Podcast: Katrina Alcorn Says Moms Need a Break

strocel.com podcast maxed out katrina alcornThe title of Katrina Alcorn‘s book – Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink – resonated with me instantly. While I’m not American, I am a mom. I know how it feels to have a (more than) full plate, with no end in sight. I immediately arranged to speak with her, and I’m thrilled to share our conversation with you on today’s podcast.

The book is sort of an unconventional memoir, following Katrina’s own life, and how she dealt with feeling maxed out. It incorporates research about women and work, and presents suggestions for how we can make things better.

At a time when we’re all being encouraged to lean in, and when the world is micro-managing Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave, Katrina’s book provides a welcome perspective. Of course we want to encourage women and young girls to go after what they want. However, many workplaces could also benefit from an overhaul to provide a better work-life balance for everyone. That balance is what Maxed Out addresses.

strocel.com podcast katrina alcorn maxed outDuring our conversation Katrina shared part of her story. She talked about why she wrote her book specifically for moms, and presented some research she uncovered. We also discussed alternative work arrangements, like the results-only work environment and telecommuting. If you’ve ever felt maxed out yourself, and you could use a break, I encourage you to listen to this podcast:

If you enjoyed my conversation with the amazing Katrina Alcorn, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Next week I’ll be sharing an interview with Maggie Oman Shannon, minister, mother and author of six books including Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation. You won’t want to miss it! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Podcast: Talking Work at Home and More with Jennifer Forest

strocel.com podcast work women want jennifer forestI’ve become a little more choosy, recently, when it comes to inviting guests to be on my podcast. I’m 80 episodes in, now, and I suspect that I’m feeling a little more confident than I was two years ago when I started. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed each and every interview I’ve done, and I’ve learned something by doing each one. However, in the beginning I was so thrilled that anyone would speak to me that I jumped on every opportunity without asking too many questions. Now I’m getting more pitches, and I’m taking more time to consider each one. When I recently got the opportunity to interview Jennifer Forest, the author of the new book Work Women Want, I knew that was one worth jumping for.

strocel.com podcast work women want jennifer forestJennifer’s book is a guide to women who want more family-friendly work arrangements. If you’ve ever thought you’d like to work from home, work part-time, or work in a different field so that you can have better work-life balance and spend more time with your kids, Jennifer wrote this book for you. She’s not promising that if you read her book you’ll become a millionaire overnight, and she’s also not promising that it will be easy. Rather, she is sharing practical tips from real moms who have been there, done that, and found ways to make living incomes from home, or on reduced work schedules.

During our podcast Jennifer shares her own story, and discusses what inspired her to write the book. She shares tips for starting a business, talks about negotiating a part-time schedule, and covers some of the nitty-gritty details you’ll encounter if you decide to start a business while you have small children. If you’d like to shift the way you work, you’ll want to take the time to listen to the podcast:

I’m still deciding what I’ll be sharing next week on the podcast, but I can promise you that you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

A Space of My Own

Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have … a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While I don’t write fiction, I do write. Sadly, however, I don’t have a room of my own. I live in a split-level three bedroom house, which is roomier than some of my friends’ homes, but does not afford me a room for writing. When I was pregnant with my son Jacob my husband and I lost our office to the cause of our kids each having their own room. The computer moved downstairs to a corner of the family room, which is otherwise filled mostly with toys.

It was a full year or more after the computer moved that I got the call that I had been laid off from my job. I didn’t realize it yet at the time, but that day marked my transition from part-time work outside the home mom to full-time work at home mom. I soon discovered that trying to be productive from the corner of my family room was much more challenging than trying to be productive from my cubicle in an office. Any sort of separation between family and career was erased. I’m not complaining – there are many upsides to this. I have much more flexibility when it comes to being with my kids, for instance, which is a big plus for me. I’m glad I made the switch.

At the same time, I often long for a room of my own. A room that I can close the door on when the work day is done. A room I can retreat to when the noise in the rest of the house is too much. A space that isn’t filled with toys and discarded apple cores and so on. My husband and I frequently talk about this conundrum, of lacking any type of home office. We haven’t found any great solutions. However, recently it occurred to me that I could at least make a few changes to my workspace, to make it a little more functional.

For the past couple of months I’ve been on a quest. The first step was moving the printer off of my desk. We accomplished that in October, when we got a working wifi printer, which now lives on the top shelf of a closet. That cleared off my desk. Step two was getting rid of my clunky old desktop computer, and moving on to my laptop. (You’ll be glad to know I kept disco mouse, though.) We did that in November, which cleared more space in my desk area. Step three was clearing out my old bookshelf, which hasn’t actually contained books for ages, and making space for my sewing supplies and sewing machine. We did that in December.

The job was finished this weekend. We made the pilgrimage to IKEA for a new floor mat, chair and doors for my bookcase. The result is a corner of a room that is totally mine, filled with my work and crafting supplies. My sewing machine is no longer hidden in a cupboard when it’s not in use, and sharing space on my dining room table when it is. My fabric is no longer stuffed into an overflowing shelf in my buffet. My desk is no longer covered with things I don’t need, want or use. And I finally have a chair I actually like, rather than one that my husband bought himself 15 years ago for his bachelor apartment.

A work and craft space of my own
My completed space

I’m hoping that Virginia Woolf was only half-right, and that a space of my own will suffice. For now, I have to say, I’m very happy with it. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine. My own little corner of the world. It is sweet, indeed.

On Wasting Time

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line. If you’d like to find out more about my online class on living with intention and my upcoming e-book, visit craftingmylife.com.

It’s been over a week now since Hannah started grade one. With her out of the house for six hours every weekday, and Jacob going to daycare part-time, I have more time to myself now than I’ve had in years – probably since before I had kids. It feels incredibly decadent, really, and I love having dedicated kid-free time to work in. It’s really increasing my productivity.

I’ve started using SlimTimer to track my time, and I’m spending more time on work-related tasks than I thought. I’m spending an especially large amount of time on email, which isn’t great, but that’s another story. What’s pertinent for this story is that I am spending all of my kid-free time and a whole lot more on work. And by “work” I mean the things I do to earn a living. I’m not counting obligations like cooking, cleaning and running errands.

I’ve given you a lot of back story, but in truth the bottom line is simple: I’m a parent, so I’m busy. There is never any shortage of stuff for me to do. If you’re a parent, the odds are good that you feel the same way. So what do we do? We become efficient. There’s no time to waste, so we do everything as quickly as possible. We eat quickly, we clean quickly, we shower quickly and we brush our teeth quickly. It’s all about getting as much done as you can as quickly as you can. Productivity is key, and there’s no room for dallying.

I especially feel the pressure to be productive during the time that my kids are out of the house. I’m paying for daycare, so it feels wasteful to use it on tasks that don’t generate revenue. I need to bring in enough income to cover the costs of childcare and then some. I can’t afford to use my free time watching funny cat videos or playing around on Pinterest.

While I feel that I should use my available time productively, in reality I don’t always live up to that ideal. There are two competing forces at work inside my head at any time. One of them is telling me to buckle down and get things done, and the other one would really prefer to hang out on the couch eating salt and vinegar chips while watching old Law and Order reruns. The laziness is strong in me, and it’s especially vocal when it realizes there’s no one else around to hog the remote or steal my chips.

Is it so wrong to want to just put your feet up and relax once in a while? Probably not. I learned something a long time ago, and it’s that I’m at my most productive when I give myself periodic mental breaks. Maybe sometimes you need to waste time, so that you can be ready to go later. If you ignore that need, and keep pushing through, you’ll start making mistakes and cutting corners because your mental alertness and focus are diminished. After all, the goal isn’t just to churn out work, it’s to do good work.

Where’s the balance, though? How do you tell when it’s time to buckle down, and when it’s time to take 20 minutes out of your day to have a snack and go for a quick walk? I think the answer comes down to knowing how you work best and setting priorities. If you work best in the morning, then that’s the time to buckle down and get things done. If you’ve been staring at the same screen and getting nowhere for the past three hours, then maybe this is the time to switch things up and play around on YouTube for a while. On top of that, if you have a good handle on what has to happen when, then you can make the best possible decisions on how to use your time.

It’s great to be efficient and productive. But it’s also important to give yourself a little time and space to recharge your batteries. If you can figure out how to balance those needs (it’s not easy!) then you’re really set.

How do you balance the need for downtime against the constant onslaught of work that comes with parenting? I’d love to hear!

My Freedom Day

Today is my freedom day. As of today I have one child in school all day, another child in daycare three days a week and 18 hours to myself every week. For a work-at-home mom, this is pure, unbridled luxury. Just imagine it – 18! Hours! No! Interruptions!

I have been eagerly anticipating this day for quite some time. I love my children, and I really love the flexibility that working from home brings me, but the truth is that kids and work don’t go together all that well. When you’re trying to take care of your kids and work at the same time, someone is always getting short-changed. In fact, I would take that one step further and say that everyone is getting short-changed – your clients, your kids and most of all yourself. It’s just not possible to complete a task that requires real concentration and attend to your children at the same time.

For the longest time I have been compensating for my lack of consistent childcare by staying up late at night. It’s far from ideal. When I stay up late at night working I don’t get any downtime, I don’t get enough sleep and I’m kind of unpleasant to be around. I had few other options, though, especially since I’m not willing to park my kids in front of the TV for four or five or seven hours a day. So I put my head down and pulled through. It’s what parents do, right? We accomplish whatever we can in, around and in spite of our families, and we understand that compromises will need to be made.

Now my freedom day has arrived, and things are about to change. I am about to have much more space to work in. It’s not a lot of space, exactly, but it’s more than I’ve had since I last worked outside of the home more than three years ago. I feel almost giddy, and I have a near-irresistible urge to fill up the space with stuff. I want to take a class, go for coffee with friends and business contacts, re-organize the play room and work in my garden. I want to sew and knit and bake and can. All of this time is calling out to me.

I am fighting my urge to fill my new-found space. I know that 18 hours a week to work in is really not all that much. I also know that, all too often, I will lose work time to sick kids and professional development days and holidays. This time is precious, and I need to guard against squandering it. I also need to guard against over-committing myself in my excitement. So, as I celebrate my freedom day, my plans are very limited. I don’t know yet how much I will actually accomplish. I don’t know yet exactly what I will do with it. But I can tell you that the possibilities are terribly exciting to me.

Just imagine it. 18 hours. My freedom day is here!

Do you have time to yourself while your kids are at school or in childcare? How do you use it? Does it go faster than you expected, or are you able to cram a lot in? I’d love to hear all about it!

Talking Motherhood, Career and Feminism with Marcy

I first met my friend Marcy at church almost 10 years ago. In face we once delivered a sermon together in honour of International Women’s Day (if you listen to the recording at the end of the post you can hear Jacob screaming as Jon carries him out of the service). I was trying to remember the first time we actually had a conversation, and I couldn’t, so I’ll have to apologize to her. But regardless of when or how that auspicious first meeting happened, what I do remember clearly was serving on a committee together with her. And I remember how much I sincerely enjoyed working with her.

What I love about Marcy is how warm and open she is. I also love how readily she shares from her own experiences. If you have been a regular visitor to my comments section, you will already be familiar with her wise and well thought-out responses. In fact, I have come to think of her as something of a mentor – someone who has been right where I am now, and come through it all with flying colours.

I decided to ask Marcy to be on my podcast, first of all because I consider her a friend and a role model. But more than that, I knew that she had a lot to share. She started her career as a school teacher, and became an at-home mother while her children were small. She was a feminist, and when her children got a little older she returned to school, helped to found the local women’s resource society and an emergency shelter for women facing domestic abuse. She became an employment counselor, and worked as a consultant, eventually moving into full-time work. Her story gives me hope that I can build something great as a mother of young children.

I encourage you to listen to Marcy’s interview. It’s full of inspiration, humour, and warmth, just like Marcy herself. And then I encourage you to talk to your own role models, and let them know what they’ve meant for you.

I’m working on a very exciting interview for next week. I can’t wait to share it with you! In the meantime, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast, and you’ll be sure not to miss a minute of it!

Repost: Going Part-Time

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! This year, I’m just writing about whatever is currently on my mind. Today, since I’m on vacation, I’m reposting something that originally ran on July 22, 2009. You can read the original post here: Going Part-Time.

I returned to work reluctantly after my first maternity leave. My whole world had changed since I’d last set foot in the office a full year before. I had become a mom and I wasn’t even really the same person anymore.

I was lucky that my former employer offered family-friendly policies such as flex time and the option to work from home. I decided to go into the office three days a week, and work from home for two. I got a laptop and I was all raring to go. However, I soon discovered that trying to get in an 8 hour day while caring for a one-year-old is very difficult. Maybe even impossible. So I found myself working around the clock whenever I could get a moment to myself. After a month it was clear to me that something had to give.

As I considered my options I was worried. I’m an engineer. On my team of 14 or so people there was only one other woman. Many of my colleagues had wives who stayed home while they were the primary bread winners. They were working full-time and then some to support their families. If I didn’t want to work full-time would I be setting myself apart in a whole new way? What would the consequences be?

There were some factors that balanced in my favour when I decided to go part-time. Thankfully at that time the economy was very different and my company was doing well. I had worked there for seven years and had a proven track record. Plus my salary as an engineer was sufficient that giving up a portion of it was something we could swing. I felt that, in my case, the risk was worth the potential reward. I know that not everyone has the same advantages, or would be able to make the same choices I did.

I spent a few days gathering courage. I worked out a little speech in my head that involved loving my job, and wanting to be mentally healthy enough to give it my all. I walked back and forth to my team leader’s office a couple of times before I managed to poke my head in the door.

In the end I needn’t have worried. I learned that if your employer values your contribution they may be more accommodating than you expect. My team leader was very understanding, and wanted to help me find an arrangement that worked for everyone. He was also a dad with small kids at home. He got it, totally. It was a huge relief to me.

I chose to work 32 hours a week. I went into the office three days a week and worked two half-days from home. It was much more manageable, and I was much happier. I was surprised to discover that there were other employees who were working reduced schedules, too. I had no idea because I’d never asked, and it wasn’t necessarily something they were advertising. When news got out that I had gone part-time, though, I heard all about it.

There are some downsides to going part-time. You aren’t going to be promoted or advance in your career in the same way. I have mixed feelings about this, but I understand why it works that way. There is still some stigma with going on the ‘mom track’. And I did find that I wasn’t as tuned in to the office goings on as people who were there full time or more. There were upsides to being out of the political loop, but there were also downsides.

It’s really hard to find balance as a mom. There may be no such thing. We’re all making compromises, some good and some not so good. Working part-time was one compromise that worked for me, at least most of the time.

What about you? Do you work an alternate schedule? Or would you consider it if it were an option? I’d love to what other parents think about going part-time.

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