Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't Interrupt Me Unless You're Bleeding, Or How to Balance Family and Writing

Writer Wednesday

One of the greatest benefits of being a writer, is the flexibility it gives you with your family’s schedule. You can work around school events, play dates, family parties, etc. You can put in a six-hour day while the kids are at school, but still be there when they get home. Or you can take a Friday off for a long weekend away with the spouse.

But the benefit is also the down side. Working from home can give family members the impression that you are available at a moment’s notice to take care of their needs. That you can drop anything and drive them around on their schedule.

This is where the problems begin. The more you say yes at the beginning, the more they will ask. The more you give over time, the more they will take, until you are doing more for others than you are yourself. Consequently, the writing suffers because you don’t have enough time to devote to it.

Here are some techniques to help you to work from home, and create a good balance of work and family.

Value Your Time—Your time is a precious commodity. Therefore, you should place a value on it. What would you charge per word if freelancing, and how many words can you write in an hour? Keep this figure in mind when someone asks you for a favor, or when there is work to be done around the house. Is it worth your hourly rate to do this chore or errand yourself? Or would you be better off hiring someone?

Prioritize—Plan ahead and see what absolutely has to get done that day, week, month. Prioritize your tasks accordingly. For example, you have a workshop presentation coming up on the 15th of the month. Start preparing weeks ahead—create an outline, write the workshop, practice, prepare handouts, etc. If you wait until the 14th to start preparing for a large project, it won’t be done to the best of your ability. Also, create a Command Center for the family. Have a calendar out in the open for all to see and use. For yourself, use a planner with both family and business so you don’t double-book. Look at your planner and calendar on a regular basis, so you can prioritize your tasks for each day.

Delegate—Get the cooperation of everyone in your family. Assign age-appropriate chores—even the youngest can help out. Hire out what can’t be done by family members. For example, is it worth it to have a weekly lawn maintenance service, or would you rather spend several hours a week mowing the lawn? Can you hire someone to pick up after your dog in the yard, or should you continue to do it?

Eliminate Interruptions—When you are home and have set aside time to work, don’t answer the phone (except in an emergency). Don’t reply to e-mails as they pop up. Save and reply to them all at once. Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door, and make sure your spouse and children respect your wishes. Have them understand that they can’t interrupt you unless they are bleeding.

Make the Most of Your Time—Make lists so you don’t forget anything. In meetings, have an agenda and follow it. Go to only one store instead of shopping three different ones for sales. The time and money you save in gas will be worth the extra you spend in groceries. Also, if you are having a repairman over to fix the plumbing, schedule the furniture delivery or furnace check the same day. Don’t take two days away from your work.

Work Wisely—Don’t over-schedule yourself. Don’t be a perfectionist all the time. Learn to delegate. Don’t procrastinate. And concentrate on the task at hand. Multi-task only if it doesn’t compromise the outcome. For example, phone calls from the car can be distracting if you are trying to write down phone numbers or check your calendar. But phone calls while cooking or watching soccer practice can be beneficial.

Play Wisely—Schedule in fun time with the family and date time with the spouse. Make it clear to family members that if everyone helps, everyone wins.

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