A couple of months ago I received a text from a friend who I have been coaching on getting started writing online. She has small kids still at home and is trying to build up a freelance writing career. Her text read,
Her question brought back a lot of memories from the days that I tried to balance writing and being with little kids. I gave her a long answer and provided some strategies that helped a little. But the reality is that you really can’t be fully engaged with the kids and write. For me, the answer was to write during times of the day when the kids didn’t need my attention. (If you have really small kids, I can hear you laughing (or maybe crying) because it can feel like there are no times during the day when the kids don’t need your attention.)
I’ve been there. And, for the last month, I’ve been reminded of just how difficult it is to get focused, creative work done when there are little humans demanding my attention. The COVID-19 quarantine took me from having six uninterrupted hours each day for work to having what feels like zero uninterrupted hours each day.
And, a few days ago, our governor announced that all kids in the state will do homeschool for the rest of the school year. Another month and a half. My two older kids are independent enough to find the work that needs to get done and do it without much help from me. My youngest, however, needs me to sit with her and help the entire time she is working.
During the summers I typically scale back on my workload so I am not constantly working when the kids are home. I also have a few places to go where the kids can play and I can write for a few hours. Neither of those things are options right now. I’ve been taking on tons of work to help us build up more of a cushion for the time when my husband’s commissions dry up. And, all of the places I would take the kids to play while I work are closed down because of the quarantine.
So….how can you balance writing from home when the kids are home too? You don’t. I haven’t.
Writing takes concentration and creativity. Both of those elements require that you have some amount of uninterrupted time. When the kids are home, it takes me all day to write a blog because they have questions, need help, want lunch, etc. I can write that same blog in less than an hour without interruptions. Most of my work is paid by the project which means the faster I work the more I make. It simply does not make sense for me to try and squeeze writing into those small chunks of time during the day because the interruptions slow me down.
Before you get too discouraged, I want to point out that the last three months have been my highest earning months ever. I am working, a lot. I’m doing way more than usual, but I have not found a good balance. I’ve been working after the kids go to bed. A couple of times I have left the house to work out of the office while my husband did homeschool. Both times he got wrapped up with work calls and the kids got a little off track. Right now, I am letting the kids veg out on screens so I can do a little work. None of these things are ideal, but this season isn’t permanent.
If you have small kids, they will eventually get older. If your big kids are home from school, there will be a time when they go back.
The way to find balance in these situations is to do the best you can. Here are a few tips that help me be as efficient with my time as possible when the kids are home.
- Do work-related tasks that do not require uninterrupted focus when you are with your kids. I do this now and when life is normal. For example, I come up with topic ideas for several of my clients. This task – and elements related to it such as keyword research – can be done during small chunks of time. I also do broad outlines in this way. You do not have to worry about things like grammar or phrasing when you are brainstorming for outlines, just big ideas. I can work on these tasks for a few minutes, get interrupted, and come back to them later without losing much time.
- Reclaim naptime (or quiet-time). If your kids are still small enough for naps then you have an hour or more each day to spend uninterrupted. With bigger kids you can instate quiet-time which lets them do something they enjoy for an hour as long as they don’t interrupt you. When my kids were little I would try and fit as much housework as possible into that hour or two. (Sometimes I was so exhausted that I would nap when they napped). If you are willing to ignore the dishes (or laundry) for a little while, you can reclaim this time and use it for writing. I do a version of this now. I know that I can only write when I have uninterrupted time. I can do housework at any point when the kids are home (and even get them to help). So, I do my writing when I have uninterrupted time and leave the housework for the times when it would be impossible to write anyway. The housework will always be waiting on you, I promise.
- Let the pressure of limited time keep you focused. We’ve all heard that a task will expand to fill the time available. I have found this to be true over and over. If I give myself a week to finish five blogs, I’ll get them done. But I can also get five blogs done in a day if I have the pressure of a quick deadline. If you have a limited amount of time available to work, use that to help yourself focus. You will be amazed at how much you can get done during a two-hour window when you know that it is your only time to work.
- Give up a little sleep. I hesitate to write this as a tip because I am crazy when it comes to getting sleep. It is tied to so many elements of your physical, mental, and emotional health that I don’t want to recommend skipping too much sleep in order to write. But the truth is that I have been doing just that to get through this weird time and you may need to as well. Plus, most of us really miss sleep because we waste time watching TV, scrolling social media, and shopping online. Getting up a little earlier or staying up a little later are both options for squeezing in some uninterrupted writing time.
I have a few other tips that will work once the world is up and running again. But for now, I am following the steps listed above and getting in writing when I can. Writing while the kids are home is difficult but it is possible. You have to give yourself some grace and remember that it won’t always be this hard.
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