Freelancing can seem the perfect option when you become a parent, providing a more flexible way to work and manage your childcare commitments. But the two roles aren’t always easy to juggle.
Here are our five tips for becoming a more productive freelancing parent:
Good work comes in small packages
Many years ago, a time-management thread introduced me to American time-and-house-management guru, Flylady. While many of her ideas didn’t appeal, her mantra of “You can do anything for 15 minutes!” stuck with me.
She’s not suggesting you can decorate your home or write a book in 15 minutes. She really means “You can bear to do anything for just 15 minutes and knowing you can stop after 15 minutes is a great motivator!” (you can see why she doesn’t express it like that, though; not so snappy!).
Flylady made me realise two things. Firstly, that by not starting things because I thought I didn’t have a big enough block of time to get anything done, I was wasting time; and secondly, I discovered that it’s amazing how much you can get done in 15 minutes. Plus, knowing you’re on the clock can become a bit of a buzz: a challenge to see just how much you can do before the timer goes off!
If you’re trying to work while looking after your children, small chunks of time may be the majority of your work hours, so make the most of them. This gets easier when you break your projects down into small steps. Small steps make your work seem less overwhelming because they feel more achievable.
You also get a more frequent sense of accomplishment, which is a good motivator. 15 minutes is enough to jot down ideas, collect some weblinks for later research or make that phone call, so get going!
Plan out your time
To ensure you’re on track for completing projects and you’re not taking on more work than you can handle, you need to plan out your work.
There’s no one correct way of doing this, but it’s vital that before you start, you break the project down into stages and assess how long each stage is likely to take. This makes it easier to estimate how long the whole project will take and schedule in each stage.
Once you’ve done that, you need to prioritise your work, taking client expectations, input and deadlines into account – and allow extra time for unexpected events, such as your child being ill.
From here, it’s up to you. You can get apps and programs to manage your time, tasks and to-do lists; I trialled around five extensively and played with a few more before I realised that every one of them cost more time than it saved me, although some were excellent products.
For a while, I had a reusable, whiteboard style year planner with different coloured magnets for each client, but these days I use a column-style family planner diary. I use three of the columns for morning, afternoon and evening, writing in pencil any appointments I have and what I intend to do in each part of that day.
When plans or schedules change, I can just rub out my tasks and reorganise them if I need to.
Experiment and find out what works best for you. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best.
Set boundaries and get your family on board
For the sake of your family, your sanity and your work, you have to set boundaries. Family and friends have to understand that if you work from home, the only thing that’s essentially changed is your location.
You still have work to do, other professionals who depend on you and deadlines to meet. They can’t visit or phone whenever they want; they should only be phoning when you’re working at home if it’s an emergency.
Conversely, make sure you set aside time when work is a no-go zone. You need downtime to relax and give your children some undivided attention (without one eye on the laptop or your phone). This becomes especially important if you don’t have a dedicated workspace and can’t close the door on your work. At the end of your working day you must move yourself and/or your work equipment, packing it away if possible so that you can’t be tempted to ‘do just a bit more’.
Get out of the house!
“My freelance work is time and energy-demanding and I need a quiet and calm space to really deliver the work I feel my clients deserve,” says freelance writer Frances M. Thompson on her blog. “My dining table covered in smudged playdough and surrounded by Duplo bricks is not that calm space. I have three days when I go to an office (in a co-working space) and from around 9.30 until 4.30 I am a freelancer at work and [my son] is a two-year-old running around at day-care.”
I’ve written about some great alternatives to working at home, including the co-working spaces Frances mentions, libraries and even other people’s houses! But even if you feel that home is a place where you can concentrate and be productive, make sure you escape now and then for a walk, networking event, lunch or just a coffee with a friend.
If your child is in tow, what about an indoor play centre, where they can let off steam while you relax (or even get some work done, if the centre is supervised)? Freelancing can be lonely and without the stimulus of other people and environments. you can quickly become jaded, so mix it up a bit.
Streamline your life
It’s easy for freelancing parents to feel they never have a minute to themselves, so make things as simple as possible. Online shopping can save you hours, while apps and services can automate your time-tracking and social media management. And unless you happen to be a freelance accountant, it’s unlikely that you’re speedy or an expert at bookkeeping or filing tax returns, so let an accountant do that for you.
Their detailed knowledge of the tax system and the legal side of freelancing means they can ensure you keep as much of your money as possible (and submit your tax return on time, saving you time and stress!).
Accountancy services are probably cheaper than you realise; at The Accountancy Partnership, for example, fees for freelancers start at just £19.50 a month and include access to free cloud accounting software, giving you a real-time update on your finances anytime, anywhere. They have specialist freelancer accountants and clients have their own dedicated accountant.
If you put any of these tips into practice, let us know how it works out for you. Want to streamline your life? Find out more about The Accountancy Partnership’s freelancer accountancy services