How do you manage your time when you work from home? This was the theme of my conversation with Erin Doland, owner and woman behind-the-scenes of the fantastically popular organizing blog unclutterer.com.
Erin manages 3 bloggers and is the author of the book, “Unclutter Your Life In One Week”. She has appeared on the Rachael Ray Show and has been profiled in The New York Times and Real Simple Magazine.
Julie: So tell me Erin, with all that you have going on what does a typical day look like for you?
Erin: My husband and I both work from home, which is something I don’t recommend for most people! We are with each other 23 to 24 hours of the day. You can’t live and work with someone without having structure.
Usually we get up and take care of our son. We get him ready and out the door. Then we get started on the work day. I work on straight blogging stuff for 2 -3 hours of the day. Then I work on book projects. Immediately after lunch I work on admin stuff for the website. Then back to work on the book.
In the middle of the afternoon I go get my son. Now he comes home from school and we alternate what we call ‘supervision’. We switch off between working and watching him until 6pm. Then I’ll get dinner ready. After dinner we spend family time together and then get him ready for bed. Depending on the day sometimes my husband and I may go back to work and put in another 2 or 3 hours.
It is really a very normal day.
Julie: Part of what I love about my work is that what is normal to you is not normal to other people. That is what is so fascinating. I hear that there is a ‘dance’ with this. There are some parameters and some structure but you are also letting it be fluid and flexible. Those boundaries are what allow that to happen. That is not an easy task.
Erin: One thing that is very important to our work is that we have a designated office space. The office is for work. When we leave the office, we shut the door. I think that that barrier allows us to feel like we are not living in our offices. Not only is it physical it is also mental.
Julie: It sounds like you are both very attuned to what you need and are willing to meet your needs in order to create the best possible conditions. This is so important. In my experience I see people gloss over how important their needs are for optimal conditions to work. It is wonderful that you are honoring that.
Erin: Yes you need an office and you need good lighting [laughter].
Julie: What do you do when you are in the middle of writing something and you have a question or get stuck on something? Do you pepper each with questions throughout the day?
Erin: If we are doing administrative and repetitive activities we use earphones and have no idea what the other is doing. For the big thinking activities, we will actually schedule time for brainstorming or reviewing ideas with each other. I will set up a meeting with him the same as with anybody else. We want to show each other that we respect each others' time.
Julie: Your relationship is the epitome of time protection. It is really about owning your responsibility to each other. I can see why it is such a huge contributor to your success. So tell me, how do you stay ‘in-balance’?
Erin: Balance can happen throughout the workday too. In the morning I check my email and then get to work on writing and editing. After 90 minutes I really need a break. So I take 20 minutes to file or pay bills. Then I get bored and I know that I am ready to get back to writing.
One thing I do at the end of every workday is to write down the 2 or 3 things that I absolutely positively must get done the next day. This is helpful because then I can feel done with work for the day.
I try my hardest to spend 70 – 80% of my day producing or writing. That is a good goal for people to have. Finding a way to get the little things down to the smallest percentage as possible so that you are spending the bulk of what you are doing on what is most important.
Julie: I just want to highlight some of these really good points. One is that you are super clear about where you should be spending the majority of your time. You also protect this focused work time. You are not letting e-mail or administrative tasks pervade the time you’ve carved out to focus on your highest priorities.
These are the great strategies that allow you to focus 80% of your day on writing.
Erin, what advice would you give someone that is looking to uplevel their organization and productivity?
Erin: It’s knowing what you actually want. What does your perfect day even look like? Where are you now but what are you actually aiming for?
People often say they want to get more organized. But why? Why do you want to be more organized? Get clear on this and it becomes so much easier to identify the steps to get you there.
Julie: Thank you for sharing these insights Erin! It was great to connect this way.
Click here for more organizing and life management tips at unclutterer.com. Click here to check out Erin’s new book on Amazon.com.
What do you think about Erin's time protection strategies? Would they work for you? Why or why not?