Making all the parts of my life work together

Depending on how much of my site you’ve checked out and how long you’ve been reading my blog, there are a few things you probably know about me:

  • I’m a writer.
  • I’m a single mom of two.
  • I homeschool my kids.

This makes my life interesting. Since I’m a writer, I work from home on my own schedule. Homeschooling my kids takes up a big chunk of my day, as does spending quality time with them. As a single mom, I’m responsible for it all. I have no partner to take over when I need an hour or two to focus on my work, or to bring in any income, or even just listen when I need to vent about frustrations with anything.

I often hear how lucky I am to be able to set my own schedule and work from home, or how jealous others are because they don’t get to do this. While I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because I do know that I am very lucky to do this, but I do have to say that it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be.

Some of the pitfalls?

  1. No clear lines between school/work/relaxation. Because everything is done at home (well, not always at home, but since I don’t have to leave the house for any of it), there’s no clear distinction to separate everything out. I’ll often have my writing software open all day and work on it in spurts between everything else going on – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except when it’s time to go to bed and I’m still writing, and I haven’t read at all today or I’m two months behind on a show I love to watch. This lack of clear boundaries also means that when something becomes a bigger priority, it’s too easy for me to shove everything else aside. We need to focus on school today? I just won’t write. So then I get behind on my work, and end up shoving school aside for a day so I can try to catch up on that.
  2. With no schedule, people think I’m always free. If my kids were in public school, our days would be defined by their start and finish times. If I worked in an office somewhere, my day would be defined by that 8-5 schedule, and people would know that I am not available during those hours, or (in the case of public school) that I have to be somewhere at a specific time. But with our life the way it is, too often people assume that we can just get together any time, with no notice. I’ve heard more than once, “Well, can’t you just do that later/earlier/another day?” Well, sure, I could. But if I keep putting writing or school off, eventually either I never get back to it or I’m so far behind that my stress level skyrockets and we’re all working ten times harder than we should be to get caught up. I love getting together with friends, but I have to be able to work it into our schedule. I need to have advance notice, and a little understanding if I say, “Sorry, but we’re busy that day.” I don’t always get that.
  3. Some people assume I do nothing all day – or they seem to, anyway. This sounds like a repeat of number two, but it’s a little different. Whether it’s asking me to wait for a cable guy or saying, “So which soap operas do you watch?”, some people are pretty clear in their assumption that I don’t really do anything. I am always busy, even if it doesn’t look like it. I’m teaching my kids, I’m writing my book, I’m researching my book, I’m reading which helps me be a better writer, I’m cooking or cleaning or enjoying quality time with my children before they grown up, move out and move on with their lives. If that’s doing nothing in your book, so be it – but I’m still going to stick with doing my nothing instead of waiting for your cable guy – and for the record, I watched Days of Our Lives because my grandmother does – and even that was only rarely, and never happens these days..
  4. I’ve had to rethink all of my relationships. I spend so much time on homeschooling or writing that I’ve had to really think about my relationships. Dating relationships are essentially nonexistent at this point (which is fine, because I’m actually quite happy being single), but I’ve had to look long and hard at friendships as well. I’ve had to consider whether it’s really worth investing my limited time and attention in some friendships over others, and whether longstanding ones needed to continue or if I was simply holding on because I’d know the person for so many years. When I’ve discovered that someone was unsupportive of my choices (whether to write or to homeschool), I’ve often cut that person out of my life completely, because I don’t have time for that kind of negativity – but usually, by the time I do this, their negativity has already begun to burrow into my mind and I have to work hard to remind myself that this is my life and that everything I’m doing has an end goal, and that end goal is a good one – and an achievable one, despite what I might have been told.
  5. Guilt. I struggle with a sense of guilt quite often. If I take a day away from writing entirely to take the kids to the park or on a field trip, I feel guilty for not getting any work done. If I give them a light day of school so I can take more time to write, I feel guilty for not trying as hard to pack as much knowledge as I can into their heads. If I tell friends no, we can’t get together, I feel guilty, but if I put aside writing or school to get together with friends, I feel guilty. It’s not constant, because most of the time I do realize that it’s all probably going to balance out in the end and I’m doing what I think is best at the time, but it does happen.

Those are just a few of the things I deal with when trying to make all of this work. I have found some ways to make it easier on myself, though. One is a daily planner, where I clearly lay everything out. I mark out time for school, time for writing, activities we have going on, places we’re going, etc. And I color code. Yes, I know, it sounds OCD and insanely anal. But I do it. I color code the stuff. And I do that for one reason: being able to see those blocks of color that show me where each thing is happening, I’m able to more clearly see if I’m getting off balance or not. It helps me see that everything is pretty well balanced, or that this week I focused too much on writing, so next week needs to be more about school. It also helps me see when we have activities and things happening, so I can figure out how they blend with school and I can cut back elsewhere. It also allows me to remember I need to do laundry.

I’ve also found that doing some things in chunks works better, too. Taking a couple of hours on Saturday to plan the school week ahead makes it easier to get through the week, because I don’t have to scramble the night before (or morning of) to figure out what we’re going to be doing. Taking the time to write my blog posts (I have two blogs, if you didn’t know) all at one time and then scheduling them to post when it’s time is a lot easier than writing them the day I want to post them – it also means I have more time to figure out just what the heck I want to write about.

Doing things in chunks serves another purpose, too: It provides a few clearly defined times when my kids know that I have things to do and they need to entertain themselves. That means I get those things done faster and more easily than I would otherwise. Why don’t I apply this to writing? I try, but I can’t always get it to work. Sometimes the words just won’t come, or I can’t write as quickly as I need to to get my word count goal met in that chunk of time.

But I’m working on it. I’m figuring out ways to make things easier or faster. I’m learning to be able to better explain things to those people who don’t understand, so that they will be able to understand why I can’t wait for their cable guy or get together in ten minutes.

Do you work from home? Whether you’re a writer or you do something else, what are your tips and tricks for setting aside work when it’s time to focus on home, and vice versa? What do you do when people assume you’re always free or that you would be willing to help them out by waiting for the pest control guy or a package they’re expecting? What are your biggest frustrations with working from home?

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