The freelance life can be crazy. There’s always a call to make, a contact to pursue, a pitch to send. It takes time and energy to manage everything without going nuts.
Now imagine incorporating family, children and pregnancy into the mix — adding the needs and schedules of additional people into your freelance life. How do you embrace the constant stream of demands from your partner, children, self, work and friends without feeling pulled in a million directions?
The Write Life Founder Alexis Grant recently wrote about the benefits of setting up a freelance writing career prior to having kids to allow for greater options once family and children arrive. As a pregnant freelancer with an older child, I can vouch that freelancing does provide greater flexibility than an office job.
However, freelancing with a family definitely requires an additional set of rules and skills. Here are some of the strategies that have helped me manage:
Make a plan
Be crystal clear on your business and your goals. What comes first? What are the top three must-do items on your list?
Setting your priorities allows you to organize your daily and weekly activities so that they support your long-term goals. At the end of each week, lay out what you want to accomplish the following week. At the end of every day, make your to-do list for the next day. Then, each morning, you need only open your to-do list and start working through it.
Outlining your goals will also help you manage your time when emergencies arise. For many freelancers, family comes first: regardless of deadlines, when your family needs you, that’s where your attention goes.
In this kind of situation, rather than scrambling around in triage mode, simply focus on the top items on your list. The rest can wait until you go back to your regular schedule.
Figure out when you do your best work
Maybe you’re the type who grabs available time when it appears and have trained yourself to work in small increments. Or perhaps, like me, you need long blocks of time to focus. Are you a morning person? Or do you work better at night when the kids are asleep?
Find the time that works best for you, and block it off as writing time.
Bestselling women’s fiction author and mother of four Catherine Mann divides her tasks into three types depending on the level of concentration she needs for each. “I edit when waiting in lines, and it’s easier to start and stop. I research while sitting with the family watching television. Fresh writing happens during the precious quiet hours alone.”
Outline your schedule
Lay out all your commitments in your calendar, including deadlines, time to write, meetings, school and anything else you want to do. You may choose to include both work and personal appointments.
Zach Everson, a father of two-under-four who writes for AOL Travel and Gadling, suggests “blocking off family time like any other project. If a client asks for that time, the answer is always no. It’s non-negotiable.”
Some prefer to schedule each minute of the day down to the last second. Others schedule only the most important or organize their time more generally. For example, my daughter Lila goes to school in the mornings, so that’s when I work on my book and write articles. In the afternoons, I focus on smaller work projects, social media and spend time with family.
Always remember to leave extra room in your schedule for the unexpected. While you don’t want to make a habit of deviating from your plan, you want to be flexible enough to accommodate projects that run longer than planned or other life events that might arise. (Click to tweet this idea.)
If possible, rely on a partner…
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg advises that to create a successful work and home balance, you need a partner who is really a partner, someone who puts as much into your home life as you do. She may have been referring to C-suite executives, but her words apply to freelancers as well.
While nothing in this world is perfect and equal, it’s crucial to have a conversation with your partner to assess the needs of the household. Who needs what and when? What is reasonable to expect from each person? Taking all variables into account, decide together who will take responsibility for what.
… Or outsource so you can work efficiently
What if you don’t have a partner? Or if it’s unrealistic to expect your partner to take on additional responsibilities? Sometimes, it simply makes more sense to hire the help you need.
First, identify where you most need extra support. Perhaps formatting blog posts stymies you, or you resent the time it takes to schedule your social media updates. Next, decide which items on your to-do list must be done by you, and which you can hand to someone else. Finally, create a document that outlines how to accomplish each task; you’ll simply hand over processes for someone else to implement. Remember, also, you can hire someone to help you with household chores or babysit if that is more appropriate to your life.
Jillian Tobias, a writer who runs her own social media strategy company, brings in a babysitter to care for her nine-month-old twins for a few hours every day. This arrangement allows her to concentrate on work without worrying about her mom role. As an added benefit, knowing she has limited time to meet deadlines forces Jillian to be hyper-focused and finish her work quickly and efficiently.
Procrastination is your greatest enemy
If you procrastinate away a day of writing time, it’s unlikely you’ll recover that time elsewhere. Instead, you’ll lose sleep, family time or time you set aside to complete other projects.
It takes practice sticking to a schedule and trial and error to learn what works best for you. Ultimately, you have to be honest with yourself. If you’re wasting time, find ways to stop.
Let go of the idea of doing it all
There’s this misguided idea out there that parents must be perfect. Square meals. Proper bedtimes. Only educational activities. Oh, and please keep the house immaculate while writing impeccable prose.
Professional blogger and writer Leigh Ann Dutton advises that you clear all guilt from your mind. “Guilt takes up precious real estate that could be better used moving projects forward or caring for your family.”
If the house gets messy, if you end up wearing dirty clothes, if you order in — it’s ok.
Celebrate your wins
It’s easy to berate yourself for what you haven’t done and forget how much you’ve accomplished. Instead, take time at the end of every week to highlight what you finished and give yourself a huge pat on the back. Your to-do list will be waiting for you when you return on Monday.
Life is too short to spend worrying or feeling frazzled because you can’t do it all or be everything to everyone. Instead, balance your time and life so you can not only complete the work most important to you, but you can spend satisfying, relaxing family time as well.
Do you balance freelance work with family time? What’s your favorite strategy?