10 Things I Do When I’m Working from Home

1. Work

I know this comes as a shock to some people, for whom working from home is a euphemism for a lie in, but it is entirely central to my routine. In fact, I tend to start earlier and work more hours sitting in my kitchen. I feel it’s a privilege to be able to do this, and I don’t abuse it.

2. Refuse to look after my child

It can’t be done. I do not work at home to save on childcare. I work at home so I can see her for more time around the childcare, rather than missing half of bedtime sitting on a train. When she is with me, she deserves 100% of my attention. When I am being paid, my work deserves 100% of my attention. This way, everyone wins.

3. Cook

I make sure that I still take an hour’s lunch break (though it might be split into two shorter breaks) and it is a great opportunity to do job lot of cooking of simple things that can be shoved in the oven. This also means I achieve more time with my child when she gets home.

4.  Take a walk

Before I start, or after I finish the main bulk of the day’s tasks. Or at lunchtime, if I’m not cooking. Fresh air is one of the best things for creativity and clear thinking I’ve ever encountered.

5. Set a timer to get up

I have the kitchen timer next to me, and I set it for a reasonable interval – 30 or 45 minutes – and when it goes off I stand up. I might just blink at a wall for 10 seconds, do 20 star jumps, do a couple of stretches or walk to the loo and back, but whatever it is, I don’t stay seated.

6. Eat

Far too much, sadly. It’s so easy when you’re so near the fridge.

7. No housework

It’s paid working time. Not hoovering, tidying, sorting or dusting time. Aside from cooking, the only chore I might consider doing during a break is the laundry, largely because it’s done by machine, not me.

8. Wash and get dressed

I can’t claim to always dress exactly as I would for work, and my shower might be deferred til lunchtime if the morning routine doesn’t allow proper time, but I refuse to work in PJs. It’s the wrong mindset. Also, I feel cold.

9. Work in silence

I was the teenager who couldn’t write  a word without pulsing indie baselines. Now I cannot focus properly with music on. So I work in blissful, library-like peace and quiet without a single interruption but for a cat’s inquisitive meow now and again.

…though I have been known to talk to myself.

10. Send fewer emails

I thought I’d send more because I need to keep in touch with people but actually the distance does make you re-evaluate your ability to handle the issue at hand without bugging everyone about it. And those I do send tend to be longer and more carefully thought out.

Time management as a work-out-of-home mother

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a ‘working’* mum recently, since a colleague – I call her that, she’s really, very rapidly, become a friend – decided that the time was not right, family-wise, for her to be in the role she was in. So she left. It was, for her, exactly the right decision at exactly the right time.

For me, being in my job is a no-brainer in all sorts of ways – financial, intellectual, emotional, you name it. I get satisfaction from work, I enjoy work and I need to work. But in talking to her about all the things she intends to do now her time is more her own again (she will, of course, have to share that time extensively with her children, as was her intention, but they are school age so there are hours in the day without them), I realised there is one piece of my otherwise happy puzzle I’ve left out: me.

An average day is pretty rushed. I get up early for my very favourite part of the home day: waking Ramona up. She is an absolutely snuggly, warm and gorgeous delight first thing in the morning. A little bundle of wonderousness and at her most cuddly, rubbing sleepily at her eyes and grinning that slow-blooming, dozy grin that makes my heart pound and swell with pure, melting love.

Then off I shuffle to work and Get Things Done, all the while learning, learning, learning. Even in just the last two and half months (probation meeting next week – eek!), I’ve taken part in various aspects of agency life that are completely new to me, and stretched creative muscles that had been getting a bit creaky. I suppose using muscles you’ve let go soft builds up a bit of lactic acid – there are always times when it briefly seems Too Much – but they also quickly condition themselves, and you start to come by those ideas faster, develop them a little better, feel your initiative jerking up a gear.

Then back home again, and if I’m lucky I’ll be back just in time for my other favourite part of the home day: bedtime. She’ll have had a bath, and I’ll be there to read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish or Meg and Mog or Oh, The Thinks You Can Think (this week’s choices) followed by snuggling down in her big bed and then singing. We have to have Hungry, Hungry, the alphabet, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; Ramona generally sings comedy versions where all the words are ‘Mummy’ or some are replaced by blowing raspberries. She’ll make a great stand up comic one day, if fart noises are your kind of thing.

Days when I work from home, I get to pick her up from nursery and have extra play and reading time together. This is immeasurably precious.

Yet even when I’m with Ramona, in those wonderful few hours, or at weekends, I’m too often weirdly attached to my phone, or trying to do ten things at once. I can’t switch off one brain for another. I’ve got so used to multitasking, I try to do it constantly, phone in hand, one eye on a screen.

And then I eat, and collapse. I’m not exercising enough – I’ve started going for brisk lunchtime walks on the days I work from home, and that’s helped, plus I insist on getting away from my desk for some air every day now that the weather isn’t totally arctic. I do have a little extra time, especially the one day a week Ramona stays the night with grandparents, and I have from 8pm to 10pm every night once she’s asleep. But somehow, all I fill that time with at the moment is… nothing. Or, at least, not the things I really love doing.

I know that if I really wanted to, I’d find time to do those things I mean to do: exercise, draw and paint, write more (especially on here) and, crucially, pay 100% full and undivided attention to Ramona whenever I’m with her – or at least admit I need an hour to myself and go and sit elsewhere and get whatever it is done before coming back to again commit myself to her. As I’m doing now, actually, with one ear on her playing and reading happily with her dad. This is not an ‘I’m addicted to technology’ cry for help; it’s an admission that I try desperately hard to be all things to all people, but risk failing the people who matter the most: myself and, most importantly of all, my family. I’ve always been organised and efficient at work, and able to compartmentalise and prioritise; at home, however, I seem to let it all slip to everyone’s detriment, and in spite of an excellent, supportive husband who more than pulls his weight all round.

So taking the time to write this and get this off my chest is the beginning of a shift to being more my work self at home. Bringing the attentiveness and care that I like to pour into my work, and pouring them into family life just as much. To spend more time playing pirates, and painting hands green (there’s a whole other blog post in that one coming soon) or scribbling on this blog, sketching and scrawling, reading, reshaping that novel or catching up with friends.

I made a resolution this January that the theme for this year would be Decisiveness. It’s worked out pretty well so far, so I decide to pay attention to making all the parts of my life work better together. Let’s see how it goes.

*I do hate that term, and I’m enjoying seeing it being used less in general. It’s pretty much the ugly sister to ‘full time mother’. I am Ramona’s mother all the time, even when I am at work in an office. Mothers who don’t work outside the home sure as hell work in it. And both terms rather unpleasantly imply that mothers are the only parents that count.