This is how we do it

168 hours — the amount we all have per week — is a lot of time. I maintain that it is enough time to build a rewarding career and have a family and personal life too. But how, exactly, does one fit everything in? What does “having it all” look like on an hour-by-hour basis?

After Cloud — the nom de blog of a biotech executive and mom of two who writes at Wandering Scientist — wrote about her usual logistics, feMOMhist suggested a blog carnival in which lots of people would write about their work and family schedules. The blog carnival is in honor of International Women’s Day.

To a degree, I’ve already posted my schedule — multiple times! You can see several 168 Hours challenges here, here and here. During these weeks, I kept a log of how I was spending my hours and posted it on the blog. I think time logs are more accurate than attempts to describe a schedule, but the point of this blog carnival is more narrative: to talk about how working parents do what they do.

For starters, a bit of background: I’m 33, and I have a 4 (almost 5!) year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 5-month-old who’s still nursing. Professionally, I’m an author of various life management books (All the Money in the World, 168 Hours and Grindhopping). I also write for a variety of different places including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, City Journal, Fortune.com, a 3x/week blog for CBS MoneyWatch, Real Simple, Prevention, etc. My husband travels a lot for work. Partly for this reason, my mother-in-law has been staying with us for the past 6 weeks to help out. We have a full-time nanny for regular workday care, and the 4-year-old is in preschool 5 mornings a week, and the 2-year-old 2 mornings a week. I work in a home office.  

So here we go. The photo on this post is of my office on a really good day. I try to keep the desk relatively neat, though, because I spend a lot of time in here.

These days I’m getting up between 6:30 and 7. Often, I’ve been up at 4:30 or 5 to feed the baby, but sometimes she sleeps through the night, and if she doesn’t, she’ll go back down in my bed until 6:30 or 7. The wake-up is usually precipitated by either my husband’s alarm or my 4-year-old jumping into bed with us. If my husband is traveling, sometimes I set an alarm for 7-ish.

We get up and have breakfast. The baby often wants to eat again around this time, which is a fascinating logistics challenge to get a 4-year-old and 2-year-old breakfast if I’m by myself with them. This is one reason my mother-in-law has been staying with us for the past 6 weeks, but she’s refused my pleas to stay forever, so it’s back to getting frozen waffles out of the fridge with one hand while holding the latched-on nursing baby with the other next week.

Our nanny shows up at 8am. She helps the kids get dressed and get teeth brushed. During the 8-8:45 window (when my mother-in-law isn’t here) I try to crank out a blog post for my own blog or CBS MoneyWatch, or some other quick hit like answering a few emails or sending a pitch. At 8:45 either I take the 4-year-old to school (a 5 minute drive) or else the nanny does while I stay with the other kids. 9-noon is time for focused work, with some interruption for baby feeding as necessary. This is when I try to tackle any longer writing assignments, like working on book chapters or writing an essay or column.

At noon the 4-year-old comes home (either I pick him up or nanny does with the other one of us handling the other kids) and we all have lunch together. I don’t schedule anything from noon-12:30 most days so I can sit and eat with the kids. In the afternoon, I tend to schedule phone interviews, or handle things like social media, quick edits, etc. My business is a 2-woman operation these days, and my marketing guru (who works remotely) has massively boosted my productivity.

I go for a 30 minute run most days after the baby’s afternoon feeding. At 4:30-5 I start triaging so I can finish anything that needs to happen that day by 6. My goal is to spend the last 15 or so minutes of the workday reading something relaxing, as if I were commuting, but this usually doesn’t happen.

My mother-in-law has been cooking dinner the past few weeks, which has been awesome. If she’s not here, I try to come out from my office at 5:45 to make the boys dinner. Sometimes I’ll make myself something, or else if my husband’s coming home at some point in here, I’ll wait. Nanny leaves at 6 most days, and I give the kids dinner. Hang out for an hour or so, playing, reading stories. If I’m by myself, I’ll put the 4-year-old and 2-year-old in front of the TV while I go put the baby to bed around 7:30, aiming to be done by 8. Back down to read more stories with them, play trains, cars, etc. I tend to do baths for the boys on nights another adult is around due to concerns about the baby crying and needing to be picked up while I’m in the bathroom watching them. We try to be in their room by 8:40pm for jammies, teeth brushing and stories, then lights out at 9.

Then it’s back down to my computer most nights. I’ll catch up on email I didn’t get to, and try to tee up a blog post for the next day (or at least figure out what I’m writing about for here or CBS MoneyWatch). I’ll sometimes answer Q&A requests, respond to blog comments, sometimes read other blogs during this time. It’s also a good time for coming up with pitches for different publications.

If my husband’s around we might watch a Jon Stewart (TiVo’d). I shower at night. At least I’m no longer pumping at night (a little trick I learned by the second baby to keep my milk supply high enough for exclusive nursing, even if I miss a feeding. Start pumping as soon as your milk comes in so you produce more than the baby needs. The upside is this makes nursing easier. The downside is that I hate, after a long day, to spend even 8 minutes tethered to a breast pump).

In bed at 10:30, reading until around 11. Sleep.

Variations: Our nanny stays late on Wednesdays so we can either do date night or so I can get more work done or go out with friends. She then comes later, like 11, on Thursday and Friday mornings, since my older two are both in preschool those days. So I tend to get them both ready for school and do the school run with all three in the car (if mother-in-law isn’t there). Sometimes I’ll take the baby grocery shopping after the school run, since I can’t necessarily get that much work done while I’m taking care of her those mornings. Otherwise, she and I hang out while I do light work (answering a few emails, easy edits). Or we just play if she’s looking extra cute.

Outsourcing? Professional cleaning for floors, linen-changing, kitchen, etc. Hubby does laundry (lately mother-in-law has been).

Weekends: Nothing set much at this point. Some housework. Yard work. I try to do a run. We do at least one family activity: zoo, aquarium, visit people, children’s museum. Sometimes we go to church on Sunday morning. We make hamburgers and hot dogs on Sunday nights. Sunday night is a work night after the kids go to bed to get ready for the week.

I’ve been aiming to do more things with friends, and I usually have one event a week. This is a part of my life I hope to scale up when I’m no longer in the kid-chaos that comes from having three under age 5. I go into New York every two weeks or so, and that nicely muddles the rest of this schedule up. We aim for date nights every few weeks. I’d like to run more, and hope to do it in the early mornings as the weather gets nicer.

Overall thoughts: Things are a bit hectic now but will calm down when I’m no longer feeding a baby every three hours in the midst of a book launch. I’ll use some of that time to work, and some to go for longer runs. I’ve been working on reducing the “mental load” problem that comes with running a household. Hiring a good nanny is key to this. My 4-year-old showed up at preschool with handmade Valentines that I had little to do with.

I’m pretty happy with how I’ve worked out the logistics of my life. I’ve written, and had published, two books in the past three years, during which I also had two babies (in addition to the first). I’ve run a marathon and a half marathon. I work a lot, but I also eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with my kids more days than not. I’m slowly making more friends in my new home, but I still get back to New York relatively frequently.

How do you make your life work? Feel free to post here, or if you have a blog, I’m sure the blog carnival could use lots of other entries!

26 thoughts on “This is how we do it

    1. @FeMomhist – thanks for hosting the blog carnival! I don’t think anything makes the stress disappear. Even if you have teams of help giving you around-the-clock support, then you’d be stressed about earning enough to pay for all that. I have found, however, that having a nanny makes for less stress in my life than daycare. We did daycare when we just had my oldest. To breastfeed, I had to pump and visit him on my lunch break. There was the matter of getting him there and back, plus packing bottles, diapers, wipes and baby food. He got sick a lot so we had four weeks to cover that first winter. And come 6:30 he had to be out of there, even if things were running late. This caused a lot of resentment on my part that I wound up dealing with all this since my job was more “flexible.” My husband kept saying we should hire a nanny. When we had a second kid, we did (and then kept the oldest at daycare for reduced hours as a preschool). Adult women get sick a lot less than children in daycare. Plus you have help with the mental load. But no, there’s still some stress. I go back to Cloud’s point that any choice you make, having little kids is hard.

    1. @ARC- fun reading yours as well! It is a full house right now. Fortunately, it is a not-so-small house. We’re working on staying out of each others’ way, and we have a basement that is far away from my office and full of toys. My MIL is primarily watching the baby. When she leaves, the nanny will be watching all three, with me pinch-hitting (e.g. so all three don’t have to be loaded into the car for a pre-school run).

  1. I HATE you for the 8 minute pumping sessions. 🙂 Mine took 40 minutes, plus cleaning time, every 3 hours. Letdown alone took at least 15 min. I managed to read all of the Harry Potter books, at least. I think the time pumping was worth it, though, because allergies/asthma run in my family and my one child with asthma seems to be outgrowing it.

    In terms of child cleaning w/o a partner available, we prefer showers to baths. It’s safer with children who need supervision (hard to drown in a shower while Mom is dressing someone else) and the chance of mess is reduced. (hard to shovel water out of a shower)

    1. @Twin mom – yikes, that’s a lot of pumping time. If I were trying to produce enough for twins, I suppose it would take longer! Good tip on the shower. I’ll talk to my 4-year-old and see how he feels about trying it.

      1. On really rushed days, another timesaver for bathtime is me showering *with* the 2yo. She enjoys the novelty and quite honestly I’m a lot faster when she’s in there with me – no desire to linger in the quiet 😉

  2. Oh wow, thanks for sharing. That is a very busy schedule.

    After reading 168 Hours, I timed everything I do and I picked up a few things from you that I now try to follow. For example, when my child is having a nap, I just drop everything and read my book. Before, I was just walking around, tidying up, etc. and would really lose this time.
    Or, when I spend time with my child, I do it with focus on him (no glancing at TV or my phone, etc.)

    I work full time (outside home) and we also have a great nanny. She comes on Saturdays as well, so that is when I have my day off (I am also doing my master’s degree so I mainly use Saturdays to catch up on my study, although I can probably organize better and do it in the evenings, after my son goes to bed) We outsource all our cleaning and ironing as well. I have actually done that when I was single as well. Never felt bad spending money on that, but I spend much less on clothing than most people I know. It is worth every penny. My husband does all the cooking and cleaning up afterwards (the nanny cooks for our 2 year old).

    So basically, I get up at 7ish (that is when my son wakes up). I am trying to get up earlier and do my workouts in the morning, but I don’t make it most days (really, really want to change this, because if I don’t get that morning workout, I don’t do it at all). When my son was waking up at 6 am (or earlier!), my husband and I used to put him in his pram and do some fast walking outside and that was really great, but now that he sleeps in a little, I really need to push myself not to stay in bed, too.

    Our nanny comes at 7:45 and we are out to go to work at 8. (we don’t have breakfast at home, just take our showers and go) Takes about 20 minutes to work. Back home by 5:30. Nanny goes home when we come back from work. Then it is some exclusive time with my son and he is usually asleep by 8pm. That is when my husband and I have our dinner and watch a TV show (we usually have something going that we both like to watch on a DVD. We rarely watch TV, except for the news). And then comes my me time which I can use productively, but mostly I end up just talking with my husband. Bed time at 11 or so.

    If I am catching up with friends, I might go straight after work. My husband and I rarely have date nights, but we have a date lunch every Saturday when our nanny is with our son.

    On the weekend it is usually relaxed and I try to plan 2 things to do (one before and one after his nap)

    Anyway, all in all, I know I could do a lot more with my time, but for the moment it works for me.

    Both me and my husband travel for work and when my son was a baby I really looked forward to any time away, when I can just go to a hotel room after work and watch a movie or something, knowing I won’t be woken up in the middle of the night, but now that my son is older (and a lot more fun!) I find it increasingly difficult to go on those work trips and am starting to avoid them (which is not so smart)

    Anyway, I am impressed at how you manage your time at home. Even when I take a day off to study, I have to get out to a coffee shop to avoid all the distractions at home!

    1. @Stella – when I read comments like yours, sometimes I think I need to go back and read my own book. Your weekends sound particularly good, with a date lunch. What a nice way to get time together!

  3. Also, the pumping tip is great – I discovered that by accident and we had enough in our freezer to last 11 months (I went back to work at 4.5 months).

  4. I’ve been watching general hospital since I was 14 and I pump while Im watching it as much as I can as pumping without another activity is boring.. I love breast feeding and am really proud I could do it exclusivelly and work full time with my second… My mother in law lived with us from time my second was born until he was 10 months and hopefully will be coming back again soon. Daycare is great but it is a lot of work with the packing and I’ve never really been able to find it close to my house … I’d love to run and exercise more.. but coffee has been a lifesaver to me and lately I get up early .. even sometimes on a weekend and bask in like a 1 to even up to 6 hour quiet work time while everyone else is sleeping… thanks for the posts !

  5. I really like this post. It has been fun getting a glimpse into other people’s logistics problems and solutions!

    I wouldn’t call myself an executive, though- to me that implies a C-level job. I think of myself as a middle manager with a lot of operational responsibility.

    1. @Cloud – oh, call yourself an executive. Everyone else does! There’s been such title inflation of late.

  6. Thanks, Laura. It’s fascinating to see how you (and others) spend their time.

    Do you struggle with meltdowns from the kids, when they want to be with you during the day, for instance, when lunch is over and you need to get back to your office?

    I work from home and sometimes get protests from my two and a half year old. About half the time he is completely fine to say “see you later” and play with the nanny, but the other half of the time can be challenging. I do my best to stick to my schedule and explain to him that I am working. Also, our place is pretty small, so that compounds things, I think, as it makes it harder for him to “forget” that I am in the next room working.

    1. @Heather – it is hard to figure out the right set-up sometimes. If I hear someone scream or cry, for instance, I’m tempted to come out of the office. But if I were at a real office, I’d never know. So I’m trying to ignore it (tough as it may be – and I give up if it continues for a few minutes). There are a few meltdowns of trying to come into my office. Not frequently (they really like their nanny) and also, I give a heads-up if I have a call where I really can’t have kid noise. So everyone knows to stay out of the way for those.

      1. Thanks, Laura. Like you, I attempt to stay put when I hear the screams, etc. Navigating the days when my oldest wants to come in the office or demand access to me is tricky, but I try to hold the space and remember nothing is permanent! One day he’ll be in school and I’ll be looking back and remembering…

        1. Noise cancelling headphones with some music or even “off” with nothing playing s helpful when the kids are home. Mine are older but still it sends a signal when they step in or pass by my office: headphones on and back to them/ the door.

          Laura looks like you have a beautiful office. I need to get mine in better order.

  7. Another thought: I love these posts and looking internally at our lives and schedules.. But it is interesting on international womens day that we focus internally on ourselves and our own schedules and not that much on our society and/or the still issues with being a working woman in it… we do need more activism and conversation about what is still broken in a society where a law professor tells congress she thinks she should have birth control and a major national figure calls her a WHXRE. We have a long way to go to equality.

    1. @Cara- I guess it’s the whole personal/political issue again. We have to be simultaneously practical and expansive. I tend to think it’s hard to argue for changing the world when you don’t have data. People understand stories and relate to them more than to abstract arguments. That’s part of the way the human brain works (per Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast & Slow — a great book)

    1. @Well Heeled Blog – don’t get tired! I’m sorry if I made it sound bad. It’s really quite doable. One of the reasons I wrote 168 Hours is because before I had kids I kept hearing people complain about how tired they were, how they had no free time, their careers were shot… Doesn’t have to be. There’s time to work, time to sleep, time to play. I’m going to someone’s house for dinner tonight, going into NYC for a concert tomorrow, went for four runs this week. Life continues!

  8. Interesting schedule. I contributed my post because I think what’s missing from most discussions are the schedules of solidly middle-class nine-to-fivers with less flexibility than higher level management! It can work but we can’t afford a nanny or cleaning help or less often, and if we do, there goes gym memberships and date nights!

    1. @OilandGarlic: jobs without flexibility definitely throw a wrench into things. I’ve come across some research that people can work many more hours without work-family conflicts if they have control over their schedules and the ability to work from home sometimes. If you don’t have that, then even basic full time work (40 hours) starts to cause conflicts.

  9. The two things I struggle with are meal times (planning mostly) and inspiration. You are so prolific in my eyes. How do you write so much? What do your idea or ticker files look like? I try to follow RSS feeds and newsletter emails and facebook feeds for ideas & current events but then I am left with no time to develop anything.

    1. @Starlett- maybe I write so much because I stink at planning meals 🙂 We don’t really menu plan so much as have a short list of very simple meals we like. Sundays is hamburgers & hot dogs. There’s often a frozen pizza in there somewhere. Pasta with tomato sauce and Italian sausage. Sometimes we’ll do salmon or some other fish with beans or asparagus and rice. Fajitas happen relatively frequently. The kids have a pretty short list of foods they’ll eat. As for writing so much, I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with volume. If someone is running 50 miles a week, that’s what they get used to. Maybe I’ll write a blog post on that topic soon.

      1. That menu looks like our house, and maybe I need to re-look why I feel I need to do better. This weekend I caught up on a lot of my reading blogs and such, and I didn’t cook at all. Kids survived (husbands out of town). We just threw things together when we were hungry and didn’t worry about “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” I started doing a search for something to the effect of “nutrition by grazing” and came up empty handed initially. I’ll have to keep looking because it may be the solution to my “problem.”

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