This 10-Minute Morning Routine Keeps My Work-Life Balance in Check

Working from home is, for me, difficult. But this small change helped me get a better handle on it.

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Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. For Kevin, 34, a dad of two from Atlanta, working from home was tough with a newborn baby. When his daughter started going to day-care full-time, he began to view the commute to drop her off as a commute “to the office.” Drawing that line in the sand, he says, has worked wonders.

I started working from home in 2015 right before I had my daughter. Even before kids, the adjustment to working from home was massive. But I figured out a way to make it seem as though I was “going to work.”

It’s only a 20-minute round trip to drive my daughter to daycare. Ten minutes, walk in and drop her off, hug and kiss goodbye, and then come back. Really, once I get back in the car, I do what most people do on a commute. I throw on a podcast and drive to “work.” I try to get myself in the right mindset.

I think I actually noticed the commute first as an evening phenomenon, and then the morning became a thing. I would work out at night after working from home. For me, going to the gym, dumping out all of the stress from the day and then coming back with a fresh attitude was a line in the sand for me. I realized, after doing that, that I had a similar line in the morning, as well.

Working from home was a big challenge for me. There’s a change of pace when I go into an office. There’s the energy from everyone working around me, especially if it’s an open-concept office where I can see other people working. I’m an outgoing-ish person. Working from home, there’s no interaction. I had clients I would talk to on occasion, but in the day-to-day work, I didn’t have anybody. I’d just end up going to coffee shops and things like that.

When my baby was born, my work suffered. I got kicked out of my home office. It became the nursery. So I worked — and still do work — out of the living room. I also wasn’t used to being efficient yet. I did the old college method of throwing hours at it. Where if I finish at 2:30 a.m., that’s okay. But when my kid is going to wake up at 6 a.m., 2:30 sucks.

I started using the tomato-timer method — the pomodoro method — but for my whole life. It helped. But things got better when she started going to day-care full-time. She’s three and a half now. My wife and I both work full time. My wife works out of an office and I work out of the house. So we all kind of have our work stations to go to. Our daughter goes to school and she’s there all day. I pick her up after my workout, usually, around 5:45. So she’s there all day long.

My daughter has, bless her heart, has always loved structure. Once she got into a schedule she took to it really, really well. That was helpful, because before setting those boundaries, it just gave us a plan for what the day was. Especially working from home — if I had to get up at six and my daughter had to be at daycare by a certain time for breakfast, that gave me a natural timing that I have to work towards.

So, the commute really helped. So the commute gives me 10 minutes to get un-frustrated. To start thinking about what my day looks like. About what I need to be doing. If I’ve done my planning appropriately, I write out what I wanted to handle the night before work. I’m running through the list of things: I’ve got meetings and projects that I have deliverables on. It just gives me that distance to emotionally prepare for work. It sounds silly to me, to emotionally ready myself for a work day, but for me, that is what it is. And I do the reverse going home, after I’ve picked up my daughter from daycare.

The other thing that really differentiated it for me, more than anything that’s happened in the past year, is that I started actually having breakfast before I left to drop off my daughter. That’s made a huge difference. Being fully ready for the day makes it hard to fall back into, “Well, let me just watch this or listen to this while I eat.” Now, I’m back, and it’s work time by 8:30 or nine in the morning.

Nothing’s ever perfect. With a sub-3 year old, mornings are almost never smooth, right? So there’s a ton of the natural chaos of life that I have to overcome and refocus my brain if I’m going to have any semblance of a reasonable working life. But the commute helps tremendously. Mentally, driving back from dropping my daughter off at daycare became my commute to the office. It took me a few years to get here. I’m slow sometimes. But it’s working.

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