I’m a stay-at-home mom, a homeschooler, the owner/operator of a bath and beauty company, I write blogs for Families.com, I’m the Wolf leader in my ward, and I’m an LDS historical fiction novelist. No wonder I’m so tired – after typing all that, I think I need to go take a nap.
People ask me all the time how I manage to balance everything. Well, truth be told, I don’t always. You don’t want to drop by my house unexpectedly or you’ll never know what you’ll find. We live in organized chaos. I stay up too late at night and I admit there are days when I feel like I’m chasing my tail. But there are a few things I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you in hopes that it will help make your schedule a little more conducive to writing. Or for that matter, finding time to do any other thing you’d like.
1 – Meals and Snacks
You don’t need to prepare an all-out meal from scratch three times a day. You can do cold cereal for breakfast once in a while, you know. You can also do cheese, crackers and lunch meat for lunch. I do try to prepare “actual dinners,” as my daughter puts it, and I do make breakfast and lunch, but on days when I’m seriously writing, I let mealtimes become more casual. Some ideas:
a. Keep yogurt in your fridge for a quick snack for you or the kids. Yogurt and a banana make a great breakfast, too.
b. Take a loaf of bread and make it into a whole stack of sandwiches. Then slide the sandwiches back into the bread sack. When someone needs a sandwich, they can just grab one out of the fridge.
c. Designate one crisper in your fridge to be a “snack drawer.” Fill it up with apples, cheese sticks, yogurt, etc. When your children want a snack, tell them to go get something out of the “snack drawer.” You can do the same thing in your cupboard. Make a basket with pretzels, crackers, etc. and have that be the special “snack basket.” You can take sandwich bags and break the boxes down into serving sizes and tell them they can have one, so they don’t run off with the whole box.
d. Make meals ahead of time and stick them in the freezer.
e. When I buy a package of meat, I like to cook it all up and then freeze it, cooked. That way, when I go to use it, I just have to warm it through instead of defrosting and then cooking it.
f. Make tomorrow’s dinner while you’re making tonight’s. Especially if you’re using cooked meat, you can assemble tomorrow’s dinner, cover it and put it in the fridge. Then just throw it in the oven tomorrow night.
g. Teach your older children how to make sandwiches, warm up soup, etc. They get a sense of pride in their accomplishments when they are allowed to help make a meal.
h. If you have younger children, make some sippy cups with milk, juice and water in them. Then when the child gets thirsty, they can either grab one themselves or you can send your older child to get it for them. It’s a lot less expensive than juice boxes, that’s for sure.
These are all things you can either direct from your computer or will help you spend less time in the kitchen = more time at the computer.
2 – Entertaining the Troops
a. It’s not a sin to let your children watch TV. I don’t mean to stick them in front of it for hours on end and let them watch whatever comes on; there are definite dangers in allowing entire days in front of the TV, and with the programming that’s on, you never know what they might be subjected to. But there are some fabulous programs on that are fun and educational, as well as great DVDs. My kids have learned a lot from shows like CyberChase, Stanley, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, The Magic School Bus, and the like. There’s nothing wrong with turning on the TV and letting your kids watch a show while you write.
b. Get some paper and crayons and let your kids “write” a book of their own while you’re working.
c. Ask older children to read to the younger ones.
3 – Adjusting Your Sleep
This one’s hard. But consider getting up earlier than your kids or staying up late after they go to bed. It will do a number on your own sleep but you’ll have a sense of contentment that may help make up for some of that lack.
4 – Housework
a. I have to get up and walk around periodically. So while I’m doing that, I’ll change out the laundry and put in a load of dishes. Usually by the time I’m done doing that, I’ll be ready to get back to work.
b. It’s not a sin to teach your children to do chores. The happiest children are the ones who feel that they are valuable in their homes and who have a sense of purpose. When you teach your children to do chores, you are helping them to feel needed. Of course, keep the chores age-appropriate. My 10-year-old can vacuum, and my 8-year-old can wipe up the bathroom mirrors and counter top. My five-year-old can unload the dishwasher. I even have my older kids stand on chairs to get the laundry out of the washer and put it in the dryer. They all love helping me make dinner. As they get older, I’ll teach them to do other things. This not only clears up five minutes of time for me here and there, but when we work together to turn a half-hour job into a ten-minute job (freeing up twenty minutes) we’re drawing closer together.
c. Reevaluate your thinking about housework. Mold is obviously not good. It’s important to have clean towels and clothes, and feeding your family is a good thing. But if you can give up something to give yourself time to write, think about doing it. Are there ways you could simplify your routines? Can you delegate more to your husbands? Can you put up with toys scattered across the floor for a little while so you can finish your chapter? Is it necessary to have all your dishes perfectly stacked all the time? When you’re on a roll with your book, it’s okay to let some things slide until you’re done.
5 – Organizing Your Time
Yeah, this tip’s not a piece of cake either. When you’ve got other people in the house and they have needs, it’s sometimes impossible to create the chunks of time you need.
a. One thing I do is to create Days. What I mean by that is, Wednesday, for instance, is Scout Day. After lunch I sit down and review what I need to do to prepare for the Scouts to come at 4:30. I’m not writing during this time, or grocery shopping, or anything else. It’s devoted to Scouts. I get ready for them to come, they come, and then after they leave, I look at next week’s meeting. I do any ahead-of-time prep work that needs doing, and if I need to buy something, I put it on my shopping list. I record what they got passed off and make notes on what they need to do next. Then, with the exception of getting whatever I might have put on the shopping list, I don’t think about it until the next Wednesday. Monday is the day I use to make the products for my business, unless I have an emergency order. When I was a Stampin’ Up! distributor, Tuesday was my prep day for that. Look at your life – are there certain tasks you can isolate to one day a week?
b. Create an errand day. I used to have the tendency to run out and do errands several times a week, and I found I was away from home a lot. Now what I do is designate an errand day. This usually coordinates with Pay Day. I’ll sit down and pay bills, and then I’ll go out and do all my grocery shopping, trip to the post office, to the bank (if needed) library, Blockbuster, etc, all at once. It makes for about a three-hour trip, but it’s better for me to get it done at once. Now, of course, in between times I still run to the library and Blockbuster (who could go for two weeks without books and movies?) and I do mail books and products as the orders come in. But I try to do it in chunks so that I’m home more often.
c. And again, with the sleep thing I already mentioned. I’m usually up until around 2 am, the main reason for this being that my husband works the night shift and so I like to stay up to see him off. But from 9:00 when all the kids are in bed (supposedly) until I wake my husband up to get ready for work, I can be at the computer, or reading a book, or watching a movie. With the book and movie reviews I write for Families.com, I need to make time for that in my schedule as well.
I think the main thing we need to do is find a way to create balance. You can write and take care of your children at the same time. I recently moved my computer into the living room (it was in my bedroom) so I could be in the thick of things. Right now, my two-year-old is five feet to my left, watching “Blue’s Clues.” I know he’s safe, I know he’s learning, and I’m writing. If you’re totally ignoring your kids in order to write, it won’t be as satisfactory to you. But if you totally ignore yourself and your own talents and ambitions, you won’t derive the kind of satisfaction from motherhood that you should. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids.
Tristi Pinkston is the author of eight published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing, coordinating blog tours, and online writing instruction. You can visit her at www.tristipinkston.blogspot.com or her website at www.tristipinkston.com.