Juggling work, a young child and travel is not easy. For an increasing number of long term travelers working while traveling and people trying to combine parenting and working from home the balancing act of work, kids and life is an important one. How well they manage work and child raising has a great impact on their lives, as it does on ours.
A few years back we wrote about the importance of establishing a daily routine. That advice still holds up but our lives post-baby are vastly different. In particular we are much more time poor so we have had to revisit our daily schedule.
We have spent a great deal of time experimenting with our daily schedule and daily routine trying to find something that works for us. We have a lot to fit in and I thought maybe others might benefit from learning about some of what we have tried.
This post will mostly focus on me (Andrew) and my work but it could just as easily be about Tanya. She also has work to do that has to fit around Zoe's needs in particular. But I wrote this post so it is going to focus on me :p
Once you have a little kidlet running around working during conventional business hours becomes increasingly difficult. Your child is awake for the majority of those hours and does not really understand or care what you are trying to do. After all, they have toys that need playing with (with you), cuddles to give you, and various bumps and bruises that need kissing better.
Your partner could care for the child during the day on their own while you seclude yourself in a room behind a closed door. That seems a little confusing for a small child who is still too young to understand a verbal explanation. Yes, dad (or mum) is in there but no, they can't play with you no matter how much you bang on the door and cry.
Also, having one parent work while the other one parents seems like you may as well be at the office. You are avoiding the commute, no small thing, but otherwise you are essentially gone for the day. This clear cut division of responsibilities may ultimately be necessary but it does not seem ideal. Presumably you are at home to play an active role in your child's daily life.
What alternatives exist?
Most little ones are in bed fairly early. 6pm, 7pm, maybe 8pm. Newborns run on a 24 hour cycle that does not particularly coincide with day or night. Over time they start to sleep longer at night and less during the day so that a one year old is unlikely to still be rocking around the house at 10pm (fingers crossed).
That means that you can realistically bang out a few hours of work in the evening without having to stay up until crazy o'clock. Try not to stay up too late as your child likely follows the mantra “early to bed, early to rise, everyone up, no exceptions!”
Staying up late comes quite naturally to a lot of adults. The downside is that staying up late and performing useful work is often quite foreign. Just because you used to be able to stay up half the night in a nightclub or chatting with friends over a late night snack does not mean you will be able to stay up and finish writing that article or finish tinkering with that spreadsheet.
You will be tired from the day so sitting down and doing something that requires concentration while being physically inactive can be tough. Brain tired. Body want sleeeppp…
Alternatively, you can get up early and work before your child wakes. This has the advantage that you are fresh(ish). Getting up early and getting straight to work can be a great way to get the jump on your to-do list.
The downside is that waking early means… waking early. Very few people relish the idea of waking up regardless of how worthwhile the reason.
Wondering how to become an early riser? Think you could never be the type to be up while the rest of the world is still snuggled in bed? There is a little self training involved. You need to roll out of bed the second that alarm goes off. No snooze button. Just get up. This is actually pretty easy if you have a partner who will murder your alarm goes off multiple times several hours before they have to be up.
Pro tip: make sure your phone alarm is silent. Put it somewhere where the vibration will wake you but hopefully not your partner.
Pro tip 2: Just. Get. Up.
The benefits of waking early in the morning are many. This is a time of peak concentration. Your mind is fresh as you have not yet had time to accumulate mental clutter. Facebook, Twitter etc and the world outside your window are likely to be extremely quiet so there are less distractions.
You may be able to get away with only doing one of these. If not, both staying up late and getting up early may be necessary. A few hours early in the morning, spend the day with your kid then work into the night.
Whether you stay up late or get up early, and especially if you do both, you are likely to find that you need to start taking naps.
I have never been into taking naps. I always struggled to actually get to sleep. If I did I typically woke up groggy. I always just figured that taking naps was not for me.
I was wrong. Not surprisingly if you regularly stay up late then get up at your regular time or if you routinely get up several hours before your regular waking time you will in fact be able to sleep. When your body needs sleep that trumps just about everything else.
As with your baby, a sleep routine is important. Make the room where you will be napping as dark as possible. Alternatively a rolled up t-shirt makes a good improvised eye mask. Set your alarm then don't look at your phone again as the bright light will destroy your precious sleepiness, take a shower, read for a few minutes, meditate if that is your thing, then sleep.
An hour for this whole routine is good. Two hours will have you feeling more awake during the afternoon than you ever thought possible. If nothing more is possible just closing your eyes for 10 minutes will help a little.
Pro tip 3: Avoid caffeine. If you are going to start breaking up your day with naps there is likely no good time for you to consume caffeine. It hangs around in your system way too long for someone who is planning on sleeping in the next few hours. If you must have it then immediately after your nap is likely the best time.
Specifically, What Have We Tried?
Work 5am – 10am
Get up at 4:45am, work until 10am. Having completed 5 hours of work it is time to nap. During this time period Zoe was having a morning and afternoon nap so Zoe and I would be going down for a nap at around the same time. Ideally we would both sleep soundly and Tanya could have a rest and maybe attack some of her own work after spending the morning caring for Zoe on her own.
On the days when I was able to get a solid five hours of work done followed by a 1-2 hours of nap time (which includes showering etc) this routine was amazing for me. Waking up just in time to go out for lunch was like a whole separate work-free day.
This routine was however hard on Tanya as it required her to essentially solo parent all morning. While I was fresh as a daisy in the afternoon she would be tired, especially if Zoe had decided against a proper morning nap.
Work 3am – 7am
This saw me complete four hours work by the time when Zoe was hopefully just waking up. This was actually pretty successful despite requiring me to be out of bed ludicrously early.
Make sure to pick out tasks the night before. 3am is no time to be making open ended decisions like where to direct your attention, which problem is most important to your goals etc. You want to be able to stagger over to your computer, sit down and immediately start some pre-selected task.
If all went according to plan I would finish work as Zoe awoke. Tanya, Zoe and I could then enjoy the morning together. It was surprisingly pleasurable to finish work just in time to start cooking breakfast.
When it was time for Zoe's nap, it was also time for my nap. An hour was usually sufficient to keep me operational. I guess I had simply gotten used to being up early, maybe I was overcome by optimism, but I shifted my wake up time from 5am to 3am but actually reduced the length of my nap.
This was a period of considerable productivity but it had one pronounced downside. I do not remember much of it. Unless I was in bed very early the night before, from when my alarm went off at 2:50am until that mid-morning nap I was in a sleep deprived zombie state. I was able to tackle defined tasks that I had previously picked out but my memory got… confusing.
Forgetting what day it is is pretty common but being confused about whether it is morning, afternoon or night time is disconcerting. I occasionally thought the rising sun was setting and vice versa. I went to start tasks to find I had already completed them, there are some large pieces of code I wrote that I do not remember writing. At times it felt like a stranger was going on my computer, pretending to be me and doing my work. It got weird.
I would have loved for the 3am starts to work but the effect on me was too off-putting. Weeks went by in a blur. I literally have to go look in our calendar to find out what we did during this time period as my memory is extremely jumbled.
This probably could have been resolved by sleeping longer during the day that begins to defeat the point of getting up early. You are gaining extra hours by getting up early only to give them back by sleeping during the day.
Work 5am – 7am then 7pm – 9pm
This is my current work schedule. I get up early but not crazy early. My goal is just to have two solid hours of work done before we start the day as a family. I get to spend the day being a dad, caring for our child alongside Tanya.
Zoe is now only having a single nap, ideally for two hours. During that time I can do some combination of napping myself and getting more work done. This gives me a potential six hours of work time with the option of less work time but with the addition of a nap.
In the evening I can knock off at the relatively civilized time of 9pm giving Tanya and I some time to unwind away from our laptops.
This is a fairly manageable schedule for both Tanya and myself as we are both around during the day to split meal preparation, clean up, changing and entertaining Zoe etc. As my work times are outside of Zoe's waking hours my work schedule and Tanya's work schedule are now also very similar making it easier to do work for Magic Travel Blog that requires input from each other. It avoids “I should really get their OK before doing this but they are asleep…” situations.
What Works For You?
I am not specifically suggesting any of the daily schedules that I have listed above. These are just things we have tried. By the time you read this I may be doing something else entirely. This is all a work in progress.
The main thing here is that you think consciously about what you want your day to look like. Design your day. If you just wake up and react to stuff as it happens you are likely to reach the evening having gotten nothing done but yet still being thoroughly exhausted. Kids eat up the day. It is their superpower.
Working on the road is not fundamentally incompatible with having a child. Nomad living with children is is hard. Working from home with children takes planning and discipline. But it is not impossible.