This past year has challenged everyone to get creative when it comes to managing their lives from home. As someone who has juggled a home-based writing career while mothering two kids for 15 years, even I have had to adapt. But successfully working from home, especially if you share that home with other humans, is an evolving process, even when there isn’t a global pandemic adding stress and obstacles to the mix. It always requires commitment, organization, the ability to set boundaries and priorities, and flexibility. Here are my tips to making the best of it.
Commitment. The first thing I did when I started working from home was remind myself that writing is my job. It’s not a hobby. I earn income as a writer, pay taxes on that income and have a separate bank account for expenses related to writing. But it’s a very different kind of writing than the creative writing I’m doing to become a published author of books for children and teens. No one is paying me right now to do that kind of writing, but I believe it’s just as worthwhile. I committed to finishing a manuscript and now I’m committed to revising it so it’s the best I can make it. I’m committed to improving my skills and developing my craft. My creative writing time is valuable and precious and I recognize that I’ll only accomplish my goals by continuing to treat it that way.
Organization. My freelance writing work is unpredictable. I may have no assignments one day and multiple assignments the next. To best manage my time, I sit down each Sunday with the calendar on my phone to plan the upcoming week. Then, based on what I know I have on my plate, I write out a schedule for what I need to do each day. I’m a detail-oriented person, so my schedule is subdivided into half-hour increments and includes time for freelance work, creative writing, non-writing-related appointments, 15-minute breaks, a lunch hour (or half-hour on really busy days) and every-day tasks such as walking the dog, preparing dinner and, before my kids could drive, taking my kids to school and their extra-curricular activities. I review and update the schedule each night to reflect any changes that may pop up on any given day that will affect the rest of the week. Having something on paper that I can review quickly each morning keeps me focused and productive, especially when I’m juggling multiple projects for several clients that may all be due the same week. I’ve tried other tools to organize my time, but the old-fashioned paper method works best for me, although I do use my phone for appointment reminders and timer features to stay on track.
Setting Boundaries and Priorities. This part of my writing process has been the most challenged during the pandemic. Pre-COVID, I rarely had trouble setting boundaries or priorities. When my kids were infants and toddlers, their well-being and healthy development were unapologetically prioritized over my writing time. Once they started kindergarten, I only worked while they were in school or while my husband was home to take care of dinner and bedtime routines. But at the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself in unchartered waters. My husband and both kids weren’t just home; they were home with no obligations. My husband’s job shut down and the schools closed, but I still had freelance assignments coming in. For the first time, I had to be firm with setting boundaries. (I know you don’t have school tomorrow, but you can’t stay up until 3 a.m. playing video games and FaceTiming your friends because I still have to work tomorrow. I know you want me to come on a bike ride with you because, yes, the weather is gorgeous, but I have a deadline to meet.) I also had to prioritize tasks based on deadlines. I would focus on accomplishing the tasks that had firm deadlines first and made my peace with the fact that other tasks sometimes just had to be left for another day. Which brings me to my last tip…
Flexibility. Even with the best intentions and scheduled plans, life happens. Kids get sick. Storms knock out power. The meeting you thought would only last 30 minutes stretches into two hours. Global pandemics, as we now know, can happen. Being flexible when the unexpected happens is the only way to survive working from home. If you’re organized and know how to prioritize, re-working a schedule to still meet a deadline is possible. But sometimes you just have to remember that tomorrow is another day. In those moments, it’s okay to dig into a pint of ice cream or go for a walk or play with your kids. It’s important to remember you’re human, and we all need to remember to give ourselves a little grace from time to time.