Notes from the self-employed maternity leave

I welcomed kid #5 four weeks ago today. I started tracking my time continuously in April 2015, so I have a good picture of my schedule with four older children, and my schedule with a newborn. It’s been interesting to compare my time logs from before and after the baby’s arrival.

In particular, as I think about how I work, I’ve been studying hours devoted to my business during this time that, if I had a normal job, I’d presumably be on maternity leave. I decided not to take on any speaking engagements requiring travel during this time. So that part of my business has zoomed close to zero. But I can see that I logged 25 hours of work this past week (plus whatever I do today). I was originally presuming about a 25 percent schedule at this point. Since I generally worked 40 hours/week this past year — not 100 hours a week — this appears to be a 60 percent schedule.

Perhaps that sounds high for 3-4 weeks postpartum — like a lot of time to be gone. However, I work from home, and about half of this work is multi-tasked with feeding or holding the baby. I aim to do any deeper work around feedings between 9 a.m. and noon when I have childcare coverage and the 5-year-old is in preschool. Then I take the baby at noon and our nanny picks up the 5-year-old for various afternoon activities. They will stay home if I have something requiring silence or two hands, but I’ve generally felt like I shouldn’t change kid #4’s schedule. Becoming a big brother has been a big enough disruption.

So I play and gaze at the (very cute!) baby during the afternoon when he’s alert. If he’s sleepy, I tackle work projects. For instance, on three afternoons this week he took 60-90 minute naps on my lap or in the sling while I worked. Those were fairly productive work-naps. Other times I’ve been holding a pacifier in, and typing with one hand.

(The rest of the schedule: they come home 3/3:30 p.m. and I go for a run. The other kids come home 4-ish. I try to spend time with the other kids in between feedings. I’ve outsourced most activity-driving duties due to said feedings.)

A lot of the work is self-driven. I like what I do. Some is the reality of having a business that is based on my personal brand, plus timing with projects I started at various points last year (some before I even knew the baby was on the way!).

I don’t enjoy multi-tasking. It is frustrating and inefficient. But I am working toward accepting that this is the reality of having a newborn, and not shutting down my business. I am trying to do some more reading while nursing, as opposed to mindlessly scrolling the internet. But if I am going to just mindlessly scroll the internet, I don’t think pecking out answers to emails is a worse use of time.

There’s also the reality that it’s January and cold. If it was summer, I’d probably take the baby for walks during some of the sleepy time. But since I’m in the house with the baby sleeping in the sling, working seems more productive than the constant cleaning I could be doing given that I’m in the house, seeing the mess, for close to 100 percent of the time.

And as I consider things, I’m getting an OK amount done while spending a lot of time with the baby. I’ve learned some tricks over years of studying productivity that work even when time is extremely limited. Here’s what I find most helpful:

Plan my weeks on Fridays. What has to happen, and what would I like to see happen, personally and professionally? On Fridays I also make a firm plan for the upcoming weekend, and take a look at the next weekend to make a tentative plan.

Create short daily to-do lists. I generally create these daily lists — drawn from the weekly list — toward the end of the day prior. Stuff comes up, so the shorter the better. If I aim to do 3-5 things, they’ll probably happen. If I aim to do 20 things, they won’t.

Time block. I do not catch up on email during the morning shift stretches when I don’t have the baby. I can answer emails in small bits of time later. Calls have to happen in the morning. I think of the afternoon as baby time; my goal is no expectations other than caring for him during this window (though I often do other things when he naps, as mentioned above). I moved my run to the late afternoon, since that’s what seemed to work best. I might walk with a kid then instead, but in any case, it’s active time. Speaking of which…

Exercise (and sleep, as possible). In my speeches I use a line that “sleep and exercise don’t take time, they make time.” My sleep is interrupted, but I can do my best to make sure that I get 7 total hours in any 24. I can also exercise for 30 minutes a day.

Write it down. When stuff comes up, or I think of something that needs to happen, I write it down. Since I frequently stop what I’m doing to care for the baby, I can’t rely on remembering it. I’ll make lists in my planner, or email myself notes, like “register A for kindergarten.” And now that’s done.

In other news: I mentioned on a recent goals list that I wanted to watch a basketball game on TV. I finally managed to watch a Sixers game last night. They were playing the Lakers, featuring LeBron James, who started the game a few points away from Kobe Bryant’s all-time scoring record and passed it in the course of playing. I hadn’t thought too much about Bryant in a while, but with the announcers mentioning his name every time James scored, I decided to read his entire Wikipedia entry. I watched clips. I read about his family. So today’s news came as quite a shock. I know young lives are cut short all the time, but every time I read of one, I am reminded of the importance of using time well. We only get so much to do what we want to in this world. I wrote this essay after the death of a friend in a different helicopter accident two years ago trying to get at these thoughts.

17 thoughts on “Notes from the self-employed maternity leave

  1. Hi Laura – I very much enjoy reading about your self-employed maternity “leave.” I will likely make partner at my law firm and have my first child the same year. I didn’t necessarily plan it that way—it’s just how the timing has lined up. At my firm, making partner means you are a true business owner, and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. People think I am crazy for (potentially) doing both in the same year, but I think it will be ok. I will have more flexibility as a partner to come and go, work at home, and take the baby to the office. I like hearing about how you are getting quite a bit done despite having a little one. You give me confidence that it CAN work, despite the naysayers at work. One woman (who had all her babies as an associate and therefore had a full three month leave) told me that I was going to want at LEAST a month work-free after having a baby. Really, I won’t feel up to doing ANYTHING, even on my laptop in front of the TV at home? Anyway thanks again for inspiring confidence. I’d love to hear more about how you make it work.

    1. @Kersti – congrats on both accomplishments! If you want it to work out it likely will. You probably won’t want to appear in court in that first month but if you want to answer emails it should be fine 🙂

    2. Uhm… maybe not take the baby in the office, if you plan to work there. People will be more interested in her/him than in you and once you finished updating them, your babe will need attention 😉 You might not get the work done you came in for. Also, it’s nice to have a place dedicated for work. The office is quite suited for that.

  2. I was thinking of your productivity posts a few days ago when my attending asked everyone in the team to come up with one goal for the week that she’d observe/comment on. I said something about getting proficient at reading imaging, but all of my residents talked more about efficiency. One of them said that she tends to be working on a task, gets a page, and immediately pauses her task to deal with things that could wait for 15 minutes, with the consequence that she has dealt with a lot of small fires but never got around to dealing with the big task at hand. (And that’s why she stayed until 10 PM daily…). It was an interesting thing to think about, and I’m hoping I keep working on my own efficiency going forward!

    1. @DVStudent – these small fire distractions can happen to all of us. I try to resist the urge to “clear the decks” (more metaphors!) when I have non-baby time. I can post comments now, pecking with him in my arms. If I don’t have the baby, that’s the time for deeper work.

    2. I usually finish up then answer the page when I walking the hall to the next patient. Also, I really push the staff to chat me anything non-urgent so I’ve stopped getting a lot of pages. That plus putting it on vibrate have really decreased the distractions on rounds.

      1. Although not self employed maternity leave, my leave from academia, beginning in a few weeks, shares some similarities. Now that I’ve gotten into such a groove with Friday planning and blocking time, I’m honestly intimidated to go back to juggling and multitasking. I very much appreciate reading how you’re handling it, and hope I can welcome #3 with the same drive plus grace.

        1. @Adria – thank you. I’m aiming for drive plus grace, though not always achieving it. I do know that eventually I will be back to a more focused schedule.

    3. I did intern year before the era of secure chat. We had pagers on surgery, but not on medicine, and I can tell you that being paged is not nearly as distracting as being called. We always had to answer and respond immediately, and it was essentially impossible to get work done in an efficient manner. It was horrible. It sounds like technology might be catching up to the workflow, which is really such good news.

  3. I saw Kobe play for LM high school while I was cheerleading for the opposite side (we lost. Obviously). So heartbreaking and surreal and I agree always a reminder not to take anything for granted ❤️ Selfishly I am amazed at how productive you have continued to be post baby!! Though I am trying to pick up the slack a little 🙂

    1. @SHU – I love doing the podcast! Definitely worth the time.
      I always got a kick out of seeing the all-time point totals in the Kobe Bryant gym over at LMHS. The other records were like 1000 points and then Bryant had around 3000. No wonder they won a lot!

  4. I appreciate this entry beyond what this comment will show. I am currently in a full time doctorate program and just gave birth to my second child at the end of November. I am also raising my two year old at home (not in day care). I’m on maternity leave from my full time job and have felt completely all over the place with being back in school for the spring semester and caring for my newborn, up all night and not knowing how to utilize my time when he’s nursing and napping etc. I often feel like I can’t get it all done well, trying to squeeze things in inefficiently and mostly just trying to do it all.

    I’m a doer. I’m efficient and fast. I control my time. Ever since I’ve become a mom I have lost that efficient person who succeeded and got all the to-dos completed. I barely complete one task lately and that’s done poorly, at that. I, like you, have to work on accepting my new normal that I may have to multi-task but I can’t figure out which items go ok together to be multi-tasked. There’s always something that’s not done well or correctly.

    I cannot slack on school work; I entered this competitive degree by choice. I also cannot slack on momming, I chose to be a scattered/remote hours working mom so I could also be a stay at home mom. This is hard! Reading your post was the first piece of comforting words I’ve read in a very long time.

    Thank you for all you do and mostly, thank you for this post <3.

    1. @Ays – thanks for your note, and I’m so glad you found this post comforting! It is challenging to be distracted, and feeling inefficient, especially during this newborn phase.
      One thing I would say: in life there are no points for martyrdom — I have tons of help. Even if you don’t want to do daycare I wonder if there might be a set up where you swap some child-watching hours with a neighbor or a fellow student or family member/partner to have a few more focused hours for studying or work. Knowing I have some time to focus makes me at least slightly more relaxed…

  5. I’m very impressed and inspired! My company gave me three months of traditional maternity leave after I had my first baby. I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety, partially due to my daughter having terrible colic and sleeping in very short stretches (even though at 6 months people were complimenting her on how easy-going she was, things change quickly with babies!!) I am expecting my second in about 6 months, and my current company gives 4 months, which is great. I wonder if having some light projects to work on might help ward off feelings of anxiety and depression by helping me be less obsessed with how much I’m succeeding as a mom, etc. I’m hoping that my second child won’t have colic, plus I’ll hopefully be more confident in myself as a mother, but I’m also thinking of potential mini-goals to pursue outside of breastfeeding and putting the baby to sleep. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned, you can give them the opportunity to sleep, but you can’t make them sleep!

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