This answer always makes me a little nervous, so let me start by saying that it’s all about what works best for you/your family (i.e. like most things in life there is NOT a Right Answer.) The things I’m going to say are only what worked for me. They are in NO WAY the only option or even the best one. They’re just my strategy.
The starting point for me is exactly where you started the question—how do I optimize the time? I begin with looking at what I actually do in a day—so I can figure out what to delete. IMO, the key is really maximizing time that you can allocate to either kids or words. The rest? Cut it.
1) TV— this is the easiest thing to identify & remove. Most people spend at least one hour a day in front of the box. Cut it.
- Divide tasks with your spouse/partner or/and
- Batch cook. We make a rice cooker full of rice, a pot full of “toppings” (sweet potato, black beans, onion are a current weakness). Then cube & freeze them. ( I like these trays.) After the cubes are frozen, pop them out of the container & put them in gallon zip lock bags (label with date). Stews, soups, vegetarian lasagna are all also good this way.
3) Adjust your exercise schedule to work for you. I try to walk 3X a week to clear my head OR to socialize (see point 7) OR to do “mom talks” once they’re tweens & teens.
4) Multitask— it’s the mom superpower. They’re napping (as mine is right now) so you handle the easier tasks like email/research/query letters. Playdate? Excellent. Use that hour to write. Lawn needs mowing (which I love to do) … That’s when I think about the plot from my next writing session.
5) Phone calls? If you can’t replace them with texts/emails, do them on the way to pick up your kid from school if they’re school age. (What I do since my teenager is 15 so without a license.) END THEM when the child gets in the car. Time in the car is critical “talk to me” time. No distractions. It’s when you share your day & theirs.
6) Shopping— if you can do it online, do so. I rarely go to actual stores other than the grocery (which I try my best to restrict to `once a week). Cut out drive & meander time. If you do go, take a kid. Make it an adventure. My daughter & I (starting when I became her mother when she was 4 yrs old) used to dress up in “fancy shoes,” hats, & dresses to do the grocery shopping. Yeah, I looked ridiculous often, but my kid loved it & the groceries got done. Now, when daughter is home from university, we grocery shop & then cook. It’s a lifetime bonding thing for us now.
7) Meals. Dinner is sacred in my home. No books, magazines, phones, anything. Back when we had a landline, we turned it off or ignored it at dinner. Now, it’s cell phones. They all must be left elsewhere. If there is practice for a sport? Have dinner late OR bag dinner to have it together at practice (& while they practice, you write instead of chat w other mommies).
8) Social life— Have less of it. This is the one that really makes me a little uncomfortable to admit. It has literally been 5 months since I’ve done anything social other than walking with a friend. My only social outings are
- Monthly book club (but I missed the last 4)
- Walking (in theory 3X a week)
- At conferences or on tour or at retreat
It also depends on the age of the kids.
When my eldest 2 were in the 5-12 years, I wrote for part of the time when they were on the playground or at a pool with a lifeguard. Then I wrote while they slept or were in school. My book deadlines? April & May…because I spend the bulk of June-August doing mom things almost entirely.
Now that those two are 15 & 20, I base my travel schedule & writing schedule around their school & holiday schedule. They are used to it, so they know that the two weeks leading up to a break, I shamble like a zombie so I can not-write and not-work when they’re home.
With the baby and his health concerns … I am less productive—and a little scary looking. My email is backed up; my roots are always in dire need of a dye. I have some serious bags under my eyes on the best of days. He’ll get older though, & once he’s in school or/and sports lessons I’ll work during his lessons.
In the mix of all that, a lot of activities that are “work” for the household can become team activities that enable you to be with your kids AND accomplish work that could be tedious. It’s a little (okay, sometimes a lot) slower to accomplish the tasks with helpers, but it’s also a way to encourage the ideas of
- The family is a “unit” with C.O. and X.O. leadership roles. (This was essential for us because of being a Marine Corps family.)
- Skills they can use when they move out eventually
- Sense of “anything can be fun with the right spin.” We’ve scrubbed floors in our swimsuits & then gone swimming after we were done. It was silly, & delivery people tend to look at you like you’re nuts, but *shrug* the floor was clean & the kids were giggling & THEIR opinion means more than what strangers think of me.
But here’s the thing under all of it: it’s about picking your priorities. I’m one of those women who prefer my kids’ company to any other person on the planet. I’ve turned down events that were awesome opportunities because it conflicted w my kids’ schedules. I’ve jettisoned friends bc they were a timesuck. I don’t give a furry fig who it is or what they want: if it conflicts w something my kids ask of me, it’s a big nope… and that goes for writing, too. At the end, the kids still outrank the job.
At the end of the day, what I know is this: I chose to be a mom,and right now, I need to work. I owe it to my kids & my job to do my best, so that (for ME, but not for everyone bc again, it’s not a One Size Fits All answer) means that I am constantly on alert to eliminate the things that distract from one of those two focal points.
I wrote Wicked Lovely while my spouse was deployed, and I was at home with two kids and homeschooling. It’s doable. It’s really truly doable.
Um, it may help to have less mirrors in the house, too. It’s easier to think you are safe to leave the house when you don’t see the Cheerios in your hair or how ludicrous you look in your “Grocery Dress Up Outfit” …