I never thought I would blog about my cleaning practice because Lord knows I am not the most fastidious homemaker. But a fellow work-from-home writer/editor confessed to me over lunch recently that she just can’t seem to keep up with the household chores and the guilt and overwhelm is starting to affect her work. She feels like she’s working from home now so she should have more time for everything, right? That, because she’s home most of the day, she should be able to keep the house cleaner than ever, right?
Soooo not the case, and every work-from-home freelancer knows it.
We go through stages. When we first try out the work-from-home gig, we feel we must prove ourselves and so work harder than ever on the job—often in our PJs or sweatpants—and the home stuff we thought we’d have time for gets ignored just like it did when we worked outside the home.
Then we overreact to that and start prioritizing the house and all the things we always said we’d fix or redo or change if we ever got enough time for it. But then we end up not getting our word count or miss the chance to get new clients, etc. The more attention we spend on home and family, the more the job suffers.
Working from home is not the panacea, the magic pill, for life-balance that people think. In fact, it can be demoralizing because it shows your bad work habits in sharp relief. Have trouble finishing something until you’re up against the deadline? If you work in an office, you can only work until the building closes and so have to manage your time, but if you work from home, you find yourself working for 20 hours straight, into the wee hours of the morning. Working as a zombie isn’t good for you or your clients. Have a tendency to pile rather than file? That can get out of hand fast if you don’t have a boss coming by your cubicle. When there’s no one to impress, you tend to become a slob. Teetering towers of paperwork. Half-eaten sandwiches from Friday. Did I mention working in PJs and sweatpants? It gets bad, y’all, if you let it. (My office is a wreck by the end of every week. But that’s another post…)
Yes, it took a while, a few years, for me to come around to the system I now use. It’s not perfect, and it’s not for everybody, but it works for me most of the time. What I love is the flexibility and the energy it breeds.
What is this amazing, magical system?
Sprints. Not only do I do writing sprints to get my words in for the day, but I also do cleaning sprints. When it’s time to edit, I do editing sprints (depending on the type of editing I’m doing). Sprints keep your mind fresh and keep you from having desk disease because you get out of your chair every hour. Here’s how it works:
9 AM (after everyone’s been fed and is out of the house) first writing sprint
10 AM walk the dog 15 min
10:20 ish–10:50 ish unload and reload the dishwasher (I listen to a podcast or catch up on news while I do this)
11 AM writing sprint (I’m doing that right now, matter of fact. This blog post is part of my 11 AM sprint.)
12 noon Cleaning break for 30 minutes and go as fast as you can. Set a timer. When the timer goes off, finish what you’re working on and end the cleaning spree for the day. If you didn’t finish, no problem, you’ll start there next week. Because tomorrow you’ll focus on another area to clean. Here’s what I mean:
- Monday: reduce clutter in main rooms from weekend slobfest
- Tuesday: dust and clean flat surfaces in main rooms (including sanitizing kitchen counters and stove top)
- Wednesday: vacuum the rugs and pet areas (and ceiling fans if needed)
- Thursday: sweep the floors and spot mop where needed. (People with young kids or messy pets need to do more mopping. I only ever spot mop anymore. Unless my hubs makes something with honey. How it gets feet away from where he was standing is a mystery science can’t yet explain.)
- Friday: Bathrooms. That way, they are clean in case company comes over that weekend. (We have two bathrooms—only one stays clean, to be honest.)
- Saturday: Wash sheets and towels
12:45–1:30 Another content creation sprint.
1:30 PM Take a break, check your email on your phone, make and eat lunch, whatever. Major objective—be away from your computer and stand or walk. Go outside and get distance focal points for eye health.
If you get on social media or email, set a timer—do not get sucked down the rabbit hole or you will waste hours with scrolling through other people’s lives and desires and not work on your own.
2:15 PM Back to work with another sprint
… and so on …
A note on laundry. If you have a big family, do one load a day and work around dinner. For example, put in a load of laundry before making dinner. Switch the clothes to the dryer before serving dinner. Fold or hang clothes while watching TV with the fam. And get those lazy slobs to fold or hang their own! LOL. If it’s only one load, it takes no time at all. It’s an overwhelming, backbreaking mess when you have to do five or six loads on Sunday night because no one has clean clothes for Monday. Get out of that nightmare—do one load a day.
For me, I do laundry when I’ve collected one full load and I work around a sprint or dinnertime. My husband often does his own laundry (yay!). I never wait until all clothes are dirty before washing, I wash when the hamper is full. That way, clothes stay clean in the drawers and closet rather than overflowing the hamper to the floor. The hamper is sized for 1 large load. I do a load every other day. Sometimes every third day. I have to schedule the sheets and towels for Saturday, though, or I forget to wash them. Gross, I know. But that’s me.
Also while watching TV with the fam, especially if it’s not a show you love, check and respond to email. If you love the show, put that email away and enjoy!
You don’t have to do what I do, I only listed my system as an example. You must figure out what makes sense for your life. The important take away is to create a system for yourself that you can schedule in with your other tasks for the day and week.
A household with young kids might need a 30 minute sprint every morning with cleaning up clutter and then a 30 minute sprint in the afternoon for the rest of the cleaning. A single woman with multiple long-haired cats might need to vacuum every day or every other day, but might not have much clutter at all. Do what jives with your life. Every household is different.
Once you work through the system for a couple of weeks, you can keep your house clean in only 30 minutes a day. And if your house is a total mess, then yeah, you should spend a good three hours on cleaning the first time, but after that, it’s only 30 minutes a day and it will never overwhelm you again. Promise.
Cleaning is such a chore when you look around you and see three or four hours of slogging through a mess. It’s easy to put off when you know it will take half your work day (and most of us work six days a week anyway, right?). So break it up into bite-size pieces. Make it manageable chunks. Schedule it. A schedule is for everything that is important to you, not just for your business. I schedule my home chores as events in my Google Calendar. That way they are super easy to move around when the unexpected comes up but they are never forgotten.
In just three weeks, you’ll have a house that never gets truly dirty again.