When news of the school closings and social distancing procedures hit Atlanta, I was bummed. As the coronavirus sent everyone home for the potentially long haul, I couldn’t help feel a sense of anxiety. How was I going to get anything done? It’s not that my whole routine changed, I’m always home for work, I freelance. The issue became whether or not I could work from home and be at home at the same time.
Working from home
People joke all the time about how those of us who get to work from home can spend the whole day in our pajamas. That we have it so easy. That’s so far from the truth. While I do have more control over the hours I work and the flexibility to change my specific work location around the house, there’s always a million things to do. It’s a game of how to slip in basic errands or household chores among the video conferences and writing assignments. How to stay on top of email when I’m not really “at my desk.” I admit that I have a great system in place for breaking up my work time into work-work and house work. House work is usually bookended by periods of work-work. The precious hours the kids were at school allowed me to cross more things of my to-do list than I thought possible, growing my freelance business to a point where I felt professionally valued.
Being at home
Now, thanks to the coronavirus, I have to contend with being at home. This isn’t the same. Not only am I not alone, but I have all these rules to follow that I didn’t create. Where I should and shouldn’t go. How close to stand to a neighbor. All the working from home benefits are gone. I don’t get to take breaks with friends or feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from going to the grocery store on the same day I have a big deadline. There’s no interruption to the to-do list because now it’s not just what I have to get done, but what everyone else has to get done too. I’m still working, still taking care of household stuff, but I’m also running Mom School for my kids. Compartmentalizing my time is harder as I feel a simultaneous pull to get it all done at once. Being at home is totally different.
How to be at home and work
The first step is getting the order right. Be at home first. Take care of your kids and your home. Work with your partner and those around you for support in the things you can’t do alone. For example, I don’t want to take the kids to the grocery store right now. It’s too chaotic to shop and keep them away from everyone. My husband graciously goes early in the morning before it gets too busy. I just have to make a more detailed list than I’m used to and can’t spontaneously shop.
Once you get the day’s stuff done being at home, then do the work. There may occasionally be some overlap, but work comes second. I created a daily schedule where the kids get a big block of afternoon downtime. They want to zone out so I can zone in and get work done. I check my emails throughout the day and often grab a 30 minutes block of work during lunch. I work nights more often than I did before, but it’s less stressful working later than it is trying to do it when I’m constantly interrupted by the needs of others.
I also allow for things to go wrong, for schedules to get way off, for extra events to invade my perfect day. If the kids have an opportunity for a FaceTime activity, it takes precedence. If I have a meeting, it’s okay to move other things around that one time. Being off by 30 minutes doesn’t ruin my day anymore. I am also trying not to stress out about what I won’t get done, because it’s not all possible anymore.
Advice from a stay-at-home, working mom
I wear all the hats these days. It’s only temporary, but the coronavirus has forever changed the way I look at my day. The realization of what I can fit into it, that wasn’t there before, means I can do anything. The hope that I’ll one day regain a little more me time or free time is in there as well, thankfully. Whenever it happens, my saving grace has been acknowledging the difference between working from home and being at home, and figuring out the best way for me to do both.
Image by Chuck Underwood from Pixabay.