Toddlers Don’t Do Time Management

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! February’s theme is time management. In the past two weeks I talked about the nature of having no time and how I’m learning to seize the moment. This week, I’m talking about working with small kids underfoot.

I have tried to do the work-at-home mom thing once before. I had a baby carrier business from 2006-2008, or thereabouts. It started because I am sort of obsessive about crafting, and I sewed myself dozens of baby carriers in pursuit of the Perfect Carrier. A few of my friends started buying carriers, and had good things to say. It all started when my first child Hannah was 1 year old, and I had visions of launching a successful business and quitting my day job. I would be able to work from home and spend more time with my kid and life would be sunshine and rainbows.

The reality of working from home was much different than how I pictured it in my head. My daughter was not remotely interested in playing happily at my feet while I worked on the computer or sewed. She was also of an age where I couldn’t bring her anywhere without risking disaster, so any visits to suppliers or my seamstress or the accountant had to be done at a time when someone else was taking care of her. In the end I couldn’t devote the time to my business that was required, and I made more money in less time working as an engineer, so that’s what I did.

Now, here I am with another 1-year-old, dreaming of working at home. In spite of my previous experience, I believe it can be done, although I understand that working around small children is not easy. They don’t understand deadlines, or why Mama really can’t let you talk to the person on the other end of the phone. So how do work-at-home parents do it? I don’t have the miracle formula, but I can tell you a few things that I’ve discovered along the way:

  • Pay attention to the kid first. It can be really tempting to try to finish this email, but it is going to take you 4 times as long with a little helper. Sometimes, 20 minutes of undivided one-on-one time can fill your child’s need for attention so that you can get more work done. And often it’s time-saving, since bored, attention-seeking kids can delay your work by much longer than 20 minutes.
  • Ask for help. If you need your partner to take the kids for a few hours, ask. Be clear and respectful about your needs. If you’re not, no one is going to know about them. It can be hard to vocalize what it is you want, but it really beats not asking, not getting your needs met and feeling bitter.
  • Childcare. Some work-at-home moms use childcare or a mother’s helper. Others set-up babysitting co-ops or even just playdates with friends who will understand if you need to spend some time on the phone all by yourself. Others are fortunate enough to have family nearby who can take the kid to the pool for a few hours while you get some quiet time.
  • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. What really needs to get done now, and what can wait? Do the important thing first. This sounds intuitive, but I often fall in the trap of doing the most pleasant thing first, even if it’s not really that important. It seems like more fun at the moment, but in the long run it’s much less fun when you’re paying late fees on your tax return.
  • Pad your timelines. Things are going to take you at least twice as long as they did before your co-worker was an 18-month-old. Build that into your schedule as much as possible, and just know that this will not last forever.
  • Remember why you’re doing this. It’s good to periodically re-examine how working from home is going. If you started because you wanted a more balanced life, but it’s less balanced than ever before, that might be a sign. It doesn’t necessarily mean that working from home is impossible, but it might mean that you need to do a little tweaking. Living your dreams isn’t always going to be sheer bliss, but if it’s soul-destroying it’s probably not your dream.
  • What about you? How do you manage to work with small kids at home? Please share your secrets, or just commiserate with me on how hard it really is.

    February’s Crafting my Life series is about time management. Exciting? Debatable. Important? Absolutely. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 25th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on this month’s theme and add yourself to the list. Then go off and read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out January’s link up to get a feel for how it works.

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      Comments

      1. I managed to work with my baby at home, but just not much. It was part-time work. I split my time between him and my work. The house never got done, dinner never got made. I found it very challenging. I admire anyone who can make it work (i.e. actually make decent money while still providing decent care to your child — and managing to actually find time to sleep too!).

      2. I worked at home when Kieran was about 6-18 months old. It got progressively harder as he became more vocal about wanting my attention. I tried a “mother’s helper” for awhile, but Kieran wanted nothing to do with her. I think it would go over a LOT better now that he’s older & into playing more games/etc.
        .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last post ..Toddler Activity Schedule 6 (Winter Olympics) =-.

      3. I don’t work out of the home, but I do some contract work that requires me to do some work at home (how’s that for vague? :))

        The Poptart is still at that age where, at some point during the day, I’m going to get a nap of a couple of hours. So there’s that. She’s also pretty good at amusing herself by yanking on the curtains.

        And I’ll tell Darren on a Saturday that “I need a couple of hours this afternoon to do some work” and there are no questions asked. If I’m really pinched for time, I ask my neighbours to take her for a couple of hours – they’re usually happy to (one is a grandma, the other is an auntie).

        Padding timelines is KEY. I don’t assume that I’m going to get all my tasks done in the time I used to get them done. I start earlier when possible and let people know that I may not get it done on time.
        .-= Nicole´s last post ..I believe in good grammar =-.

      4. Almost a decade into this gig I have still to find the right formaula for balancing home/work-at-home/kids. When work is going well, the kids run wild and the meals are unimaginative and fast. When the kids are happy, then there is no work being done at all. When the house looks good (and the meals are good)that’s usually when work is slow, but I don’t want to go anywhere with the kids in case something comes up!

        It’s hard on the kids having you nearby, but “not available”. Terribly confusing to their center-of-the-universe egos. My dad was a home contractor and did a lot of the administrative things from home… I remember being terrible resentful of that damn phone and how it was always more important than me. I think my kids feel the same way about my keyboard.

        I have tried a babysitter while I work, but that only works on sunny days that she could take them to the park. I tried having a WORK assistant, subcontracting my less creative jobs out to have more time with the kids, but that caused marital tension (young man spending 4 hours a day in my office –and near the kids– made my hubby crazy jealous).

        Amber, I really like your idea of spending that 20 minutes with them before starting… but I think I’d be tempted to ditch work entirely, or be so focussed on the clock that I wouldn’t be fair…. now that they are older they pick up on these things all too weel.
        .-= *pol´s last post ..Wet Coast — sometimes. =-.

      5. I’ve never attempted working at home with children. My current job isn’t really set up to be work at home friendly since I need access to various files at all times and I am NOT going to haul them back and forth :op

        I do know that Mike is finding it very challenging being at home and trying to find a new job. It’s hard to make phone calls, answer emails or just search the job boards when there are kids screaming at each other or for him.

        Perhaps we should invest in sound-proofing our office ;)
        .-= Carrie´s last post ..Shame on me… =-.

      6. No time right now, but I'm looking forward to reading.

      7. Melissa Edge says:

        Yay, for this post. I am just starting my own business and working from home. It is much more challenging than I had ever expected. People think that WAHM’s have the easy life and that is so not the case. My son is 11 months old and I find it challenging to juggle work, quality time with him, cooking and cleaning. I get up at 6am before he is up (thank goodness he sleeps until 8:30-9:00), work during naps and stay up late until around 1am. This schedule seems to be working but I miss my sleep. :( I’m looking into a part time nanny or sitter but we live in a small time and they are hard to come by.

        Thanks for the great tips! Good luck this time around. :)

      8. I worked at home from the time my first was born through 4yrs, and her younger brother was 18mo, at that point he was old enough to attend montessori with big sister, so I was able to come into the office for several hours a day. Working at home for me has taken the form of working during naps & nighttime sleep only, working with baby playing at arms reach in a playpen or bouncer, with baby on my back, with grandma watching, and most successfully with a nanny at home.

        Though I’d never trade that time at home in their early years, it was HARD work, and now being able to devote my mornings to work at the office, and afternoons/evenings to kids & household is worlds easier and less mind-scattering than trying to balance work at home. Kudos to you & good suggestions.
        .-= kblogger´s last post ..Serious Shops visits Toy Fair 2010 =-.

      9. Oh this is a great post as I just past the 1 year anniversary of me working from home.

        I would agree with you on all points. It gets very difficult as your child gets more vocal and mobile. Hence I had to quit and shut down all my web consulting gigs a little after 9 months of working as a freelance web developer/consultant.

        I do have part time daycare and the help of grandparents during the week so that is what allows me to run the fabric store and the other online store I have.

        Now do I have enough time to clean the house? Not really. The house is still just as messy as when I worked out of the home.

        I loved your “Remember why you’re doing this” point. Just this morning my husband and I were talking about what is going to happen when baby #2 arrives (we’re hoping that maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get pregnant this year)… how will I be able to manage the businesses and 2 children? Is it even possible? Should I opt into the self employed EI program or should I try to keep working and hope that I can juggle everything?

        I originally started working from home to stay at home with my daughter but the thought of working and taking care of 2 children has me a bit intimidated. I already know that if I opt to go the EI route, we won’t be able to afford daycare of any sort (part time or full time) and both kids will be home with me every day.

        The decisions! And that deadline for opting in to EI is coming up so I need to make a decision pronto.

        Oh dear, I NEED HELP! ;)
        .-= Cheryl´s last post ..5 things I’ve learned from working at home =-.

      10. I think it does a kid good to know that while you are always there for them, they are not the centre of the universe and that there are things which the stay-at-home parent does that don’t involve them. i’m not making mega-bucks with my tiny business and i admit, it’s much easier now that fulltime (cough, joke) schooling is available so i can concentrate for longer chunks of time. before starting up we transitioned from naptime to quiet time, insisting that this was a time for solo pursuits like reading, drawing, a general reboot time in the middle of the day, so that i could get on with something for me while the wee guy was at home. it worked quite well but i was v firm with carving out this period during the day. even now i don’t usually hide the housework or meal prep from him – he has to see what work is involved in running a home, it doesn’t just happen magically and invisibly.
        therefore he’s always had me ‘doing something else’ while he’s at home. he either occupies himself for a set time or works alongside (which i love cos he chats away). i save the real super-concentrating stuff (eg. proposal design, phonecalls, bookkeeping, etc) for when he’s out of the house or in the evening.

        PS: and it’s still not as easy as being able to devote yourself 100% to a task as in pre-kids. grumble grumble
        .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..date night =-.

      11. Up to 6 months, I was able to work a bit during nap time since the baby would sleep 1 hour at a time, twice a day. As he got a bit older, he would nap less and less and I was lucky if I had time to reply to an email and go pee. Working while he played proved to be quite impossible for me. I got most of my work done during the weekend, when my husband was home. When he took parental leave with me, we used to swap work times. I would work 4 hrs straight while he took the baby, then he would work 4 hours. We did this for awhile and it worked out really great :) When you know you have a limited time to do something, it really gets you pumped and working harder. It’s always rush-rush, as you know.

        My initial goal before the baby was born was to work 20hr a week starting when the baby turned 3 months. Funny, eh? Newborns could sleep anywhere from 12 to 22 hours. Unfortunately for us, our baby was more like the 12 hr baby. He is 14 months now and only naps 35 mins a day. Very soon he will not nap at all. Luckily, he is in daycare now :) If only he napped a lot more, I probably could have kept him home with me while I worked.

        One more thing I wanted to bring up is that trying to work all the time and being frustrated over it kind of got in the way of me enjoying my time with my baby. When I learned that it was just useless to do it, I gave up and just spent time with him. That was when I started to like being a stay at home mom more. Dedicating my days to him, then working after he went to bed at night and on the weekend was all I could do. Good luck to you!
        .-= mommyingaround´s last post ..Gung Hay Fat Choy – Year of the Tiger! =-.

      12. Excellent post, Amber! I really like the list and will refer to it again, I am sure. Very timely for me. Thank you.

        “..at least twice as long..” truer words never spoken.

      13. work? ha! i’m lucky if I can get a shower or have a cup of tea in peace!

      14. You know what? I am soooo relieved to hear I am not the only one who finds that (a) people think WAHM have it easy or relaxing etc and (b) they are still trying to find the right balance. Thanks for this post, Amber!

      15. It’s hard. Personally, I think it’s next to impossible, unless one can count on some help (with the housework/childcare/grocery shopping etc). I thought I’d write my thesis while my first baby napped: that’s how wishful (clueless?) I was – it took me years to finish it. I have managed some tight deadline freelance jobs now and then, while utter chaos was all around me, but not on a regular basis. It’s not so much the time management, but the intellectual focus that I can’t manage. That’s why hand work is easier with small kids.
        .-= Francesca´s last post ..Evolving trivets =-.

      16. Some days I do great, some days are down right awful. My least favorite event is when my boss (my dad) calls me up in a panick demanding an invoice or an update on an employees payroll deductions immediately. He usually calls right when the kids have had their hair soaped but not rinsed or I am in the midst of picking spaghetti noodles up from all over the dnning/living room….and really…rushing downstairs to my computer just isn’t my priority.

        But, it all gets done in the end, or it doesn’t and some how we all still manage. It has taken me a long time to remember to not take more than I can chew. Contrairy to popular belief…I am not Super Women!
        .-= Heather´s last post ..Just How Much Does It Cost? =-.

      17. No secrets here, just chiming in that yeah, it is hard. Mostly I get work done by staying up late and taking advantage of rare naps. “This is temporary” is a good mantra.

      18. These are great tips. I am about to leap into the world of working at home and am wondering if I’m crazy since I can barely even keep up a blog while being a SAHM. This gives me hope.

      19. Amber, this is great advice. I am just delving into the WAHM realm. And I am feeling badly because I can’t quite juggle paying attention to my son and emailing and being on business phone calls. It’s really tough. These tips are wonderful!
        .-= Old School/New School Mom´s last post ..The Writing On The Wall =-.

      20. Routines are really important for WAHM’s. Saying “I am working from 10-12 and then off until 7 or 8 or bedtime and then at work again for blah blah blah” Being flexible is important, yes, but making sure everyone knows you’re unavailable is important, too.
        .-= tracey´s last post ..Quickly, before I go… =-.

      21. Like the concept of working at home but have a funny feeling you need the same amount of childcare.

      22. The first one is KEY – pay attention to the kid first, or they’ll neeeeever let you get anything done. I somehow have to relearn this (the hard way) every freaking day.

        And this week I asked for help too (which I never do.) I had to do a radio show and didn’t want to let my kids take over the conversation, so I got on Facebook, and asked if anyone would come over to sit with the kids for an hour, and sure enough, one of my husband’s best friends (we call him Uncle Romero) offered to come over. He’s great with the kids (he worked for parks & rec for years, mostly with kids, and now he’s training to be a firefighter). It was perfect. He showed up, watched the kids for an hour, I did my radio show, and everybody was happy. I really have to learn to ask for help more often, and think outside the box on how to get things done.

        This is a great list. Gotta remember this stuff more often.
        .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..The Story of Julesy and his Bum Leg =-.

      23. I work out of the home, but would like to say that these tips are relevant for me too, particularly for when I’m at home trying to get whatever work I have to get done in the home (by this I mean, cleaning, finances, cooking, etc.). I think they are pretty universal truths that we can all learn from as we balance whatever we have to balance with little ones in our lives.
        .-= Christine LaRocque´s last post ..Lessons on growing up =-.

      24. I worked at home fairly frequently when Q-ster was a baby . . . but I had a full time nanny – that’s the only way I could get enough done. I occasionally entertain the thought of turning the plush toys into a at-home business, but there’s no way it could compete income-wise with the tech work, it’s likely to stay a hobby.

        Good luck with figuring out the balance. I like how you think through things.
        .-= Lady M´s last post ..Bedtime, When the Server Status Really Matters =-.

      25. Dude. I almost totally lost it trying to work from home with a toddler. I was working part-time (0.6 of full-time) for an online university. Most employees in my faculty worked from a home office and we only had once-a-month in-person meetings in one of the university buildings. I tried to do it without childcare at first and it was not do-able. I had to work 4 hours a day which sounds easy but if you do the math subtracting the number of hours my child needed constant attention I was left with 7 to sleep and 0 to, say, brush my hair or sob in a corner.

        As soon as I got my girl into part-time daycare everything went tickety-boo. I even had time to go for runs with my dog in the sunshine which for me = mental health.

        Now I’m not working at all but when my youngest is 1.5 I will try the online university again with a full-time nanny. There probably won’t be much left of my wages once I subtract her pay but the childcare will be tax-deductible which should make a big difference.

        My WHAM tip? Get childcare! You are working from home already! You can’t do two jobs at once even if you and everyone else thinks it sounds doable on paper! And remember that childcare is tax-deductible!
        .-= Betsy´s last post ..Birth Performance Anxiety, or, unassisted in a yurt with Enya in an owl-sanctuary =-.

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