how to work at home with a toddler (or a baby!) (or a preeschooler!)

I've been a work-at-home mom since the day my self-proclaimed maternity leave ended, around the time Gabriel was 3 months old or so. I really began working for myself in earnest in June of that year, when he was about 6 months old. It's been a year and a half of solid work-at-home-mamaness.

I have done a lot of things wrong and a lot of things bootlegged, but I finally feel like I am actually getting a handle on this home-all-day-with-him situation. And what it really boils down to, for me, as a single mom who must work, who has a toddler, who has no regular childcare, is awareness. Well, awareness and priorities.

The single most effective thing I have found for working at home with my toddler (thus far) is to divide my tasks into "awake tasks" and "asleep tasks." And when I talk about "work" or "tasks," I am talking about everything that must be done. Editing jobs. Dishes. Writing. Packing and shipping for the family business. Laundry-folding. Showering. Even TV-watching. Anything that is done at home and is not "reading a book for pleasure" (as if that ever happens) or "doing whatever Gabriel wants to do" is considered work.

I have learned, the hard way, what kinds of work I can do when he's awake and what I can only do when he's asleep. These days, I get a two-hour nap and a post-bedtime block of time and that's about it, so I've really got to make the most of the time that he's asleep -- it's too limited to waste on things I can do at other times.

Examples of sleep work include most of the writing and editing jobs that I have, especially those that pay by the hour rather than the project. Jobs that don't pay by the hour are easier to fit into the 5- and 10-minute chunks of time I sometimes get throughout the day, but it's nearly impossible to keep track of my time while doing that, which is why I'm such a fan of project-based fees rather than hourly fees. Other sleep work? Folding and putting away the laundry. I have a helper who likes to remind me that laundry needs to be shaken and tossed on the floor, especially if it is stacked too neatly.

The difficult thing for me has been resigning myself to not doing the awake work that need to be done, if he's already gone to bed. That 9pm-1am (or whenever I get too tired to do quality work) stretch is my best shot at real productivity in any given day, and I just can't justify sacrificing it to unloading the dishwasher and wiping down the bathroom mirror, no matter how much I want that other stuff to get done.

Some days -- lots of days -- there's just too much to get done. There's almost never time left over to do the things that are really gratifying but not "necessary" -- like knitting, and blogging, and having my friends over as frequently as I'd like. But having this basic guideline has helped me feel like I am at least making good choices about the things I manage to do when given the opportunity.

What's one of your best productivity tips?

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