimes it means special outings, but other times it can mean blocking off a day where I don’t do any work while he’s awake, so I’m completely available for him and whatever we decide we want to do- fingerpainting? making cookies? Whatever. If I’m honest, it was a real transition for me to get to the point where I felt right in prioritizing this time. It seemed almost… indulgent? to have blocks of time scheduled for walks and books and wooden trains. But, the more we put it into practice, the more I see that my workflow goes smoother (and Little J is more willing to let me work) when we’ve spent a little time together already. I don’t feel nagging guilt, he doesn’t greedily try to take my every minute. Plus, we have some really awesome times together.
-Figure out ways to involve kiddo in your work. Alright, he doesn’t actually help me paint cards or send emails. But, sometimes I set him up to fingerpaint while I’m painting. It helps him to feel involved in what’s happening, and he seems less desperate to take my attention away from it. Other things we do include bringing my writing to the park or library or coffeeshop. Bringing his toy laptop and a cup of apple juice in bed with me as I sit and type with my coffee.
-Figure out which parts of your job allow for flexibility. Save the rest, the stuff that needs your focus, for naptime. Personally, I can’t write at all unless I have complete concentration. But, I can paint with a cat swatting at the brush and a baby throwing crayons at me and my husband explaining something that someone said at some sort of Apple convention. Piece of cake. Answering emails, ordering supplies, contacting craft shows and vending opportunities and advertising outlets all can happen while he’s awake and making noise and mess. I can set that stuff down when he spills a cup of grape juice, and come back to it without missing a beat. It’s not the same when I’m writing something long that requires a lot of thought, or when I’m brainstorming new design ideas. If I look away from that for one second, I completely forget where I left off and lose all my mojo.
-Learn to anticipate the busy points and adjust accordingly. This is one that I still haven’t mastered, but I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out eventually. If you know your job, you eventually figure out when it ebbs and flows. I’ve already made a few changes this year to try to dampen some of the urgency when those times hit. But, man. It’s hard. Right now, my philosophy is: assume that once in awhile, things will get dropped. And they do. In my house, the first things to go are 1. housework and 2. eating well* (and well, blogging. Sorry). Less often, but still sometimes, I don’t see Josh or I miss out on time with Little J. The weird thing is, just knowing that, meh it happens, sort of lessens the blow when it does. It doesn’t feel like the end of the world, because I know it’s bound to happen once in awhile, and I know that we’ll rebound from it. It’s even less of a guilt issue when I can anticipate those weeks before they happen, and make sure to plan some special “family time” or whatever immediately before and/or after. I also try to be really aware during those times, if that makes sense? I keep tabs on Josh and make sure we touch base, I keep an eye on Jr. and try to sense if he’s feeling left out or if he starts acting out (a sure sign that he’s missing me).
-Use some sort of shared calendar system. We use iCloud, Dropbox and Google Docs. Our calendar is color-coded with time blocked off for work, deadlines, family time, and anything else. We use Dropbox and Google Docs to share documents about our finances, business to do lists, and whatever else we need so that we’re both aware of business things and household things, even if they’re one person’s responsibility or the other’s. It helps us to stay on the same page.
-Loosen your standards on your housework. Ugggh still coping with this one. I’ll get back to you on it. I’ve heard kids + housework described a few ways. One: threading beads onto yarn with no knot. You get something accomplished, and swoosh, it slides down the yarn and back off again. Or: wading in the ocean. You think you’re just drifting there, but as soon as you stop actively swimming against the current, it’s already started pulling you away from the shore. If I’m not actively in the middle of cleaning up, the house is in the process of getting messier. Somewhere, somehow, it’s getting messier. And, even when I am in the process of picking up, there’s probably something that I’ve cleaned that’s being un-cleaned at the same time. It’s just the way it is. We have a nightly “whirlwind” where we go through and clean up what we can of the day. And Little J is active in cleaning up after his toys. But, man if the house isn’t messier than I’d like about 99% of the time. I LOVE a clean house. I feel my most clear-headed and motivated and productive when everything around me is neat and in its place. But that’s turning out not to be a realistic goal when you have a kid, let alone, when you’re working while watching that kid. One of those three things (child, work, housework) is bound to be neglected. In my house, it’s usually that third one.
-Kidproof. Meh. I’m not a huge kidproofer. We have one baby gate, and when necessary, I use it to keep him in his room while I take an important phone call or whatever. But, otherwise, we just keep fragile, glass, sharp, or otherwise dangerous things out of his reach. There’s a wooden bowl of lemons on my coffeetable, and nothing else. That means free reign, which also means I don’t need to hover. But, you know, that one baby gate does come in handy in a pinch.
-Put away the toys. While Little J’s room is (strategically?) littered with toys placed out on the floor or otherwise within reach, I put about half of his toys away. For starters, it keeps things organized. Any kid will get overwhelmed and bored with a toybox filled with a jumble of blocks, legos, cars, crayons and whatever else all tossed together. A kid doesn’t know what to do with all that mess. If you have everything put neatly away, you can sort of have guided play. If I notice he seems bored and antsy, then, WHOA! Look what I found in your closet! A whole box of legos! And the toys seem suddenly novel and new, just because they’ve been kept out of sight for a bit. These sorts of toys aren’t anything messy or dangerous. (I save the fingerpaints and rock collection for when I’m there to minimize the damage/ensure no one is choking.) My go-to’s are a bin of lego’s, a box of blocks, washable crayons and coloring books/paper, puzzles, a wooden train set, musical instruments, a record player, and a magnetic playboard with little magnetic animals. So, I’m sort of simultaneously keeping the toys fresh and interesting, controlling the mess, and allowing him some guided free reign in just playing and having fun.
Anyway, I obviously don’t do a terrific job at balancing everything. This little ol blog was gaining a good bit of steam last year, but when the holidays hit, I found that I just didn’t have enough hours in the day or appendages attached to my body to make everything work. While I’d like to pretend I’m okay with that, I’m really not. I hate to think about the pieces that slip through the cracks while I try to fit everything in. So it goes.
Anyone else working with a baby at home? Have tips to share? Inquiring minds!
*FOOD. So, we still rely on fast food french fries for a 10pm dinner more than I’d care to admit. But, I’ve been working on expanding a rotation of quick and easy healthy meals. The whole thing is a lot easier if we have lots of fresh fruit, a big tub of plain yogurt, hummus, some sort of nut butter, eggs, whole grain bread, beans and “fast” veggies (avocado, carrots, cherry tomato, green onion, cucumber, spinach- veggies that taste good raw, dipped in hummus or lemony yogurt). I keep a tub of homemade pasta sauce in the freezer, and a bag of frozen pizza dough, and whenever I make soup, stew or chili, I try to save and freeze half of it. We’ve also been making this pasta, using whatever leafy green is in the house. I’m sadly okay with losing my own grip on nutrition for a short stretch (a bowl of cheese fries and a can of Red Bull can really pull a person through a late night) but I get panicky about Little J’s nutrition, and it’s nice to have easy options within reach.