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Daily Work-At-Home Rhythms & Things I Have Learned

I’ve received a few requests recently for a post about my work-at-home schedule or more specifically, “what does your day look like?” and “how do you fit it all in?

My work at home journey started about six or seven years ago and it’s been continually evolving and changing over time. These changes reflect the passage of time, my workload, the change of seasons (literally and more figuratively), the addition of family members, Chris’ work, inspiration, travel, and on and on.

We struggle with the same issues many families face, and some that are more unique to our own personal situation. Some days things completely fall apart and other days everything hums right along. My hope is that through sharing these details of our lives you might find one little thing that will make a positive impact for you and your family. If find it’s often simply one little thing that acts a springboard for making life-affirming adjustments.

To begin I want to share two lines from Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day that I keep top of mind and close to my heart as I approach and schedule my days:

For me that thought, those specific words, are a marker, a springboard, and a measuring stick.

When I need to re-evaluate anything, Mary’s words come to mind…”one wild and precious life.” They lead me back to my core beliefs and help me make decisions that mesh with those things that are most precious to me.

This is our life. Real, basic, wonderfully imperfect everyday life.

THE RHYTHM OF MY DAY

MORNING | Chris and I are up early, usually 6am. Simon’s alarm goes off at 6:15am. Anna yells “Mama” sometime around 6:30am.

The day starts with a simple breakfast (toast, bagel with cream cheese, or bowl of cereal) for Chris and the kids and something hot to drink for the adults. I usually have a bowl of oatmeal after everyone else has started their day.

Simon gets up early enough that he doesn’t have to rush. He takes his time while eating breakfast (there are lots of reminders from us that usually sound like “Keep eating Simon.”) I’m not a fan of rushing and would much rather get up a bit earlier to give us all a little more time to adjust to the start of a new day. After breakfast he gets himself dressed, brushes his teeth, we brush his hair, and then we wait together for the bus.

The bus comes for Simon at 7:10.

Most days I don’t take a shower until later in the day after I’ve exercised (more on that below).

I also often throw in a load of laundry first thing. I’m a fan of hearing those machines humming along.

CHILDCARE | We have two babysitters that share childcare responsibilities – both are an integral part of the way we function during the week. One is a long-time friend and the other we found through Care.com. Both are loved as a member of our family. Two days a week Anna is cared for outside our house and the other three days she and the babysitter are here. Childcare began for Anna when she was about 6 months old.

On two days of the week Anna goes to one of their houses for childcare – she gets picked up around 7am. On the opposite days of the week our other babysitter comes here and watches Anna at our house. She arrives at 8am.

WORK | After the kids are on their way or settled in, I go upstairs to work.

In our home we have a bonus room that is used as my office. I like that it’s away from the regular traffic within the house. I like that I “go to” work in a specific place. I also like that it has a door that can be closed at the end of my work day. I feel this set up has helped me be more present in both my work hours and my family hours.

My daily work schedule is flexible. It’s a mix of email, writing, creating stuff with my hands, designing products, photographing, linking, uploading, creating content, dreaming up ideas, telling stories, monitoring classrooms & message boards, answering questions, and more writing. There’s also billing and planning and occasional phone calls.

I don’t have a set schedule I follow during my work hours but I do tend to have an agenda each day. I have an ongoing project/task list and a calendar – both keep me in tune with project deadlines. There are many ways I could be more efficient – efficient is a word that comes to me often during the day.

I use a program called Things for keeping track of projects. My sister just introduced me to TeuxDeux (an online to-do list) that I might test out. It’s even simpler than Things. Right now I’m just trying to see if it would actually be helpful for me or just add another level of list-making.

I’m working on not adding other layers of lists/stuff/places to visit – too many makes me less efficient. Sometimes it’s easy to spend way too much time searching for “just the right thing” when in reality whatever I was using was just fine.

I’m thankful everyday for my flexible schedule.

EXERCISE | Over the last year making exercise happen during the day has become very important to me. I now see it simply as a part of my day.

I run from home. I bike from home. I run and swim at the gym.

Some days I exercise before I start working. Other days I wait until later, depending on what’s on my work agenda, when I worked-out the day before, and what activity I wan to do that day. I used to feel like I needed to have a fixed schedule for this – now my one and only goal is to exercise once a day. I find myself exercising more consistently since I’ve given myself more flexibility.

As I’ve been running more I find it really hard to sit at my desk for long periods of time like I used to and this is awesome since I’ve been working on not being married to my computer. Often I’ll just get up and run outside when I get to the point that I just can’t take sitting at my computer for another minute (or when I find myself mindlessly surfing or being hopelessly inefficient). Getting out and getting it done has definitely helped me be more focused when I return to my computer.

People often say that running clears their head and heart. I have found that to be absolutely true.

AFTERNOON | Simon returns home from school around 2:45pm. He usually plays legos or video games for a bit and has a snack before he tackles the homework. We’re working on incorporating daily reading time for him as well – having him have an interest in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is totally helping (he’s also starting to enjoy reading before bed). After his homework is done it’s usually more legos or a video or playing outside when it’s warmer or chasing Anna around inside when it’s raining.

Right now he’s not in swimming lessons but I’d like to get him back into those as well.

While Simon is doing homework Anna is usually hanging out in the kitchen/dining room area playing or coloring or painting. Our babysitter facilitates this afternoon routine on the days she is here.

On the days she’s not here I meet Simon when he gets off the bus (it comes to our house) and hang out with him while he transitions to being at home. Depending on what I’m working on I try to have something I can do on my laptop so I can hangout with him in the kitchen/dining room area or I do things like move the laundry around, fold clothes, pick up toys, empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, etc.

DINNER | Dinner gets underway around 5:30pm. The kids are hungry at that time and I like to eat early and I enjoy how the day flows into night with dinner as the transition point. Depending on Chris’ schedule he’s able to make it or not (different times of the year are different for him). I do a general meal plan (sometimes written out and sometimes often just in my head) for the week that usually includes three main cooking nights with a specific recipe while other nights are leftovers or weekly favorites like tostadas or baked potatoes. On the days that I’m here with Simon in the afternoon I’ll often spend some of that time prepping dinner.

I like to cook. I especially like to cook with a plan in place and the correct ingredients on hand. Grocery shopping happens once a week with maybe one additional stop for more OJ or milk.

We’ve been making progress with Simon and his eating habits and that’s been really, really nice. It’s still drama-filled at times, but it’s so much better than it used to be. At least now we can usually get him to eat what’s on his plate – or at least try it. The best thing is that I’m not cooking more than one meal anymore. Whatever I make is what we’re having and we have a balance of things each week that he can rely on and likes combined with the new foods (like we always have tostadas – his favorite – once a week). He seems more open to the new foods when we can say “last night we had tostadas, tonight we’re having spaghetti” (a non-preferred food).

Eating together, all four of us at the table, is really one of my favorite things. Even when it’s challenging with Simon, even when we end up sitting there for almost an hour as he takes one tiny bite at a time, even when Anna’s ready to get down from her booster chair after one bite, even then it’s still something I treasure. It’s often the only time of the day when we are all together in one room at the same time.

I’m hoping to get a new table to eat out in our backyard this summer.

 

EVENING | After the dinner dishes are done we hang out – playing hide & go seek is the recent favorite – before the bedtime routines begin. Bedtime for Anna is between 7 and 7:30pm with a bath before. Simon’s been staying up until 8 or 8:30pm.

Sometimes the dishes stay in the sink until the next morning. My preference is to get them done after dinner, but I go with the flow and the mood and the opportunity.

Once the kids are in bed it’s time to do more work or hang out on the couch with Chris. We watch DVR’d Jon Stewart, Modern Family, 60 Minutes, Glee, or American Idol, or a Netflix movie we might have on hand. Sometimes we both have our computers on our laps and other times we’re just hanging out.

I like to be in bed by 10pm or earlier. Most nights I read in bed – no computer or TV in our bedroom.

And then we do it all again.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED (AND AM STILL LEARNING)

TRIAL + ERROR = EVOLUTION | There’s no magic formula. There’s no prescription, no set things to do or a specific set of things to follow. It’s simply trial and error and evolution. When our schedule/set-up starts not working, I change things up. This time next year it’s likely that things will have changed again.

I think one of the most important things in setting up your day is to be fully aware of your core values. If you don’t know what you value most it’s pretty difficult to keep that focus first and foremost in your heart and mind. What do you want your life to be about? How do you want to spend your time? What’s most important to you? If those things aren’t being nurtured it’s likely time to make some changes.

ESTABLISH A FLOWING ROUTINE | Over the years our daily routines have come and gone. Being open to going with the flow and adapting to the established routines with as little upset as possible is a part of our daily life. There have been times when we stick really close to certain routines (especially when Simon was younger) and other times when it’s been easier to be flexible.

For me, knowing the flow of activities throughout the day works better than having set times. Waking up flows into breakfast flows into getting dressed flows into brushing teeth, etc.

WEEKENDS = FAMILY | I work hard to keep most of my work within the confines of Monday through Friday. The weekends are family-time, relaxation, adventure or just doing nothing. I work ahead during the week so I’m not stressing on Sunday night that I don’t have something lined up for Monday morning.

SAY NO | I say “no” a lot. I still say “yes” quite a bit, but saying no has gotten easier and it gives me more freedom to focus on what I care about most (both in work and family life).

SYSTEMS | I like things to be organized and have a natural tendency towards order. I like the things we own to have a home -  a specific place to be put away. We each have a shoe basket in our entry. We each have a dirty clothes basket in our bedroom closets. I’m keenly aware of how I feel when certain systems aren’t working as I’d like and I change them up to see if something new will work better.

I find it’s easier to keep our stuff picked up when there’s a very specific place to put that stuff away. I’m one of those people that functions better in general when things are in their right place. I work with the kids to keep things picked up but I don’t stress about it and I’m not fanatical – I just take care of it.

CHOICES | I’m not a do-it-all person. I’m more of a do-less person. Actually, there are lots of things I like to do, many of which include just hanging out with my family without being distracted by a myriad of other obligations. I take very seriously the choices I make in how I spend my time. I have no desire to be super-busy. When I’m super busy I find myself complaining way too much (all complaints about being busy) when I should be enjoying whatever it is that’s happening around me.

I want to live a full life. Busy does not equal full.

Last Thursday night I read this post from Tara Whitney which included this statement: “Being busy does not bring meaning to my life.” This is one of those things I believe wholeheartedly. I make time for what I love. The pace of our days is important to me.

Leo from Zen Habits also has a post on this that's inspiring: The End Of Busy. Also check out How To Live In The Land Of Enough: Time from Be More With Less.

PERSPECTIVE & ATTITUDE | Since starting my work at home journey, along with all my other work and life adventures over the last six or so years, I find my perspective continually evolving: 

  • I don’t want to always be working on trying to find that magic place where everything runs smoothly. I don’t want that to be my focus. I’d much rather simply focus on being engaged with my kids when it’s that time and engaged with my work when it’s that time and engaged with Chris when it’s that time and engaged with myself when it's me time. I’m acutely aware when my attitude is heading downhill. I’m working on taking a deep breath and refocusing on what’s most important.
  • A big challenge for me occurs on the days when childcare issues come up. My first inclination is to let the stress and pressure rise up as I think of my to-do list and my deadlines and any other agenda items that might be on my list for the day. My second inclination is to get mad and think, “how come it’s me that has to give up what was on my list for the day?” I round that all out with a firm GET OVER IT and a reminder to myself to embrace the wonderful opportunity to spend special time with Anna. Attitude, attitude, attitude.
  • It’s easy to get trapped in the cycle of always trying to find that elusive perfect balance when in reality what you have at any given time might be just right. These days I'm less focused on trying to find the perfect balance (not sure it even exists) and more focused on something I mentioned above: being engaged with my kids when it’s that time, engaged with my work when it’s that time, engaged with Chris when it’s that time, engaged with myself when it's me time.
  • Even with a list of things to-do a mile long, so many things on my list can wait. "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
  • Things are always changing.

READ | I like to read about ways to bring peace and calm into our lives. But what I’m really working on is reading less about it and doing more about simply living that way. Here’s some recent blog posts I’ve encountered that speak to some of these issues: 


I love being a working Mom. I love my family. I love my work. I love that I get to work from home. I especially love that my family is a big part of the things I create and the work I do.

My "wild and precious life" is evolving one day at a time. And I am oh so thankful for it every single day.

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220 thoughts

  1. Freda says…
    01/26/2011

    Thanks for sharing your days so vividly. As I said before it reminds me of a time when I was at home and the family were young. Working from home as a minister happened for me when the children were adults so things got easier. You do lead a busy life, but it seems to suit you all. Every Blessing

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. tara w says…
    01/26/2011

    This is wonderful. I am going to need to soak it all in. xo

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Jean says…
    01/26/2011

    Laundry humming first thing = bliss for me. I love having a routine and laundry is an integral part of that routine. Terrific post on how there is no "one way" or "right way" to making it work.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Kristi says…
    01/26/2011

    You are *AMAZING*... an absolute inspiration on so very many levels.

    Thank you for the gift of sharing yourself with all of us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Tweets that mention Daily Work-At-Home Rhythms & Things I Have Learned | Ali Edwards -- Topsy.com says…
    01/26/2011

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ali Edwards, Kenzlane. Kenzlane said: Great post! Very insightful! Thanks 4 sharing :)RT @aliedwards: Daily Work-At-Home Rhythms & Things I Have Learned http://bit.ly/eHnX7n [...]

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. kelly willette says…
    01/26/2011

    awesome!!!!! LOVED reading this.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Deb says…
    01/26/2011

    I enjoyed reading about dinner with Simon.....similiar to dinner with Jonathan at my house over the years. Now at seventeen, he works at subway(he is a very precise sandwich artist) and tries many different foods! He has gone from five favorite dinners to looking forward to a college cafeteria. Don't give up on family dinner, the interpersonal/social skills Jonathan has learned at the table are worth all the individual nights of struggle at the table!

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Michele H. says…
    01/26/2011

    There is so much good stuff here Ali! Love this post so very much!

    Question: On the days that your childcare provider watches Anna at home, how does Anna do with you at home as well? eek...hope that made sense.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      01/26/2011

      She does well.

      The separation of space in this house makes it nice - I either have to go downstairs to see what they're up to or they have to come into my office. Some days I eat lunch with them. Most days they head out for activities - music and a gym class right now - so they aren't always here either.

      Before they head out on adventures they usually come up here and say goodbye with a hug and a kiss and off they go.

      Of course there are some days when she comes running in here and just wants to hang out with me. We take those days as they come :).

  9. Leah G says…
    01/26/2011

    really enjoyed reading this; for the last year or so in particular, i've been struggling with learning to fit it all in AND enjoying life at the same time. i still haven't gotten the right balance for me and my family, but it is a comfort to find that i am not alone in this journey.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Laurie says…
    01/26/2011

    What a fabulous look at what another working mom's day is like. I like your emphasis on having routines yet knowing that flexibility and change are important. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Suzanne W says…
    01/26/2011

    I learned the hard way last year when I worked outside the home that I was just "surviving" life. I was also becoming "crabby mom" which isn't me at all!

    At this point, I'm trying to figure out what I really want to do and how to do it, keeping my priorities in check. Motherhood can certainly be tough sometimes, but in the end, worth every minute! :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. telisj says…
    01/26/2011

    Thank you for writing this lengthy post and for sharing your philosophy with us! It gave me much to think about and contemplate. Too often, I beat myself up by telling myself I am lazy but in actualality, I just want to be. I, too, can't stand being "busy" and feel there are far too many people/families who are on this "busy" quest with a myraid of activities. Being engaged is where it is at! :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Jen says…
    01/26/2011

    love love love this post.....i could hear myself speaking to me and you saying what i am screaming to say! our day to days are quite similar but i love your quotes and have been struggling myself to "get it all done" and driving myself crazy and my family crazy - to be martha, as my husband puts it (then he also mentions quietly that she is divorced). this shows me to step back and think about my "wild and precious life" and how i want to remember it. i definitely don't want to remember it as we have been going and it has to change. less stress and more fun! thanks again!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Denise Laborde says…
    01/26/2011

    So nicely said, Ali.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Debbie S. says…
    01/26/2011

    Thank you so much for sharing....awesome! :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Amy says…
    01/26/2011

    THank you Ali for taking the time to let us all have a peek into your day. I always find it interesting to hear what another person's daily life looks like. My hubby and I are trying to establish a work week routine to help with our working from home/working from office schedules. Thank you for the reminder of being engaged with family, work, life rather than trying to find the perfect solution (which I should by now know does not exist - but thank you for reminding me of that too :). Again really appreciate your wisdom and thoughts on this!

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Jessica @ The Virtual Scrapbook says…
    01/26/2011

    Wow. What a list!! Thanks for sharing with us! I LOOOOOOOOOVE the two quotes you included. They're going to be two of my new mantras! Thanks!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. amy tangerine says…
    01/26/2011

    love the quotes, love the details of your days.

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Katherine says…
    01/26/2011

    Thank you so much for sharing. It made interesting reading. I am really trying to learn to go with the flow more instead of freaking out when things do not go as planned - a bad habit of mine.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Jen says…
    01/26/2011

    Lots of kernels of truth in there, and not just for working moms. Thanks for taking the time to write it all out.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Maureen says…
    01/26/2011

    Beautifully said Ali. Even I get that foolish "How come it's me who..." has to wipe the counters after you, has to remind you where the x,y,z is...Has to has to has to. It's so not who I want to be.

    One of the things I was glad to leave behind when I retired was the importance of being busy or more accurately the importance of seeming busy. Busy equating with important. Efficient can be accomplished in a calm unhurried manner and is so much better for the arteries and the soul.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Elisa Nishimura says…
    01/26/2011

    Thanks for this post. I'm looking for a to-do software and am going to check the two that you mentioned.

    Great inspirational post.

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Sonya R says…
    01/26/2011

    Your Simon and my Joey are about 7 months apart in age. Joey loves Legos and video games, and especially, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Have you and Simon read the Captain Underpants Series? Joey loved it and there are about 8 books to enjoy!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      01/27/2011

      We do have some of the Captain Underpants books. I think I'll steer him there next :).

  24. Jennifer Levin says…
    01/26/2011

    Wow!! Thank you, Ali!! I loved reading this post, and I'm so glad you shared it with us. One thing that I really noticed throughout all of it is an incredible sense of calm that you have about things. I don't feel that you are incredibly stressed on a daily basis, and I SO admire that.

    I loved this post so much that I actually took notes!! I wrote things down to think about and look at again. Thank you so much! You are such an inspiration and a terrific teacher!

    ~Jen

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. Lee says…
    01/26/2011

    Very well done! A nice insight to the actual happenings in your house and your intentions. I've become fond of saying to those who question the crazy of my days that "my life is not busy, it is full". Good for you deciding on how to fill yours - and thanks for sharing!

    Reply 0 Replies

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