How to deal with interruptions

I love this image: this is me every day!

I’m cooking breakfast.

A kid spills a glass of milk and makes a huge mess.

I sit down to work on a writing project for a client.

A simmering pot bubbles up and spills all over the stovetop.

I’m trying to do some yard work.

A neighbor drops by and engages me in conversation over the fence, totally oblivious to the dinnertime pressure the late afternoon hour means for me.

Life is full of interruptions – especially when you live in a house with kids who cry, fight, don’t want to do their schoolwork, and constantly mess up their surroundings. You might feel like you’re about to tear your hair out in frustration when you know all you need is an hour to finish a project, but you can’t even get 15 quiet minutes.

So how do I still handle things without going crazy?

Answer: I don’t. There are days when I feel I’m about to crack under the strain, but I do find that a few things help me keep the balance.

  1. I get up early in the morning. At least, I try, as tempting as it is to get a few more minutes of shut-eye. I have found out that my best chance of getting stuff done is early, before anyone else is up. But to do that, I need to go to bed early the day before – if I push myself to be productive after only 3-4 hours of sleep, I’m groggy all day long and won’t be much good for anything.
  2. I expect interruptions. I know I won’t have long quiet stretches of time throughout the day, and set realistic goals.
  3. I break up tasks into increments. Rather than say, “OK, I have an article to write/closet to rearrange/kitchen to clean and it will take one hour,” I say, “Now I write a few paragraphs/clean a couple of shelves, and it will take 15 minutes. After that, I’ll go on if nothing’s in the way.”

Even if I’m super organized and set my priorities just right, I can never do all I’ve planned – but usually, I have something to showcase at the end of each day, which is better than nothing.

My transition to a work-from-home mom

If You Dream of Being a Work-at-Home Mom, Here's Everything You ...

I had my first baby over 11 years ago (crazy to think of! Time flies!) and ever since, my life has revolved in a large measure around my children.

Until my fourth child was born, I was mostly “just” a stay-at-home mom. Don’t get me wrong – it’s more than a full-time job! Oh, I did get some bits and pieces from my books and articles, but overall, I was more focused on saving money than making it.

My mindset shifted with a prolonged period of financial distress, during which I realized how vulnerable I really was. I knew I needed to have a source of income, but I also knew I wanted to be with my children. Thus I resolved to work from home. But how to achieve this, when I already felt like every spare moment was taken?

Well, I certainly made some lifestyle changes that enabled me to fit part-time work into my mom schedule. Here’s how.

1. I became a lot more careful with my time. Not that I was ever that frivolous, but I did watch the occasional movie with the kids during the day, and I could spontaneously set aside a couple of hours for a whimsical project like picking acorns for crafts.

Now I’m extremely jealous of every spare minute during the day. I am either with my children or working, and any extras (like outings) are strictly pre-planned. I don’t remember when I last watched a movie and I rarely answer the phone, opting to return calls at my convenience instead.

Does this sound too restrictive? It might be, but this schedule has enabled me to generate an income from home while also going on with writing and publishing my books. I think it’s a worthy tradeoff.

2. I sought the niche that works for me. I tried translation, transcription, and a couple of other things, and eventually got into freelance editing and, more recently, writing. If there’s one advice I’d give anyone, it’s this: don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like, even if it pays well. You’ll get burned out very quickly and won’t last.

3. I diversify and work towards creating a scalable income. I don’t concentrate all my work on one platform, but do some on several for a constant cash flow. I also work directly with authors, helping them edit their books.

Finally, even though it’s not easy, I set aside some time for my own books. In the past couple of years, I have been rewarded with a steady trickle of income from this venue, and I hope it will keep growing (book 5 in my Frozen World sci-fi saga coming soon!).

4. I don’t take low-paying gigs anymore. When you just start out, you may have to accept some less-than-lucrative jobs to get some experience under your belt, but take it from me, you don’t want this to last too long. Keep looking about you and angling up to raise your pay rate.

I currently work about 2-3 hours a day, splitting this time between early in the morning before my kids wake up, and a spell of quiet time I usually get around mid-day. I used to work after the kids have gone to bed, but realized I’m not really productive at that time of the day and it’s better to relax and spend some time getting the house in order before I go to sleep so I’ll have a good start the next day.

I don’t make full-time income yet, but that is my goal. Eventually, I want to be able to provide for my family single-handedly, if needed – like in case my husband loses his job again. It gives tremendous peace of mind knowing you have feasible, flexible options to do that – especially during a full-blown worldwide crisis.

Pesach cleaning, schedules and resentment

Purim will soon be here – which, at least in our household, means we’re already busy cleaning for Pesach. Some people actually relish the chance to scrub out every little long forgotten nook and cranny, but I’ll admit this isn’t my favorite season. Our day to day life, while simple, is full – and when extra cleaning creeps into my schedule, it feels like a thief trying to rob me – of peace, tranquility, adequate rest, time with my children and the very limited time I have for hobbies and personal projects. All gives way to cleaning the top of the kitchen cabinets, because maybe some long-lost crumb had found its way there somehow.

I realize all these spots – the tops of kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, pantry shelves etc – do need to be cleaned some time, and without Pesach looming on the horizon I would have little incentive to do so. Still, I can’t love the feverish business of these spring weeks – especially as the lovely weather is so inviting to be out.

My husband usually contrives something to make things easier for me. For example last year we needed to replace our stovetop,  which was done just a few days before Pesach so that I could simply throw the old one away without bothering to clean it. Another year, we had a new refrigerator delivered shortly before the holiday. But of course we don’t replace our kitchen appliances every year.

I always find it ironic that window-cleaning, the traditional Israeli pre-Pesach sport, should take place at such a particularly unlucky season – full of sand storms and dusty rains. Rationally I would say there is no point in cleaning the windows on the outside till the summer. But of course everybody still does it, including me.

This year I have a detailed schedule which will, hopefully, get me through the next six weeks with my sanity intact. Every day I get up knowing what I need to do, and when I’m done I hang up my mop and dust rag. I don’t try to outrace myself, knowing that no matter how hard I drive at those kitchen cabinets, there will still be plenty to do the next day.

Moving at a turtle’s pace, slow and steady

Working in our pajamas

There are some days when, if it weren’t for the necessity to go out and feed the chickens, I’d probably remain in my fuzzy pajamas all day long. As the critters do need to be fed, and as someone might pass by and wonder at seeing me in pink pajamas and fluffy socks at midday, I get dressed, put on my muck boots, and trudge out with a box of feed in hand. Moral: if you want to have more motivation for self-discipline, keep animals. If nothing else, it will make you get dressed properly in the morning.

For most families, structure is something integral to every day. They get up, fly through the routine of dressing and breakfast, and everyone goes off their own separate ways for the days. For those who both work and learn from home, the situation is very different. We are pretty much in each other’s hair every day and all day long, and that is by necessity a mess-generator (both physically and mentally). Structure is important; it doesn’t have to stick to conventional routines or hours, but it must be there.

One of my favorite homeschooling resources, The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, has a chapter on schedules called Structure, or Can We Wear Our Pajamas to School? Here’s a quote:

“Often families who start out with a fairly rigid structure find themselves becoming more relaxed and flexible as they grow more comfortable with homeschooling, whereas those who began with an informal and casual style may discover the need for more structure.”

We’ve been in both these places. Some years ago, a homeschooling friend told me that in her family, and in all homeschooling families she knows, later hours and more flexible meal times for kids are the norm. I bristled. Not with us! Dinner at 6, bath at 6:30, story time at 7:00, bedtime and blissful silence by 7:30. And you know what, for a long while I adhered to these principles religiously. But I paid dearly for it. Stress, tension, and constant chafing with my kids became the norm. On the other hand, I wouldn’t adopt my husband’s suggestion of just letting them run about until they drop off from sheer exhaustion. These days I’m more flexible, but I do know, and so do my kids, that once we’re on the track of dinner-baths-reading time, it leads to bedtime and that’s that.

Another great quote from The Homeschooling Handbook:

“Figuring out which part of which ideas will work for you is not easy. Often the ideas you find most attractive and expect will best fit your family don’t work for you at all. Or they work for a year or two and then suddenly seem ridiculous. Just remember that your kids are growing and changing and the relationships among you all are changing as well. It’s unrealistic to expect homeschooling to remain the same in the midst of those changes.”

His Help

Image result for messy house

When I was first married, I had a certain mental image of myself in my mind: not just a wife and mother at home, but a wife who does absolutely everything in the home, which is her exclusive domain, with no help from anyone. It was a nice image, but it was unrealistic. The truth is, I was unaccustomed to housework, I was an inexperienced cook, and I soon had two small children. I was under stress.

It took me a long time to realize that my husband, in fact, is quite capable and willing to lend a hand in order to promote the things that are important to him – such as cleaner floors and more diverse dishes – and what’s more, actually enjoys doing some of the cooking and baking. His pita bread is famous around the neighborhood.

It took me even longer to let go of the feeling of inadequacy when my husband takes over some of the household duties – another of my unspoken convictions being that, since he works such long hours, when he’s finally home he’s supposed to have perfect liberty and leisure. Somehow, it never seemed to work. Eventually I realized it takes both of us to finish the Shabbat preparations at a reasonable hour, not because I’m lazy or disorganized, but because even though I am, in fact, busy doing my duties at home every day and all day long, there are things I just don’t get around to soon/often enough, through no fault of my own.

Now, there are many things around here which are my exclusive property, such as dishes, laundry and diapers. There are, on the other hand, things my husband does on a regular basis, such as grocery shopping and fixing things around the house. And there is what I normally do but what he lends a hand with, such as washing the floor and cooking.

There are women in my neighborhood who would rather invite their mother or sister over, or hire household help, than accept help from their husbands, the premise being that there is women’s work and there’s men’s work. And you know what, in some cases it might be true. I, however, have come to terms with the fact that I’m not just a stay-at-home Mom, but a SAHM who gets a great deal of help from her husband – and grateful for it. I realized that well-functioning arrangements are better than idealized expectations, and that pride leads to unnecessary stress. It took me a long time, yes, but I finally got there.

Today I know that, the nature of work in and around the home being constant and never-ending, there will always, no matter what, be more than enough left to my share, even deducting anything my husband can reasonably do. Therefore, I accept whatever help I can get with no qualms and with a lot of simple gratitude.

Tips for busy homemakers

I received an email from a reader asking me about my homemaking schedule, and what advice I can give someone whose organizational skills aren’t her strongest point (ahem… like myself *smile*).

In homemaking, there are no rigid rules, and I’m certainly far from being able to call myself a pro! Besides, things change all the time and, as good as schedules are, sometimes we need to modify them, or even let go of them for a season, to do what is best for our families.

Having said that… I do have a system of sorts, and while it isn’t perfect, it works. I’m a morning person, which means that my energy level does a sharp dip in the afternoon, so I try to concentrate all the major chores (laundry, dishes, beds, animal care, garbage disposal) as well as any cleaning in the morning, so that the afternoon can be dedicated to more relaxing pursuits; often I schedule my cooking for the afternoon as well, and sometimes I make dinner preparations in the morning (defrost meat, chop up vegetables, etc) and just toss everything into the pot or pop it into the oven in the afternoon.

But some people aren’t morning people; if you feel you have more energy or free time in the afternoon, you might want to make the morning a gentler time, and gradually pick up speed as the day comes along.

I cook for my freezer, provided there’s freezer space. That is to say, I make large batches and freeze them in separate containers, so that convenient-sized portions can be defrosted at need. I also freeze bread a lot; I put it in the freezer when it’s still warm, and it tastes just like fresh when defrosted.

I have an erase board which I simply love. It’s placed in a convenient location in the kitchen, and contains several columns, such as shopping list, weekly cooking plan (which I try to come up with at the end of every week), project list, and list of things to research/write/check. Whenever I get something accomplished I erase it from the board, and it’s so rewarding!

There are also many websites with organizational tips for homemakers, and some of them offer samples of printable schedules. I’m sure that, even if it takes a little time, you can work out something that is right for you and your family.