6 Essential Lifestyle Tips From A Freelance Digital Creative Stay-At-Home Dad

The only thing in America worse than being gay is being a stay-at-home dad.
Now, I know I will get some arguments on that point, but the gays have no idea what it’s like to have people judge you because they think you aren’t fulfilling your gender role the way God intended.

No idea.

I have been a stay-at-home dad for over a year now. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to do or ever saw myself doing, and I was resistant until the bitter end. But it made sense. My wife loves her job and the company she works for. She makes better money than I’ve ever made, and my ‘career’ has comprised of a long string of low-wage, dead-end, service industry jobs, most of which I enjoyed, some of which I tolerated, none of which I was passionate about.

A few years ago, before the whole stay-at-home dad thing, I started doing freelance graphic design and simple website setup, mostly for local small businesses. I still remember the thrill of being handed my first check for a job. A hundred dollars. It was for setting up a website on Tumblr for a cafe I used to deliver bagels to. It was also the first time I ever made money working for myself. Ah, I thought, I have opened the floodgates on this whole freelance money making machine.

In the year since I’ve gone SAHD, I have also been a part-time graphic designer and creative sidekick, part-time creator of a web magazine, and recently, part-time aspiring novelist. Despite trying to do so much, somehow I still manage to waste hour upon irretrievable hour of precious workable time.

One of the curses of the digital age, as we all know, is the ease with which we can waste whole days in this internet machine. After five minutes of Facebooking, my son starts crying and I think, why is he crying? I just put him down for his nap. But I keep forgetting, or choosing not to remember, how this internet machine warps time and really an hour and a half just passed in those five Facebook minutes.

The point of all this seemingly pointless drivel is that I’ve learned a few things. Specifically, I have learned as many as six things. Six things about how to, a.) be more productive, healthy, and happy when you’re working from home, and, b.) make the most of stay sane while being a stay-at-home dad.

Write down 3 things each night

This is the first essential practice in being more productive. I think Tim Ferriss and Leo Babauta both recommend this. If you don’t know who they are, then you’ve no manner of experience with this internet machine at all. If you click enough links, you will eventually get to the blogs of both Tim and Leo, because their blogs exist at the absolute center of the internet, a fact that has been proven many times, and needs not be proven again here.

At the end of each day, whether it’s the end of your work day or before you go to bed, write down the 3 most important things you want to get done the next day. The 3 things, besides keeping your kid(s) alive, that will most further you on your path to imminent legendariness.

It helps if you use Post-it notes because you won’t have room to write down very much. If you write down more than 3 things you’ll only frustrate yourself when you don’t get them all done, unless they are very small things, like ‘pee standing up today’ (unless you are a woman, in which case pee standing up should count as at least one of your main to-dos).

Keep a separate to-do list with everything on it. If you think of other things you need to get done, write them down on your master list, not on your 3-things list.

The benefit of this is, when you get started in the morning, or whenever it is you are able to get started, you won’t waste any time or mental energy thinking about what you need to do for the day. It’s already there, waiting for you. It’s amazing how much better this makes your life. It is the main reason to which I attribute my wealth, fame, and many accomplishments.

Take 2 walks each day

Your brain needs breaks and your body needs exercise. Going for a walk outside is one of the best ways I’ve found to build a little of both into your day, and get that much needed Fresh Air everyone is always going on about.

I don’t know about other kids, but mine loves being outside. There have been times where taking him outside was the only thing that calmed him down. Even now, if he’s fussy, I can usually strap him in the stroller and get him out the door, and he settles right down, just taking in all the Fresh Air and Natural Beauty of our suburban town.

Troy The Mystical Mormon says you can tell the babies who are outside a lot and the ones who aren’t. He says the outside ones are more aware and alert. So if you want your kid to be as nice and well-behaved as a Mormon child, take him or her outside a lot.

There are times when it’s just too hot, cold, or rainy outside to go for a walk, which I refer to as the McDonald’s Frappe At The Mall days. This past summer, when it was too hot inside or outside, I would take the boy on Mc.F.A.T. Mall days all the time, so we’d have somewhere to walk and not get heat stroke. (If you are a compulsive shopper, I do not recommend this tactic.)

That would never work now, because he doesn’t really sleep anywhere but his Pack ‘N Play in the closet, so I will probably see how long it takes him to drink a large Frappe by himself, then buy him four or five to keep him busy while I try to get some work done.

Use a timer

This is a lesson I’ve been trying to put into practice recently, but have had a hard time remembering to do. For example, right now I am writing this without a timer running.

I can’t remember where I first learned about it, but this is called the Pomodoro Technique. I’m sure there’s more to it than this—I haven’t read the book so I don’t know—but basically you set a timer for 25 minutes, do as much work as you can on whatever one thing you want to focus on, then take a 5 or 10 minute break, then start again.

I’ve been playing a little loose with those rules and doing 30 minutes of work followed by sometimes a 5 minute break to go pee standing up, and other times a 20 or 30 minute break to stare at clouds, but the principle still works. You’re forced to take a break, evaluate your progress, and come back to your work with a slightly fresher focus.

Nancy The Starbucks Manager (who does not know about my secret McDonald’s frappe addiction) says she does this when she’s trying to clean around the house to help her focus on getting one thing done at a time instead of getting lots of things partially done.

I use e.ggtimer.com, which is super simple and does the job just fine for free. Also, the same guys behind e.ggtimer have created a site called steep.it for timing your tea steeping, with a handy little chart listing quick links for different types of tea.

Go on adventures

This dovetails with the Take walks lesson above. If your life is all about work and productivity now, while you’re still a nobody, then chances are it will continue to be no matter how much stuff you accomplish, how much money you make, or how famous you become. My opinion is try to live the schedule you want now, no matter your current situation.

I’ve taken Asher to a lot of the national and state parks in our area. We’ve strollered most of the Battle Road Trail in Lincoln and Concord, where the very first battles of the American Revolution took place.

We have strollered along trails through marshes where people set up giant cameras and take pictures of birds and butterflies and various marshlife.

We’ve gone, along with Wendy, the wife and the mom of our little tricycle family, to Acadia National Park in Maine, where we stayed for three nights and drove and walked around and ate fantastic food and took lots of photos (but did not see a moose).

The hardest part of these adventures for me is that I have been cursed with a small bladder and always try to stay close to a public bathroom. I will admit to having urinated on a state park once or thrice, but that is just part of the adventure, and another reason why stay-at-home dads make more sense than stay-at-home moms.

Some of you probably have kids who have never slept in the car, or don’t live close to so many interesting public places, or don’t have an all-terrain stroller, but I believe if you are creative, and have enough desire, you can find a way to go on your own micro adventures. (Bonus tip: taking a small child to a bar does not count as an adventure.)

Plan ahead

As a freelance digital creative, planning ahead is muy difficult, at least for me. But hard as it is, I know that I do more of what I care about and less of what I don’t when I plan ahead, and it helps me focus on longer-term goals and projects.

A few different non-consecutive years now, I’ve done a year-end review, as inspired and advocated by Chris Guillebeau, which is actually more about planning the year ahead then it is about looking back on the year just past.

I have noticed a difference in the quality and significance of the things I get done in those years when I have planned ahead.

The main difficulty for me when I do plan ahead is, of course, sticking to the plan. And not that I think you have to stick to a plan—in fact, part of the fun of having a plan is deviating from it. But when you’re talking about chunks of time as big as years, it’s hard to stay focused in June on what you decided on doing in January.

I plan to have some kind of short list on the wall near my workspace to remind me what my main goals are for the year, to keep me pointed in the right direction. I get distracted so easily.

Oh look, all six seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars are on Netflix. Gotta go.

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6 Essential Lifestyle Tips From A Freelance Digital Creative Stay-At-Home Dad