Back in January, I put out a call for reader time logs. Tiffany King responded and shared a bit of her life with me. She’s a mom of 4 kids, who she’s homeschooled. The oldest two are now in college. The youngest two were — in January when we first corresponded — 10 and 14.
For years, she’s identified herself primarily as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM in internet parlance). But in 2008, she started a website called Eat at Home. This site offers weekly meal plan subscriptions, as well as quick recipes for busy families (I totally see myself making this breakfast casserole this weekend).
The problem? It’s not so much a problem, but the website is starting to do…well. She gets several hundred thousand visitors per month, and from what I know about ad rates, this can produce high into the four figures of revenue monthly, let alone what subscriptions bring in. As she told me, she is earning the tuition for two kids in college.
In other words, from a sheer economic perspective, she has successfully opted back in. But her mind has had a harder time with the transition from SAHM to “WAHM” (work-at-home mom). After looking over her time log, she noted that “I really thought I spent more time on blog work (maybe 20-25 hours per week).” While it only totaled 15 hours, “it feels like I’m doing blog work all the time. Part of this may be because I chip away at small tasks often. When the kids are working math problems, I scan email. When I’m waiting for a pot of water to boil, I post to Facebook or Pinterest. I try not to do more involved work during school hours, because it just frustrates me and the kids too.” She described her blog work as her “biggest time issue,” which was causing her much stress, and said that “Right now, I’m fitting it in, but soon soccer season starts and that will involve driving kids to practices, staying there while they practice, etc. That will cut into my working time. I already feel like I’m squeezed trying to fit in the work.”
Is this juggle inevitable? I’m not so sure. I wrote back to King that I’d noted multiple uses and versions of the phrase “fitting it in” in our correspondence. I’m a WAHM myself (actually, I “WAH”-ed before becoming an “M”), but I never talk about trying to fit in my work. I work between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and then often from 9-10:30 at night. Because I work, there is time carved into my schedule to work. The fact that I work at home is a nice perk, but work is work. I’m not saying King needs 50 hours per week to work — I have no doubt she is way more efficient than I am in terms of dollars generated per hour invested — but “if you’d like this to be a serious enterprise, then maybe fitting it in is not the right way to think about it,” I told her. “You need focused time to work.”
King did not disagree with this assessment. She wrote me that when she got away from the house — like to a coffee shop — “I’m amazed at what I can get done.” But she didn’t do that very often. “I’ve tried carving out some hours to work away from home, but I haven’t been too successful. I usually work in the family room with everyone active around me.” That was about as productive as you can imagine.
I came up with a few ideas for focused work time that would leave lots of space for homeschooling:
1. Waking up at 6 a.m. to go to the coffee shop (which she had done in her log once). She didn’t need to do this every day to make it worthwhile. Even twice a week would be good. Twice a week is doable.
2. Putting the 14-year-old in charge of the 10-year-old for a block of down time after their primary homeschooling time in the afternoons. King could go to the library.
3. Assigning the kids projects — maybe they could even start their own businesses or work on hers! — for the early afternoons. If her kids were little, she’d get this “off” as nap time, so it seemed like an option.
4. Letting the kids watch more movies or have more screen time. School is sometimes inefficient and teachers show movies too. She could work during this time.
5. Getting help. Her husband or another relative could take the kids for 2 long evenings per week. Getting to work from 5-9 p.m. for two nights per week would probably allow her to do as much as she was doing in 15 hours of scattered work.
6. [I didn’t suggest this in our original email, but Anne over at Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote of hiring a mother’s helper to assist with some of their homeschooling. This would be an option too — bring in a college student to supervise some of the school work while King worked on her business.]
King agreed to try some more coffee shop time. She wrote me back soon after and said she’d gone to the coffee shop that morning and had achieved turbo productive status. I cheered her on and told her to check back in a week.
She did… and said she’d had mixed results. “Mixed because I feel like I’ve found some success, although I didn’t make it out of the house again to work since last week. But I did get up early last Saturday to work at home. I worked in a separate room at the desk. It doesn’t have a door, but the kids respected that I was working before we took off to have a fun day. I got quite a bit done then.”
I wrote her this week to check how things were going. She told me that “This summer has afforded me quite a few good working opportunities where I found myself alone in the house. All the kids were often occupied with activities or friends and I was able to get a lot of work done.”
This was still a work in progress, though. “I’m entering a challenging season,” she said. “We start homeschool again tomorrow. And all the sports and classes are starting up again too, which means lots of driving and carpool duty for me. I hate to say that I don’t really have a good plan for this.”
As she wrote in an earlier email to me, “I’ve been a SAHM for so long, and I’m so used to placing kid needs above everything that I’ve found it hard to switch gears.” Changing one’s mindset about what mothering means sometimes takes longer than starting a successful business.
So, readers, what do you suggest as a plan for King to make regular time to work and — more importantly — to feel confident about doing it?
In other news: Do you like these time makeovers? There are several more in the paperback version of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, which will be out August 27. You can pre-order from Amazon here and Barnes & Noble here.
Photo courtesy flickr user Ant McNeill