Last week the world sent kids back to school without leaving the house. I say world, but I mean our little house–as well as many other homes around certain districts in our city and surrounding US. It was a huge deal; educators had to scramble to develop some kind of e-learning based strategy while facing the exhausting, scary, stressful pandemic that still grips us all.
Family First, Work Second
Putting family first and work second has been really hard for me to do, honestly, and I want to say that sounds awful–but it isn’t. In fact, all of us probably have a hard time shifting our priorities and reframing our world to fit a new normal that isn’t normal at all. I miss quiet mornings after my older three have left, and it feel less restful and more stressful a lot of the time. But I’ve decided to remind myself that if I can successfully put the kids before my own work, there will be more time left for my personal work goals after everyone is on task, regulated.
As I shape learning around the online curriculum put forth by the teachers and school district, I try to incorporate learning strategies for myself. I’m as much of a learner in this situation as they are. I’m constantly figuring out how to structure the day so everyone gets the time and attention that they need.
I also see so much of myself in all my kids in the ways they learn, the ways they get frustrated with hard concepts, and the ways they devise coping and learning strategies. If nothing else, that has caused me to have a better sense of empathy and also, I have to laugh at these tiny mirrors of myself all over the house.
Since I’m a writer, this is the subject I get most passionate about–but most frustrated with when I see sloppy efforts from the very people that took up real estate in my own body for nine months. At the end of the day, though, we’ve been embracing the journey together and I’m hopeful my middle schooler, especially, will exit this strange period of homeschooling with a better sense of paragraph and essay structure than she had before our homebound time began.
And since I’m an artist, of course, art lessons are the absolute best part of the day (and please check out the Artful Parent for so many wonderful ideas!!!). So far, we’ve explored paint and composition. We took found objects (rocks, buttons, some destructed dead flowers) and played with the idea of composition on some plain white Bristol paper. It was fun to make moveable art that wasn’t permanent. My five year old asked where the glue was and she seemed genuinely shocked that our art was not, in fact, meant to stay on the paper.
We took pictures, but otherwise it was purely an experiment in tactile joy and an experiential delight. I found it freeing, too, to not have yet another “masterpiece” to store somewhere (or, really, throw away without being found out by the kids).
We tackle the other subjects with the help of Pinterest, IXL, and the lessons we see in the world on a daily basis. It won’t be easy, but I have found the more I give to them, the more I get back. We can’t pour from an empty cup, but sometimes I am too much of the mindset that I need to work or meet a goal before I have time for lessons or games.
I hope I can remember to be a lifelong learning right next to them. I hope I can set aside my emails and work goals long enough to really enjoy a round of Slap Jack and Go Fish. I hope I can genuinely let go of my To-Do list to completely fall into a lesson in composition and an experiment in science with my kids.
If you’re in the same boat, let us know how it’s going in the comments! I’m letting go and leaning in, and I hope you can, too. Be kind–these days are long while the years are short, and we’re all in this together.
I figure everyone is working from home, so, as a work-from-home freelance writer, I wanted to share some strategies for increasing productivity and utilizing block scheduling. As a work-at-home mom, I’m fairly used to (and well equipped) to be flexible and creative in ways I get things done. I’ve been utilizing this super effective method for some time, but only now realized it is, like, a thing and people call it block scheduling.
I previously discussed ways small businesses need to change their approach during the Coronavirus pandemic, and now I want to talk about ways people–small business owners, self-employed people, and traditionally employed folks–can all make the most of these days spent home under the realm of social-distancing.
Ways To Build a Block Schedule
Build a block schedule by examining your goals, your responsibilities and your hours of availability. Instead of an overwhelming list of things to do and trying to find time to do them, find chunks of time (hours or even 30 minute increments) and start filling those calendar spaces with tasks and projects.
Figure out daily to-dos and recurring tasks that need to be on the schedule.
Consider important work goals and deadlines that have fixed or inflexible due dates.
Think about recurring appointments or routines that you must work around.
Start considering your day in chunks of times rather than lists of itemized to-dos.
1. Dailies & Tasks
This sort of runs parallel to numeric point three below, but it’s on a smaller scale. Do you like to walk the dog at ten? Do your kids leave for school by a certain time? Do you have certain chores you prefer to do in the morning vs. the afternoon? A lot of my work-from-home-strategy banks on nap time of our youngest, who is still home full-time, and when the others are all gone for school (which is now irrelevant because we’re all here, all the time, because Coronavirus).
But these types of daily chores and routines can be a helper, not an enemy, to your block scheduling. For instance, I know everyone won’t be out the door until eight a.m. and then I know the baby will be ready to nap at 9 so–instead of trying to cram work in somewhere in the early morning (because if I lived alone in a weirdly isolated perfect world, that is what my Type A Personality would enjoy)–I work with this routing. A normal Monday–when we have no other appointments typically, and when people can leave the house (lol), my schedule looked like this:
6 a.m. nurse the baby
(I’m an early riser. This was hard because I felt I should be getting up at 5.30 a.m. But this was easily deemed impractical once I honestly had a look at the schedule and realized I’m up a lot at night with the baby and inevitably she always was ready to eat at 6 a.m.)
7 a.m. Bigger Kids off to school
7.30 a.m. Household upkeep, just a bit
(usually dishes. Always the damn dishes)
8 a.m. Play with the baby and get her tired!! Start some laundry.
9 a.m. Nurse & Nap. And now I can WORK
9.30 a.m. Schedule Any Client Calls or Zoom Conferencing etc.
10-Noon Writing for Clients/Batch Blogging the Posts You’re Reading Here
Noon-2 Organize Social Media, Work on Illustration, Eat Something Probably
(The Baby wakes up somewhere in that last block. She doesn’t understand punctuality, clearly Block Scheduling is her thing also)
2-3 pm Creative Work, Printing Stuff, Prep the Next Day
3.15 pm Eldest arrives home and Snacks, Mom-Time, Homework Help, and Family Art Class all begin.
Hopefully you can see that, with this structure, I have a lot of flexibility with fairly defined guidelines in place. For instance, I find it easier to dedicate uninterrupted time to play and enjoy my fourth and final baby. That is so important to me, let me tell you, to enjoy that last round of firsts and finals. Knowing that yes, our routine and schedule allows for work time makes it much easier to shift my full attention and focus to just her without worry or stress.
When I shift into work mode once Baby H is down, I’m not locked into a singular specific task. If I have a client call, I handle that–but otherwise, I can choose from a list of things that can fit in this hefty chunk of work time. It really boils down to Writing Time for two hours, and organizationally this works–but it always works with my schedule, not against it.
Once Baby H wakes up, of course, I feed/change and do the mom thing a bit. It is the perfect time to switch to the more fluid and sometimes flexible workflow of illustrating. Baby H can remain entertained while I get some sketches down or scan some illustrations. I’ve been known to paint with her on my hip, but that is getting a bit dangerous now that she is a bit more capable of finger-painting.
Usually, she has an afternoon nap. I crank out the more detailed demands of illustration, file prep or emails, and get those things out there before my kids start arriving in quick succession starting at 3.15 p.m.
It isn’t perfect, some days are different, but for the most part, I know how certain chunks of time go. I have a set type of task that goes into certain designated chunks of time.
2. Work Deadlines & Inflexible Dates
Instead of looking at these like looming lines of death, look at these like excited finish lines to cross victoriously and celebrate. With the help of block scheduling, you are going to smash these goals, maybe even finish early, and celebrate with cake. Or whatever you like to celebrate with. I’m a fan of cake.
When I’m chunking my time out according to the daily routines and tasks, I consider what deadlines I’m headed towards. If I have a big writing deadline, then I work on that at 10.30 instead of blogging a batch. If I have an illustration deadline, I will priortize that over organizing my social media content calendar. Makes sense, right?
3. Appointments & Routines
I always consider the personal things as well. Frankly, as a self-employed freelancer, the personal and the professional are always closely packed together. Plus, as a mom of four, I’m also shuttling kids to this appointment or that and coordinating our family of 6 in my synced and color-coded calendar to be sure we are kind of on top of it most of the time. (And when we aren’t? “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m a busy mom of four……..”
So, my block calendar takes in account my eldest’s guitar lessons on Fridays and my Middle Littles weekly appointment with a therapist, and my various group fitness classes about four times a week (I’m convinced Zumba class is just al of us middle-aged mamas trying to relive our high school dance and cheerleading days). These things are constant, recurring, and important to our family. Yes, I schedule self-care. I know I get my hair done every six weeks and have certain appointments that recur anywhere from weekly to bi-weekly, monthly, or even bi-annually. I account for every single thing I can and this ultimately makes me more efficient with my time.
4. Chunks of Time vs. Lists
Freeing yourself of lists is like freeing yourself of a really precarious noose that could snap you up any moment. Chunks of time afford you flexibility and freedom while helping you keep up with your productivity. You’ll start viewing your chunks of free time in a more opportunistic way, too, I almost guarantee it. It becomes more about fitting things where you can and less about hoping things get done in time, because the list is so incredibly long you already feel defeated.
Having been a work-at-home-mom for so long, I feel like I innately utilized this Block Scheduling model simply as a means of survival. But, truthfully, it is a valuable tool for anyone and I hope it helps you make sense of your time if you are suddenly required to work from home and change everything you know about your work scheduling.
Why Block Scheduling Really Works
Block scheduling is a really flexible way to view your calendar–and it can definitely hold a lot of visual appeal, if you’re into that kind of thing. Looking at your productivity in a new light can hopefully help you achieve some new goals and achievements as you plan and implement your work strategy.
What kind of scheduling strategy do you use? Feel free to discuss. I love finding nifty planners, apps, and other methods to make it happen!
Remember when I said the summer insanity was nearly upon us? Well—it’s here! And I have been fighting a ton of anxiety, mom-guilt, and a lot of pressure to 1) get my business better organized and continue the expansion and 2) prepare everything and everyone for our newest addition that will arrive in August.
This past weekend, I tried to explain all these nerves and anxieties to my ever-patient partner. He totally understood; he reminded me that he’s here to take care of the kids, juggle the family taxi and let me have time to work, self-care, and all the other things. By Monday evening, after similar reminders from my dad, who is a wonderful grandparent-support just up the street, I felt a whole lot better about everything. So much better, in fact, I planned to commit and attend the weekly early-morning business networking group that could prove invaluable to my work as a freelance writer. I scheduled out blocks of work-time, and strategized about the dreaded Tuesday when my younger two kiddos have lots of appointments and no daycare. I felt pretty good about the newfound structure and was optimistically secure in my support system.
On Wednesday, my partner has the kids up and out the door well before 8 a.m. because my early meeting begins at 7.45 and their daycare is on his way to work. My eldest, still sleeping and self-sufficient, was enjoying the first real opportunity to sleep in on her summer break on this particular morning. I felt confident about this day—after all, I even called ahead at 6.30 a.m. to the daycare to ensure my four-year-old had the three tee shirts I’d ordered all ready to go for her summer camp uniform. I packed her backpack with a labeled water bottle and sunscreen, her favorite stuffed bunny, and we talked about her class trip to Build A Bear for the day.
I’m the first to admit I’m a hot mess mom, but this day felt pretty okay. I got everyone out the door with kisses, hugs, and neatly tied ponytails (except Ben, he can take care of his own hair). Less than an hour later, though, about 10 minutes prior to my meeting’s scheduled beginning, I got a rather stern phone call from her school.
“You will have to come get P,” the employee said. “She has a field trip today and she is totally unprepared, and it would be unacceptable for her to attend the field trip today.”
“Hmmm, okay, I’m sorry what is she missing.”
“She doesn’t have a shirt—”
“I called at 6.30 a.m. to ask if the 3 shirts we ordered several weeks ago were available, and I was told the shirts are there—we hadn’t been given them to take home in the weeks since I placed the order.”
“She doesn’t have sunscreen, a backpack, or a water bottle—”
“I labeled her sunscreen and water bottle and put them in her backpack—which should also have her name on it. I am really sorry, what else does she need today?”
“A hat, she doesn’t have a hat. You have about two hours to get a hat to her or she absolutely can’t go.”
Of course, I skipped my meeting—because either way I was going to have to miss the meeting, and at least if I ducked out and brought the hat to her, I could still get writing and illustration work accomplished. But I admit, I was fuming. All this worry about juggling kids and childcare, and wondering if a thousand dollars per child–per month– could be justified for childcare costs… in that moment, as I forfeited a profitable and important business opportunity so I could get my kid’s hat to her, the thousand dollars did not seem like a well-spent investment.
I can’t imagine too many parents would want to be called out of a meeting and lose opportunities over a hat. Sure, it is one incident, and normally if the kids have an appointment or need me, I’m there and can be there quickly because being self-employed is typically one of the most flexible jobs ever. Had my daughter been actually totally unprepared, even, I could see the school’s point and would feel less annoyed and flustered by being asked to cancel my work and deliver a hat.
It did help me re-evaluate what I’m doing and where I am with my kids this summer. My heart is with them. Often, my days are spent coordinating and shuttling to and from appointments for one of the three, and so my work suffers despite 2/3 of our children being stuck in a classroom. The evening is dedicated to them, and after they sleep I’m too busy cleaning and preparing for the next day to do much work. And weekends, too, seem the worst place for work, because they’ve been in school and daycare all week and now I want to spend time with my family.
Yesterday, though, that “dreaded” day of appointments? We survived it, and we thrived it. Work-life balance is hard to come by, but yesterday seemed great for the most part. We accomplished all our appointments and squeezed in a special milkshake treat and a trip to the park. We got home just as some rain set in, and everyone watched a movie with popcorn while I retreated to my studio to work on painting and a few small business details. It was, in all aspects, more productive than most days—AND I spent more quality time with my kids than usual, too. In fact, I didn’t want today to start so rushed and send everyone off to summer camps and pre-school. I knew my 4-year-old was pretty excited for Build A Bear, and that I had plenty of work to get to– but also I wondered what kind of adventures would I have if we didn’t have to commit to the scheduled grind.
When the morning rolled out as it did, I felt all sorts of things bubble up. The feminist in me started ranting about mom-shaming; after all, just that morning as Ben asked me about new classrooms and where to bring her summer camp backpack, and he joked it was good to be a man, because everyone is helpful and no one thinks anything of it when you don’t know what’s going on at your kids’ school.
The mom in me felt guilty.
The self-employed freelancer felt stressed and worried about work missed.
I decided this is, perhaps, the last summer we have before my eldest is “too cool” to be part of the adventure. It is our last summer before my second-born starts school. It is a summer of a lot of change, and I couldn’t imagine three people I would rather spend it with than my kids.
Will it be easy? No. But it wasn’t easy before, either.