Make it Work Monday: Be Selfish With Your Work Time

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At the office that My Little Town Orlando set up for me!

At the office that My Little Town Orlando set up for me!

This is the hardest thing for me, to be honest. It is only with the support of The Write Gym at Writer’s Atelier, an online professional development and accountability group, that I learned how to keep my time precious. It used to infuriate my husband that we set aside time for my work at night, or on the weekend, and I wouldn’t respect my own boundaries with the kids. Here are just a few ways to create the environment and expectations with our family you need to accomplish your work.

  • PREPARE SNACKS AHEAD OF TIME. Our current go tos are apple slices with almond butter dip (and a napkin close by), veggie chips or pretzels with hummus and turkey rolled around a cheese-stick. I often add a small pitcher of water next to 2 cups so they can pour their own drinks. Keep a towel underneath for spills. 

  • COUNTDOWN TO YOUR START TIME. The earlier you can start this, the better, but all ages comprehend the concept of a countdown. I’d set a time for working and tell them the schedule from the minute they woke up (if it was in the morning) or as soon as I picked them up from camp/school (if in the afternoon). “We’ll go home and have snacks, and in 30 minutes, I will sit down for my worktime.” “We’ll have breakfast and I’ll make snacks, then in 30 minutes, I will sit at my desk to work.” When it gets to 15 minutes, I set a timer and begin setting up my workspace. I make time to sit with them, and remind them every five minutes, then 3, then 2, then 1, and buuuuuzzzzzzzzzz! There goes the alarm and I sit down to my desk.

  • LET THEM SEE YOU PREPARE FOR WORK. As mentioned above, I show them how I prepare for work, even if it’s just straightening up. They watch their father shower, get dressed and pack his bags every day before he leaves the house. If they see me performing similar actions, it clicks in their head. That this work is just as important, even if they can see me. 

  • WEAR PANTS. I don’t follow this one as much as I should, but the more you dress the part, the more you will take the time seriously, and they will too.

  • INVOLVE THEM SO THEY UNDERSTAND. It’s that old Chinese proverb that’s sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin. I take time out of my non-working hours to explain what I do so it isn’t abstract. I work mostly online and with people my kids haven’t met, so it’s even more important that I take time to show them. This includes making a blog for my oldest when he asked and pointing to books in stores to explain that if I have the time to do my work, then one day he will see my book in a store too, and in the library, and won’t that be great! It’s worth it just to see the smile spread over his face, but it also pays off when he sees a physical culmination of all that work time you need.

  • SET A TIMER. In our new apartment, the desk area is nestled in a corner of the living room. That does give me some space away from LEGO builds or superhero quests, but we are still in the same room. I use the same technique here as I did for summer camp: I have a piece of paper that clearly states the start time for work and the end time. 

  • JOIN OR CREATE ONLINE WORK GROUPS. I stuck to my time much more if I had a work group. It was also nice to point to my computer screen and say, “Look there. That’s my friend Racquel, and she is leading me through this work session. I need it quiet so I can hear her and do this work.” Then I refer them to the clock image with my end time.

  • CLOSE THE DOOR. Writer and publisher Arielle Haughee talks about this in our upcoming. She started “Quiet Time” with her children. They go into their room for an hour and have free time, but the rule is “If no one’s bleeding, don’t talk to me.” I haven’t yet been able to make this work in my home, and I so admire it!

  • GIVE THEM SEPARATE SPACE IN YOUR WORK SPACE. This begins with a “Yes Space” for babies and evolves. My youngest has his little chair in a corner of my office, with his art supplies set up. This way, I just have to allow him to use one of my highlighters once in a while to keep him happy. My oldest likes to watch PBS Kids on the monitor next to mine while I work. That also involved giving him his own “work” to do, like wipe away mazes or drawing his own book when I needed the work time to write mine.

  • TUCKER THEM OUT. I started this blog in the morning. I can only finish it now, at 5 PM, because I picked up the kids from camp and promptly took them to an indoor playground. In the states, we had a regular place who knew me, welcomed me and my work into their playground, and even went so far as to create a more comfortable place for me to work where I could see my children at all times. My Little Town in Orlando is the best. In Beijing, we picked an apartment building that includes admission to their indoor playground in our rent. Sold. Three hours there and now they’re happily at home, using clay across the table from me while I work. 

  • WHEN IT’S DONE, IMMEDIATELY PLAY WITH THEM. Once I close my laptop, the cuddles start. That way, they see the clear distinction of work and play time and feel like I want to be with them as much as I want to work. Sometimes I have to pee so badly right after work, but I always go for a quick tickle of connection before the bathroom. 

Speaking of which, there’s my alarm. Time to cuddle!

Read more about how to make it work as a work-at-home-parent here