Like so many of us, Sarah Im is searching for a workable balance between work and family. This week she and I talk about that search, and about raising children in a thoughtful and intentional way.
Searching for balance and building a productive life
Sarah Im is a mom of two young kids under five, a wife, and a Realtor serving Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. She grew up in Chicago, Seattle, and Seoul, South Korea. After graduating from college in Korea, she moved to Tokyo, Japan for a year, after which she spent a year in Florence, Italy, and another year in New York City. She now lives in Glenside, PA with her family, but is planning a move to Souderton next year where her family is building a new house.
Currently, Sarah’s main interests in life are her Christian faith, living well with ADHD, how to be an awesome Realtor, minimizing her possessions, Montessori education, making children’s clothing, and searching for the elusive balance between work and personal life. She says she tends to have a wandering soul, and she has aspirations to world-school her children, and would really like to order her family’s life to make that happen.
When it comes to her realtor work, Sarah says the Covid-19 pandemic has not negatively impacted the housing market. On the contrary, there has been a boom and a huge demand for homes for sale. Sarah says this a great time to sell and buy because the interest rates have never been lower. She also says that it is a good time to be a Realtor, but she is presented with the challenge of trying to balance her very busy job with also spending time with her husband and children.
A typical day
Since the pandemic started, Sarah’s typical day has changed a lot. In the past, she would wake between 7:00 or 8:00, but now she is waking up earlier–between 4:00 and 5:00–when the house is quiet.
During those early morning hours, Sarah likes to sit down with a glass of water and listen to her favorite devotional, Solid Joy. by Pastor John Piper. She also subscribes to a service called Sendoutcards.com, which allows her to make a custom card to send to a friend or loved one. Sarah tries to send out one card a day.
Next, Sarah likes to plan her day. If she has appointments or meetings that day, she will get out her planner and review all that needs to get done. If she has no plans on that particular day, she will make a list of things she would like to do. If she is feeling a bit anxious or restless, she will take out her Morning Pages notebook and gets her thoughts out on paper, which helps her to feel less overwhelmed.
Around 7:00 a.m., Sarah’s family starts to get up and around so she will make them breakfast. On the days they go to daycare, she will get them ready and have them dropped off by 9:00. On the days the kids are home, Sarah will do a bit of homeschooling with them using Montessori materials she purchased at the beginning of the pandemic. They also like to get outside and play in the park.
In the afternoon the kids nap for a while, which gives Sarah some time to work.
By about 5:30, if the kids are in school, she will pick them up and head home to have dinner. Sarah and her husband Sam then spend time with the kids, playing games, or listening to music and dancing.
Then it’s time for baths and bed. Sarah and her husband have a system in place where they take turns getting the kids ready for bed. When it’s Sarah’s night to get the kids to bed, she will go to sleep when they do at 8:30 (this makes it easier to get up so early). On the nights it is Sam’s turn, she will stay up until about 10:00, getting the kitchen straightened up or some work finished before heading to bed.
Sarah says that no two days are the same but she strives to keep a predictable routine in place for herself and the family. The schedule of a Realtor can be difficult to balance with having a family.
Sarah’s husband has been working from home since the pandemic, which has been helpful when the kids are home from school. He’s able to work and still keep an eye on them while they play. This gives her the ability to show houses and go to other appointments during the day. On the days the kids are in school, she is able to schedule her day as she needs to. She tries to keep her showings on the evenings and weekends as well.
Biggest productivity challenges
Sarah’s biggest challenge right now is trying to figure out how to be a good mom and balance her family with the demands of her career. She tends to say yes to everything because things often sound interesting. As a result, she tends to overschedule herself.
When she first started out in her career, she was excited and anxious to get started, but she was also working a full-time schedule with no pay. She struggled to keep the bills paid while still being present for her husband and kids, which led to her becoming stressed and growing impatient with the children.
After a particularly stressful evening, Sarah realized that she wanted to do more and be better when it came to being a parent. However, it was also hard to navigate parenting with growing her career. But then, the Covid-19 pandemic came along with all of its restrictions, which gave Sarah some unexpected time to think about what kind of life she wanted and how she could be more present for her family. Although she loved her career as a realtor, she did not love the stress and unavailability that came along with it.
Now that the housing market is back up and going now, Sarah has found a good balance and is being intentional and purposeful with how much she works. This might mean less money but family time is more important.
Resources and tools Sarah recommends
Sarah is using this unexpected extra time brought about by the pandemic to “reset her life”, so to speak. It’s important for her to keep an orderly and predictable environment and as a person with ADHD, this can be challenging, but not impossible.
She will be moving into a new home soon, so she’s purging a lot of items and incorporating new habits and routines into her life. One of those new routines is to give herself a set of 14 nutritious and culturally specific recipes, all meals her family enjoys, which will never change. These recipes are all easy to prepare and shop for, and having this list has made meal time so much easier. The kids also participate in food prep, which has been fun.
When it comes to tools, Sarah uses the Notion app a lot, which allows her to organize her days and every aspect of her life.
She also likes to use a home scanner, which she uses to scan documents. This has allowed her to get rid of most of the papers in her home.
Finally, she also uses a composition book, paper planner, and task book daily. Sarah uses her the Notion app as more of a catch-all for immediate and future appointments, as well as for setting reminders to herself. She later transfers all appointments and reminders from the app over to her paper planner. Sarah finds that writing things down in a paper planner helps to reinforce everything in her mind. Her favorite paper planner is called Roterunner, which has a weekly and monthly layout, as well as pages for bullet journaling. In the day to day, Sarah leaves her paper planner at home but always has her task book with her so she can stay on schedule throughout the day.
When it comes to staying in communication with her husband, they share a digital calendar that they consult together about weekly. Sarah uses this shared calendar to plan her days out and make sure everything is always covered when it needs to be.
Sarah first found out about the concept of world-schooling recently. The idea is that you home school your children while traveling. For example, learning about China while traveling in China. You go places to experience the true reality of a particular culture or subject, instead of simply reading or watching a movie about it.
Of course, this lifestyle is not the easiest to live and may not be appropriate for everyone, but there are ways to do it. One way a family could live this lifestyle would be by working virtually, which allows them to be mobile without interfering with work, or by working lots of hours in order to save enough money to support this dream in the future. Some families are also very intentional about using credit cards that allow them to earn frequent flyer miles to put towards future travel.
After spending her childhood growing up all over the world, Sarah would like this experience for her children as well. She feels that because she has been exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking, it has expanded her thinking, communication, and acceptance of others. The eventual goal is for Sarah and her family to live for several months in one country, perhaps then go back to the US for a while, and then off to another country for a period of time.
Sarah’s tips for home buyers and sellers
- Sarah suggests that buyers first get a pre-approval for financing before meeting with a realtor to look at homes. Because houses are selling so quickly, you may not have the time to arrange financing before a home is bought out from under you. Sarah suggests using a local lender, because they know the area market well and know local realtors. Together, the lender and Realtor can form a partnership to get you your dream home.
- For sellers, Sarah says that this is a great time to sell because buyers are offering several thousand dollars above the asking price. If you are contemplating a move in the next year or two, consider making that move now so you can get the most money for your home.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
Sarah definitely has days when things don’t go as planned, more often than she would like. If she is having a rough day and the kids are home, she will turn on their favorite TV show to occupy them and then take 5 minutes to herself to think and decompress. If the kids are not home on that particular day, she takes a moment to watch or listen to something funny and get a good laugh in, even if she has to force it.
Sarah finds that laughter can take her out of her mind and help her destress. She has a playlist of her favorite funny clips, which she refers to often. She will also watch motivational clips at times, or even have a good cry.
If none of these methods work, Sarah will just call it a day and start over again the next morning.
What’s on the horizon for Sarah?
Sarah is excited about her new house being built. She recently visited the building site and soon the foundation will be poured. She’s also been researching the Montessori education method, which has opened her eyes to ways to raise confident and self-directed children. She is now fully committed to giving her kids a Montessori education. She has even started an Instagram page dedicated to Montessori schooling to record what she is doing with other parents.
Sarah’s last words for the listener
If you’re going really fast, think about where you’re going. Think about what you want out of life and how you will view your life when you are older. You don’t want to have regrets.
Connect with Sarah
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Do you have questions for Sarah or me? Please share them in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher
- The One Thing by Gary Keller
- 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
- The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies
- The Art of the Good Life by Rolf Dobelli
- Pen: Pilot Hi-Tec-C
- Roterunner Planner
- Chrome Extension-ONE TAB
- Fujitsu scanner
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