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.


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.


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. Kimberly says…

    This article COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY inspired me and the timing couldn't be more perfect. With four boys - two who are at home every day - I find it difficult to find a routine that is productive when it comes to getting work done at home. I feel so blessed to be able to stay home, but at the same time, am at a point where I want my days to be far more productive than they are. I feel inspired to start a new plan today thanks to you!

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  2. JosieK says…

    Thank you for posting your day from start to finish and all the incidentals...I'm always interested to know if other families have the same issues we do and it's incredibly comforting to know they do!
    When I grow up, I wanna be you Ali!!

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  3. Gretchen Knutson says…

    So beautifully said! There is always so much to take from your posts, especially this one. I have 6 kids, so life is, needless to say, hectic. I'm going to check out your link to Things. By the way-where did you get Anna's skirt in the top picture? I would love to get one for my two year old Harper :)
    Hope you have a perfectly flowy day!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…

      Hi Gretchen - I think that one came from Target (and was purchased last spring if I remember right).

  4. Gretchen Knutson says…


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  5. emily ruth says…

    so great... inspiring & such wonderful reminders...love the whole entire thing :) thank you!

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  6. Lynn Mercurio says…

    Wow - I throughly loved reading this post. I saw so much of myself (both past and present) and can relate to the business of life. I wish that I could have a work at home life, but being ever closer to retirement, I'm just looking forward to "being at home". Thanks for your thoughtful insight, today and with each post.

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  7. Lisa W. says…

    Oh my so nice to hear the craziness of everyone else's life. I have to be honest...I am way jealous (in a wonderful positive kind of way:) that you get to work from home. SOOOOOOOO nice and so nice for your children. They will REMEMBER that you were always there for them!!!!!!!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!!!

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  8. annie says…

    Thank you, Ali. This was a really good reminder to appreciate all the little details that make up our lives and not stress over the stupid stuff that gets in the way. You rock.

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  9. abbie says…

    What a great post, Ali!
    I love how you've taken the time to strategically think through your days & figure out what works best for all 4 of you. (Instead of just let the years roll by in "tyranny of the urgent" mode.) Isn't it wonderful when you get into a good routine? not much better than that. :-)

    Thanks for sharing.

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  10. robyn jenkins says…

    "This is our life. Real, basic, wonderfully imperfect everyday life."
    This is an even better quote for the opening page of my Project Life album than the one from Anna Quindlen. Thanks for all you share.

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  11. abbie says…

    ....and one more thing I neglected to say...
    this post is also a good reminder to me to shoot for this (a good, sustainable family routine) in our own family. Unfortunately we've been in a (too) busy season & some days I find myself just trying to put one foot in front of the other and get the next thing done.
    So anyway, thanks for the inspiration.

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  12. Catherine Aguilera says…

    Hi Ali,
    I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for such an honest and open peek into your life. You are so generous with the sharing of your story and journey. I was particularly impressed with your belief, “Being busy does not bring meaning to my life.” I embrace this with all my heart. Many of my friends have every second of every day scheduled with activities and I come away feeling like I need to do "more" but the reality is I am then not happy. It is wonderful when people you like and admire share beliefs that reinforce your own : )
    Thanks for sharing with us,
    Thanks so much for the links to find digital frames that channel polaroid frames

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  13. Kate L. says…

    Thanks for the insights and reminders, Ali. I'm actually home from my full-time job today with a sick baby girl. I was frustrated at first, but now I'm trying to embrace it. These days go so fast. I also put away the "work" and I am using naptime to read some of my favorite blogs (like yours). Thanks.

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  14. Karen says…

    Great post Ali. Thank you for sharing and helping me keep things under perspective and realizing I too have an amazing life. Listening (which by the way is my OLW for the years) is helping me pay attention to my daily routine and my interactions with my children, my spouse, my friends, and helping me make better choices that enrich my life and allow for living in the moment and taking it all in and going with the flow and rhythm of my day....

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  15. Jenny W says…

    I have just posted the lines from Mary Oliver's poem on my classroom whiteboard as today's quote of the day for my high school students. Loved reading today's post, and seeing similarities in some of the ways we approach life, and some ideas as well. Thanks for the inspiration (and for making good links so I could go read the whole poem!)

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  16. Clare Mulvany says…

    That Mary Oliver one sure knows how to inspire.. look what happened to me!!
    I love her words, and use them as a guide and pointe too...

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  17. Rebecca Havenstein-Coughlin says…

    Love this! Thanks so much for sharing your life so transparently and inviting us along on your daily journey. So much I want to mull over from this post.

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  18. Teresa says…

    What an inspiring read, Ali! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  19. Alicia says…

    I absolutely loves this reflection and its tone to embrace regularity but allow for flexibility. Planning on 3 set meals sounds amazing. I need to do more of that and allowing regulars to pop in each week.

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  20. susanne says…

    LOve that you share your family life with us. You are such an inspiration! I wish i had the all of the documentation on just the little things of the everyday as you do. Those will be such precious memories for your children as they are older. Can I also tell you I LOVE the photo of anna watching the bus come. Our days at home are a little more opposite of one another- 2 days during the week I work 12 hour shifts in the evenings, so on those days I don't even see my boys but it is what works best for our family right now, as our daughter is 2 1/2 and this takes her to a babysitter for the least amount of time.
    I also love reading about Simon's interests as my Tyler is 8 and into much of what simon is. Legos, captain underpants ect.
    I hope to learn from you how to make time/find time to document more of the everyday. I have a big habit of starting projects and not finishing them ( I am still working on my december daily, but i resolve to get it done!) Thanks for sharing!

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  21. dawn says…

    Hi Ali, I read this fast last night and couldn't wait to get thru my chores today before reading it slowly again then again while taking notes. The way you docutmented this was so helpful and so real, just like us who read your blogs. I have to say that having your dedication and focus is on my wish list. As a stay at home mom the day sometimes gets away from me when I read all these blogs then their links or check a couple things out and before I know it it's lunchtime and the kids are almost home. On other days I sit and scrap/craft then realize that no chores got done and feel guilty again. So I'm hoping this post and these quotes are going to make me focus/balance more in my days. I found we do some of the same things, laundry in the a.m./hang out with son during homework/family meals/going outside to clear head/always always picking up/ not much tv/ the one thing that surprised me was about going to bed early, I've always pictured you staying up till midnight most days to get all that you do finished. So thank you again for making this so detailed and adding the cute pictures.

    By the way you mentioned having a week in the life this summer, do you have an idea as to when? Would like to plan for that week to be home and not to busy. Thanks and looking forward to doing that album again with you.

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  22. Bree says…

    I just had a conversation with my sister last week about a busy life NOT being a full life (as is often said by the pastor's wife at our church). The way you put this post together was so helpful to see the difference between intentional living and just being busy and doing things to fill up your days. Thank you for showing us the difference here :-)

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  23. lindsey says…

    This was a post I really needed to hear today. Be present in what is brought my way, even if it isn't planned. And if I am sacrificing whatever, get over it. Thank you for your thoughts on attitude.

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  24. Christy Harris says…

    Thank you so much for this post Ali. Some of the things that you said really hit me and I even blogged about it (including some of your words) here http://simplyharris.blogspot.com/2011/01/finding-that-balance.html
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your words and your open heart! You have given me much to think about

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  25. Carol says…

    You seem to have it figured out and have your priorities straight. I admire you for that.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…

      I definitely don't think I've got it figured out - there's always more to learn and new things to encounter on this journey :).

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