I won’t sugarcoat this. Trying to work while taking care of a baby is usually a mess. You’re exhausted. You can’t formulate coherent thoughts. You feel guilty all the time because you’re thinking about your baby while you work, and your work while you parent. You rely on that Almighty Nap, but it’s unpredictable, and even when it happens, there are a hundred house chores waiting to be done.
You feel like you have two different bosses in two different worlds – and one of them keeps begging for milk.
That said, sometimes, you have to work. And sometimes, you get antsy and want to work. I’ve been there. It’s possible to get stuff done as long as you have low expectations and a plan. Here’s how to make one.
Skip the Buffer
To get into “writing mode,” I used go through a 10-part ritual that included pacing around the house a few times, finding the perfect writing snacks, checking Facebook, tying my hair up so I would feel like a writer, reading some inspirational quotes about writing, checking my email, checking Twitter, and getting some more snacks. There is no more time for that.
A napping baby is a ticking time bomb and you’ve got to work fast. Try to know what exactly what task you will tackle before your baby goes down so you won’t become paralysed with indecision the moment your stretch of freedom finally comes.
Do the Big Things First
It’s easy to fall into a routine of thinking “Oh, I only have about 15 minutes, so I’ll just answer some emails right now,” and never dig into your bigger projects. While it might seem like a good idea to work on your most important tasks post-bedtime, that is when you’ll likely be out mental fuel (and who can blame you – you just took care of a helpless human all day?).
Instead, try to take on the hard, important stuff first, even if you can’t finish it all at once. You can catch up on everything else later. Ask yourself: Do you want to be known for your work or for your swift email responses?
“Binge Work” on Massive Projects
Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild while her two kids were very young. She has said that she’s a “binge writer” – instead of writing every day, she would do big chunks of work while holed up in a hotel room as her husband watched the children. Scheduling stretches of time to binge-work – even if this time is rare – lets you fully focus without interruptions.
Work While Standing
It’s a thing: Babies cry when the person holding them sits down. (This always frustrated me to no end – “Why do you hate gravity, child?”) If you want to squeeze in some work while your baby’s awake (without the soundtrack of high-pitched screams), try wearing the infant in a carrier and using a standing desk or the kitchen counter. Or, walk and work with a setup like this one by artist Lenka Clayton.
Get to Know Voice Memos
With a baby, your hands are always tied. Use Voice Memos or a recording app to capture the ideas that come to you throughout the day — a new slogan for your client, a plot twist for your novel, a theory about quantum gravity. You can also record notes using the Apple Watch.
Bonus: Your baby needs to hear a ton of words each day, anyway.
Adjust Your Work
When you transition into parenthood, you may be able to temporarily tweak your career to better fit with your new lifestyle, especially if you do creative work. For an illustrator with a baby, it may not be feasible to pull out a full ink setup every day, but you can make amazing things with a stylus and iPad. For writers who are finding it hard to come up with new ideas in your sleep-deprived state, perhaps you can edit a project you’d been working on in the past, but had put on hold for whatever reason.
On Some Days, Let Surviving Be a Win
Of course, there will be times when your baby is teething or growing or simply being a baby, and you will get no work done. That’s when you close the laptop, cuddle your baby and let surviving be a win. When my daughter was an infant, I was really hard on myself, thinking I wasn’t working enough, producing enough, being enough.
I had to keep telling myself that this – scraping oatmeal off the high chair and watching a baby try to grasp the tag on a toy for 20 minutes – is work. It will get better, and it will get worse, and then better again. That is parenting. Accept this stage of sweet disarray for what it is. Pretty soon, your baby will turn into a mobile toddler – and good luck getting any work done then.