Time Blocking for the Work-at-Home Mom

One of the hardest things for me to get a handle on when I became a mom was my work-life balance. It’s difficult when you work at home to actually separate your work from your home. You’re constantly at work. While being a work-at-home mom definitely has its benefits, when I have a real crazy day, sometimes I think it would be a lot easier to work a 9:00 to 5:00 job and leave the work actually at work. However, it’s TOTALLY possible to keep the overwhelm at minimum, get what you need actually done and stay sane in the process.

Look, I know that whether you’re a work-at-home mom or a stay-at-home-mom, sticking to a schedule is completely unrealistic. Trust me, I’ve tried. Your days are insanely unpredictable. Besides, who really wants to stick to a schedule anyway? Isn’t that one of the reasons why we work at home to begin with? But the way I “schedule” my days can actually be kind of fun.

I’m going to show you the best way to schedule your days as a work-at-home-mom in just a second, but it’s important to note that I don’t actually do this every day. On the light work days when I only really have three hours of less to work, I just make sure I get it done, do some light cleaning and spend the bulk of the day with my family.

I don’t go right to work in the morning. I get up, feed the baby and change her, and have a cup of coffee. When I sit down at the computer, the first thing I do is check my e-mail and chat with my assistant about things that are going on. After that, I make my “schedule” for the day. By this time, it’s usually around 9:00 or 10:00.

I put the most important things first. As I’m “scheduling” my day, I allot myself THREE TIMES the amount of time I think it would take me to do the task if I were uninterrupted. For times later in the day when the baby is sleeping, I allot myself two times the amount of time I think I would need.

The game I play is I challenge myself to get it all done before my end time. Usually, my scheduled end time is midnight. Of course it really depends on how much work I have to do. On rare occasions, it’s 2:00 AM, and sometimes it’s more like 6:00 PM. Either way, the goal is to get it all done BEFORE that time. Then it’s my choice with what I want to do with my time: work, family, chores, or personal.

If I don’t have a lot of work to do, sometimes I’ll schedule myself off from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM, so I can spend time with my family. Then I’ll start up at 7:00 again with work and finish before I go to bed around 1:00 AM.

Personally, I can’t stand to sit at the computer and work all day, so I split it up between work and house chores. If you prefer, you can do all your work tasks first. That’s one of the many benefit of being able to work from home. Even though it gets crazy busy sometimes, there are a lot of days where I have the freedom to just do the work later on in the night and have a free day to spend with my family.

Here’s an example list of tasks I would schedule in a typical day and how long I think it would take me to do it if I were uninterrupted throughout the day and didn’t have a baby to take care of:

Work tasks:
1. Edit a 57-minute transcript (60 minutes)
2. Edit a 62-minute transcript (60 minutes)
3. Transcribe 60 minutes (3-3.5 hours)
4. Transcribe 50 minutes (2.5-3 hours)

The above tasks would take me roughly eight or nine hours to do. If I get lucky, seven. If I do other administrative work tasks in between like check e-mail, my workday could stretch to ten hours. Being in business coupled with working from home, with or without kids, it’s difficult to guess how long I may be working.

You can see in my schedule below that I gave myself double or triple the time it would normally take to complete the work tasks:

10:00-12:00: Edit a 57-minute transcript
12:00-1:00: Laundry + lunch
1:00-3:00: Edit a 62-minute audio
3:00-4:00: Laundry, clean bathrooms, bathe baby
4:30-6:00: Transcribe 30 minutes
6:00-7:00 Dinner
7:00-9:00: Transcribe 30 minutes
9:00-10:00: Watch a recorded show
10:00-1:00: Transcribe 50 minutes

It seems like a really full day, but I’m not actually doing what I have scheduled for myself that entire time. I’m reading e-mails, checking Facebook, and caring for my child in between. It takes about 45-60 minutes to edit a 57-minute audio, but I scheduled two hours for it. If I finish early, I have time to spend with my daughter or start the next task.

Inevitably, I do always get interrupted. The baby gets fussy or the phone rings or a series of important e-mails may come through. But by leaving myself enough time to account for these things, it all gets done. And most of the time, it gets done early. Should I finish editing that 57-minute audio by 11:00 AM, I can use the hour to spend time with my daughter. If at 10:30 Maya gets fussy and needs me, I can tend to her and still have enough time to finish editing by noon. If I do fall behind, I can move things around to the end of the day or the next day. I can skip watching my recorded show to catch up on work or leave cleaning the bathrooms for tomorrow.

Even though looking at my schedule it looks as though I’m not tending to my child, keep in mind the reason I schedule 2-3 times the amount of time I need to complete my work is actually so I can do just that. She gets a lot of love and attention throughout the day. If I didn’t have kids, everything on that list would be completed in a typical 8-hour workday. One of the reasons she’s not on that list is because I don’t want to schedule time in with my daughter. If she needs me, I stop what I’m doing and be a mommy. If I look over and see her being adorable, I’ll get up and play with her. I work more aggressively while she’s taking a nap and get things done a lot quicker.

I get to spend a lot more time with her than a mom who works full time would, and I’m very grateful for that.

Plus, not all my days are that full. Sometimes I only need four or six hours throughout the day to complete my work tasks. If that’s the case, I don’t lay out a schedule. I just make sure I get it done. I usually only make a schedule if I know it’s going to be an 8-hour day. If I only have four hours of work to do on a given day, I’ll do whatever I want all day and put in my four hours after the baby goes to bed and work from 8:00 until midnight.

And of course, I may have a stretch of days where I don’t work on anything and I just monitor my e-mails all day. Those are the days I’ll do errands, spend extra time with my family, and do the bigger more time-consuming chores around the house like re-organizing my closet or pantry.

Now, if I have a really busy stretch of days, I’ll bring Maya to my parents’ house for the day (or even overnight, so I can work late) and work like a crazy madwoman. I still do schedule those days, but it’s a more aggressive schedule leaving less time for each task.

This is the best way I’ve found to make it work. It’s impossible to work an 8-hour stretch without tending to your kids, so we have to work in “doses” throughout the day.