Creativity and time management

This morning I read Rich Adin’s post The Business of Editing: Self-Discipline & Work Acquisition Costs (via Copyediting’s News Roundup) about the costs of dawdling on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. in the name of marketing. Rich makes some excellent points, and as a champion procrastinator I recognize my former-ish self in the post. But I wanted to springboard from that post into a description of how I’m getting work done these days with very small children.

I started out trying to dedicate a few hours per day to work: go in the office, close the door, get things done. My husband Matt is a writer and stay-at-home dad, so I figured that he could pretty well handle things and bring me the baby whenever it was time to nurse. I set up the Pack-n-Play next to my desk and a TV with DVD player and Roku box and placemat for the 2-year-old.

That was a lovely plan, but it utterly dissolved when put into practice. Baby Rosaline was fussy, didn’t want to be put down, and wasn’t happy in a sling. Margaret, the 2-year-old, watched TV for maybe 20 minutes and then wanted to “draw” like Mama (who was actually writing daily plans and to-do lists), or had a meltdown when I wouldn’t give her my pen, or spilled chocolate milk no matter how spill-proof the sippy cup. One child was crying while the other had spit up or needed an immediate diaper change. Some catastrophe happened and everyone had to pitch in — like the day the elder child was so sick, all the beds in the house needed to be stripped completely of linens and waterproof pads and whatever other layers, all of which had to get washed, dried, and put back on the beds by naptime. While I was writing this post, Matt was rocking Rosaline to sleep for her morning nap, and Margaret slipped off a piece of furniture and thumped her butt on the floor. (She was fine; just needed a hug from Mama and a tissue.)

And I also try to keep in mind that one of the best things about working as a freelancer with small children at home is that I can take time to play with my kids. I want them (and Matt) to know I’m here, not locked behind a door, shouting for them to deal with whatever on their own. Yesterday, Matt and Margaret went outside to shovel the driveway, and I stayed inside nursing the baby and making hot chocolate. After dinner I settled in at my desk and edited some precalculus assessment items due today. (The plan was to do that work after the girls were asleep, but Margaret was uninterested in sleeping and I had to take a break to put her to bed.) This morning, Margaret was full of toddler rage at not being allowed to help scoop coffee grounds into the coffeemaker, but Matt distracted her long enough for me to make oatmeal for everyone. Then Margaret and I played Minion Rush for awhile over breakfast. Maybe that was wasted game-playing time, since I do have deadlines today. But it did give Margaret a few minutes with just her and Mama, and now she’s putting puzzles together in the living room while I’m working in the office.

Before Rosaline was born, my workday was a little more about self-discipline, maximizing billable hours, and increasing efficiency. And when both girls are in school and I have the luxury of losing myself in work for hours at a time, figuring out the best use of those hours might become a priority.

These days, however, I’m moving to project-based rates to help reduce the need for precise time-tracking (a decision I made after clocking in on an hourly project for seven minutes, then five minutes, then nine minutes, then 25 minutes, then four minutes…). I’m looking at the day as a 24-hour period and scheduling accordingly. Projects that need more focus get done after bedtime, during naps, or in the morning when Rosaline naps and Margaret is happier with self-directed play. Shorter projects get done in quick bursts in the afternoon and evening. Appointments and errands happen in the days between deadlines. It’s less about not getting distracted and more about being flexible, prioritizing, and seizing the moment.

And right now I need to put a load of clean clothes into the dryer and find out why Margaret just brought me an ornament from the Yule tree.

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