This flexibility story comes to us from Erica Storm. Erica is an attorney and content director at Zywave, Inc., a leading provider of technology solutions for the insurance industry. She is a mom of one and stepmom of three who uses work flexibility to make life work for her family.

Finding a routine

Fall has always felt like a time of new beginnings to me. Time to get organized and buckle down after the free-spirited fun of the summer. That fun can get pretty chaotic so I’ve always looked forward to the return of structure and routine.

This fall, my daughter started first grade. And back to school for her meant back to what’s become a normal work routine for me. She started her second year of school and I started my second year on a flexible/reduced schedule. Having worked full-time pretty much forever, the first year was a big adjustment. But I settled into a pretty regular rhythm of work-time and mom-time during the school year and I was desperate to have it back by the end of the summer.

Since I mentioned my excitement at getting back into this routine, I’ve had some friends ask me about my flex schedule. Like me, a lot of my mom-friends went back to work full-time after having kids and are re-thinking their work/home division now that the kids are getting older. So, for anyone thinking of trying on a flex schedule, whether your kids are babies or teenagers, here’s how I’ve arranged it and what’s working for me so far.

How I make flexibility work

First, a confession. My flex schedule works best for me by also being a reduced schedule. People can definitely do flex with full-time hours, but I was able to reduce my work commitment to 32 hours per week and that fits our family needs. Aside from me and my daughter, I have a husband with a demanding job and three step-kids with lots of activities across our metro area.

For me, what having a flexible schedule really means is that I’m able to walk my daughter to school every day and pick her up most days (three days a week). So we’re together every morning, before the day really gets going. A couple of afternoons a week, we spend time together by going to gymnastics practice. (To be clear, she practices; I sit there.) Other days, we hang out at home (which also involves things like cooking, housework and laundry!) or we pick up the big kids and all spend time together.

On the work side, it means that work is done in a compressed timeframe (aka, a headlong rush through the day at full speed) at the office five days a week and then at other times during the day or week too. I’ve had to find ways to be more efficient and get rid of any wasted time in the day. Block scheduling is my friend for this, as is keeping my calendar up to date and my inbox (and therefore my life) under control.

My support network

There are a number of other things that have made this arrangement possible (aside from a partner who was on board). First, a willing employer. I work at a software company. For a lot of teams, some flexibility is built in. Early risers can come in and leave early. People can work from home, either as needed or on a more permanent basis. We have the technology that makes this possible. My boss especially values flexibility as a perk he can easily give his employees. And others throughout the company have a healthy respect for other people’s schedules. I have to be flexible too some days and make an early or late meeting work, but we work together.

Another important component is good childcare. On the days I work later and I don’t pick my daughter up from school, we have a babysitter who picks her up and then takes her home or transports her to activities. Childcare might look different depending on your situation—it could be daycare, a family member or neighbor, or a partner who trades time with you. Either way, knowing I can rely on someone to be there when I can’t has made a huge difference for me.

Finally, one big thing that made this whole thing possible was a change in my mindset. A good friend introduced me a while back to the concept of “separators and integrators” and I knew I was firmly in the separator camp. Work was work, home was home and never the twain shall meet. The biggest change I made was becoming an integrator (and being happy about it!).  Work gets done when I wake up (before my daughter does), at gymnastics practice (I don’t just sit there) and on the weekends when the kids are playing on their own. Looking at my weekly calendar as a whole, instead of just Monday-Friday, makes it easier for me to decide when I can get work things and non-work things done. That won’t work for everyone, but the idea is to find what works for you.

photo credit: Erica Storm by Gadako Photography