Working from Home – Part 3: The Reality

I’m writing a series of posts about working from home, because I get asked all the time what it’s like. Here’s Part 1:  The Backgrounder and Part 2: The Reasons. Today, I’m talking about the reality.

Kale’s general day consists of: getting up around 7 (or possibly waking up around 6-6:30 and shuffling into mommy’s bed), breakfast, activity, lunch, nap, dog walk, dinner, activity, sleep.

My general day goes something like this:

I get up around 7 or 7:30. I try and get up at this time every day. I’m often awake earlier, but I fear that getting up earlier to try and be the early bird and getting some work done is pointless because I’m either going to wake Kale just getting dressed or by turning on the computer. Every single part of my job (except writing out receipts) revolves around the computer. So, instead, I lie in bed and stress out about money. Or my lack thereof.

I get dressed right away. There is no “working in my pajamas” in this house. I feel more productive if I am dressed, even if it is jeans, hoodies, and slippers.  I cannot function without tea, so I usually make Kale his breakfast when the kettle is boiling. I let Kale watch some kids’ shows while I am getting my tea and breakfast (sometimes toast, sometimes fruit, sometimes cereal) ready. Kale’s breakfast is placed at the coffee table, where he eats it buffet style. It is the only way I can get him to eat breakfast.

I turn on my computer and let it do it’s warm up routine while I sip tea and eat my breakfast at the kitchen table. I’ve got a lot of plug-ins and programs and they all take their few seconds to start up and they need to do it in the right order. I get annoyed if it’s not immediately ready when I attempt to use it, so I’ve learned to turn on my computer, and come back to it later.

While I am eating my breakfast and sipping my tea, I usually check my iPhone. It’s faster than my computer. I often have a move to make in Words With Friends , which is one of my few guilty pleasures. I have a look at my Twitter feed, my Google Reader, and then Facebook. I don’t really care for Facebook much these days, and don’t put much effort into it.

Kale is usually circling my legs at that point, either mooching for some of my toast (especially if it has been smothered in jam) or asking for a frozen waffle, or something totally inappropriate like ice cream. He’s an optimist, that one. At this point the caffeine from my tea is hitting the blood stream and I can manage the “mommymommymommymommy” and the “what’s dis?” and the “huh?”. I often go to the computer at this point, inviting Kale to play on his piano on the sofabed in the office while I work.  He often chooses to go back to television, not shockingly.

I will spend about ten minutes answering any emails that are urgent or easy to get rid of.  I clean up and delete anything unnecessary in my inbox. I do not keep emails in my inbox unless they require follow up. I use Gmail, and I use their “labels” function liberally. I have a friend (hi, Will!) who, last time I glanced at his iPhone had three hundred and something unread emails. I would go crazy if that were me. I would not be able to handle that. Right now, for example, there are four emails in my inbox, all of them read, all of them requiring an action on my part at some point over the next week or so. I think once you get past 100 emails, you should just delete them all unread. If it was important, they will email you again or call you.

Desk = Messy

At this point I attempt to get Kale away from the television. I’m going to admit here that he probably watches too much. It is convenient for me to get a bit of work done and he thinks that there is nothing more entertaining than Saumon de Champlain. It is a crappy habit for me to have gotten into, but I am mindful of the time he spends in front of it and rarely need to use the TV as a sitter for more than 30 minutes or so at a time. There are times when I think that we should get rid of our TV – I don’t really watch much of it and if it wasn’t here we would find ways to replace what it does. But it is easier to leave things as they are right now.  I have, and likely will again, used television as a bribe so that I could finish something important.

Kale and I will often go outside if the weather is decent enough or we bake cookies. Lots of cookies. Kale has discovered that baking cookies is the bomb. If we are inside at home the market phone, which is one of my duties to answer, is on the counter. I will take calls so long as Kale is not crying or throwing a tantrum. Putting them to voice mail just means I will have to make two calls later – one to check the voice mail and one to call the person back. I prefer to deal with everything as it comes. I do not take the market phone with me – I turn it off when I am out. I used to bring it with me but after answering it huffing and puffing up a hill one too many times, I stopped.

I might take a few minutes here in between taking the bag of sugar out of Kale’s hand, or negotiating a trade for my timer and jot down a to do list for when I really do have work time later in the day. There are post-it pads (the size that are 3.5 X 5 and lined) and also the traditional sized post-its everywhere at our house. I love making lists. I love crossing things off of lists even more.

Hey, we could run out of these things.

So we will bake cookies, pretend or real, or perhaps we will play with playdough or I will fill up the sink with lukewarm water and throw in some dishsoap and pull up a stool. Kale is easy to entertain. He has a zillion toys but he enjoys them best when he enjoys them with someone.

Tea Cozy Hat

We have lunch around 12:30. I try very hard to actually eat something with Kale sitting at the table. Lunch and dinner are at the table, we are laid back about snacks and breakfast. Kale has some play time after lunch. He often begs for “telebishen” and sometimes I relent, sometimes I do not.  Nap is around 1. Kale has recently decided he thinks sleep sucks, and will go on at great length about how he doesn’t need to sleep. And yet, one book and two songs and the kid is out like a light.

This is where I race like a maniac. I throw on the kettle, grab some cookies (real ones, unfortunately for my butt) and plunk down at the altar to which I serve, my computer. I shut down all my social media at this point, consult my list of things to do, and work to get them checked off. I try and take ten minutes to get myself focussed and decide what projects need my attention first. I tend to work with about 30 windows open, and will often switch back and forth between multiple jobs. Once I find myself tiring of something, I hop to the next and so on. If I was watching me over my shoulder I would be infuriating to watch work. The goal is to simply NOT STOP WORKING and to take advantage of every single second I can. I give myself a 5 minute break every 30 minutes or so, and check my reader and my twitter feed to give my mind a few minutes to rest. I generally operate with the following priority schedule: simplest items first unless it is time sensitive. I try and save my long term planning and strategic work for the weekends when Ross is around to take Kale off my hands entirely for blocks of time.

I race to get work done, write emails, do some blogging (the blogging I get paid for). I make calls when Kale has been asleep for 30 minutes or so and isn’t likely to wake up crying. When all my paid-for work is done, I will surf around on the internet, looking up craft ideas, recipes, reading favourite blogs. About once every two weeks I find I need to not stare at my computer for the day, and so I will attack the housework with the same maniacal effort, or work on a craft project. I have no interest in daytime television whatsoever. I save my book reading for before bed. I often ignore my phone unless I am at the point in the daily work time when I can take a break or am doing the fun computer time-wasting.

The whole time Kale is napping I am praying for him to nap longer, no matter how long he has napped.

Stay this way forever

When he wakes up he opens the door that separates his room and my office, and he shuffles in. Sometimes with a bear, always with his sucky. Every once in a while I hear him awaken and I stop typing so that hopefully the quiet will lull him back to sleep. When he truly is done his nap, he will often come out blinky but smiley and announce, “I’m awake!”

I scoop him up for some kisses, hugs and snuggles and then drop him back to the floor. If he asks for telebishen I sometimes relent and I sometimes do not. Either way, he amuses himself while I finish up to whatever point I can and at this point I generally shut down the computer and I turn off the market phone for the day.

We walk the dog after nap, and this is always a struggle. Kale doesn’t like going for dog walks and makes it difficult for me. We have to change diaper, find socks, find shoes. There are often tears. I hardly ever let him walk anymore- I usually strap him in the stroller because I know that I’ll end up carrying him on my shoulders if I don’t. We walk the dog -sometimes it is lovely and fun, and more often than not it is a pain in the ass.

After dog walking we come home and start dinner. All along I am answering any emails that are urgent or easy to get rid of on my iPhone. I almost always feel guilty for bringing work with me wherever we go. Kale is, for the most part, unaware of how much work is happening around him.

Usually, night time just means more work. I still work 3 nights a week doing data entry for my former full time employer, and the few nights I am not working, I tend to schedule meetings related to my work from home work. I occasionally have a social evening out, but not often.

I am generally out 5 nights a week. The few times I am not I tend to stare at the TV blankly, not even registering what I am looking at, or I am madly scrambling to clean the house, do laundry, or, heaven forbid, spend time with my husband.

My husband is just as crucial an element to me working from home as my time management strategy. I would not be able to work from home if it were not for Ross. He regularly will take Kale for 3-5 hour blocks of time on weekends so that I can get large chunks of work done. If that wasn’t possible then we would have to hire a person to mind Kale for a few hours a week so that I could have a few blocks of time. Although most of the work I do is time specific tasks (order this ad, send this email, etc), some of my work requires longer blocks of uninterrupted time to complete and is more strategic or planning in nature with less defined timelines.

I am always tired. I do not remember the last time I felt well rested. Even when we took a week off in May, I did two things: I worked extra hard the week before we went, and I was still checking in and taking care of urgent or easy to deal with emails the whole time we were gone. I did two phone interviews while we were on vacation. There are times when I feel too connected to my job and I try and reset by taking a few days off and simply don’t look at the emails with the label for the market.

Goofing Off

Despite some of the unpleasant realities of working from home, I like it. In a perfect world I wouldn’t have to work at all but we don’t live in a perfect world. I feel like working from home is the best option for me – I get to use skills I am proud of – my ability to multi-task, my organizational skills, and my ability to time manage – as well as I get to stay at home and parent our son. I am nervous for the day when this routine changes and I have to relearn how to work in an office setting. I hope I never have to.

Up Next: Tips and Wisdom

11 years ago


  1. I hear ya about the TV. Caden also watches it too much for my liking, but now that he’s a NON NAPPER it’s the only way to get anything done on the computer. He’s pretty good at helping with Chores tho…

  2. We didn’t have a TV until I was 10. And we only got one cos the Canucks were in the Stanley Cup!

    I knew your days were busy but not to the degree you wrote about. Crazy!

    I’ve always thought stay at home mum’s should get paid. Thats a full time job in itself, more so if you have a job that you’re able to do from home in addition.

    Not sure why the gov’t things stay at home mums are lazy and not contributing.

    As always Jen, you’re a rock star!

  3. Jen, I’m exhausted just reading that. Inspired too. I hope to be able to work from home eventually – obviously when Fionnuala is bigger – and your time management skills are awe inspiring. These days I feel like I can’t get a damn thing done.

  4. Turning off the social media is SO KEY.

    And I also can’t function if my email inbox is more than a page long.

    You do what you have to do and I hope writing it all down has made you realize how much you do. Hoping you have some restful days before winter market…

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