The Secrets To Working Productively From Home (Even With Kids)

By Abbi Perets

For the past 17 and a half years, I have worked from home. I have five children, currently ages 7-17, and these days, I have a pretty solid 6 hours, 5 days a week when my children are in school. And even when my kids are home, they are fairly self-sufficient. But just a few short years ago, my kids were ages 0-10 — and one of them has significant developmental disabilities. 

In all the time that I have worked as a freelance writer, I have never missed a deadline. How is that possible? Back when I was a new mom of one tiny baby, I discovered a few secrets to working productively from home, even with kids in the picture. 

In a nutshell, if you want to be productive when you have small children who need full-time care, you must be smart about planning. Yes, a big part of why many people choose to freelance is to spend more time with family. But if you want to be a successful freelance writer, remember that you are also a businessperson — not just a parent with a side hobby.

Here are three important steps you can take to work more productively from home, even when you have young children:

1. Set up a dedicated office space.
I’ve lived in 6 different houses over the last 17 years. In every one of them, I have designated a specific office area for myself. In my first tiny apartment, my “office” was a little half-room that would have felt small to Harry Potter. My computer and printer took up my entire desk, and I had to squeeze into the tiny space between the chair and the desk to get in and out. But it had a door. 

In one house, I had a gorgeous, spacious room with built in bookcases, room for a comfortable couch and a treadmill, and a separate closet. The downside? The glass French doors that let in the light didn’t lock, and my kids were in and out 97 times a day. 

In another house, I didn’t even have a closet for my workspace. Instead, I commandeered a corner of the dining room table. Every morning, I set up my “office,” and every afternoon, I packed it up and put it away so that we could have dinner. But by giving myself a set space for work — instead of grabbing my laptop and working from the couch or my bed — I put myself in a work frame of mind. 

2. Designate your work hours — and hire reliable childcare.
When my first baby was born, I quickly realized that babies need a decent amount of care and attention — and so does a freelance writing career. I hired a sitter to watch my daughter for four hours every morning. During that time, I closed the door to my tiny little office and worked. The rest of the day, I took care of my baby, but those four hours were reserved solely for work. 

In different seasons of my life, I have had different schedules. When my husband and I bought a house in Southern California and our budget was stretched to the max, I had to cut back on childcare hours. So I found a high school student who could take my three kids to the park for 2 hours every afternoon, and my husband was responsible for another 2 hours every evening. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work so that I had my four hours every day. I also put in another few hours on Sundays as needed — say, if the sitter missed a day or my husband had to work late one evening.

3. Plan your schedule realistically. 
At the end of every week, I sit down with some markers and plan the next week. I start by listing everything I need to get done — for example: 

  • Draft guest post for Jacqui
  • Finish article for Kate
  • Proofread and send white paper to Emma
  • Edit material for Sarah

I refer to my notes and emails to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything, and then I go back through the list and note how long each item will take me. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so my estimates are pretty good. If you’re new to freelancing, I recommend allowing more time than you think you’ll need — maybe even twice as much time. 

Then, I go through the list and schedule every single item on the appropriate days in my calendar. I block out the time in writing because that is the only way I know I’ll be able to get the work done. 

The whole process takes about half an hour each week, but it gives me a true plan, and a real sense of what I can commit to during the week ahead. If I see that I have filled every available slot, I already know that if anything goes wrong — an emergency trip to the dentist, someone home sick for the day, whatever — I’m going to have to make up that time in the evening or on the weekend. I can also see that if a girlfriend invites me out for lunch, I need to decline — and if a client wants something turned around immediately, I’m going to have to get super creative. 

On the other hand, if I see wide open swaths of time, I know this is a good week to put in some extra time on my marketing or one of my long-term personal projects — or enjoy the freelance lifestyle and catch up with a friend in the middle of the day.

If you want to be productive, you need to give your business the respect it deserves. Take your work seriously, and you’ll find that you can get more done. 

Abbi Perets is a freelance writer with a passion for parenting, technology, health, and business, and you can find her work all over the Internet. She also owns and offers a free course on how to be a freelance writer. 

Lessons Learned as a Magazine Editor

By Marlene Srdic

When people think of magazine editors, The Devil Wears Prada comes to mind. Fashion shows, swanky events, free gifts, Champagne lunches and the designers—oh my! So. Many. Designers.

While I may or may not have a crazy beauty stash (check) had wine over my last lunch date (guilty!) and rubbed elbows with a few designers (Louboutin, Llhuillier and more!), that’s not every day life. Today, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over the best title for a story I’m currently editing. Not styling a photoshoot, not getting a midday blowout for an event later this evening. Just me in my home office with a cup of tea and this not-quite-right title glaring at my screen. And, to be quite honest, that’s how most days are around here.

Yes, life running a glossy isn’t always so glossy. But for me, it’s still fun, even when it can’t be filtered through a gorgeous Instagram lens. Here are a few life and business lessons I’ve learned from running a magazine:

The Juggle is Real

If you’ve got a solid attention to detail and can manage multiple projects without a problem, managing a magazine may be for you. Or, it may just make you want to tear your hair out! Between coming up with story ideas and managing freelancers to sending out contracts, editing features, writing stories and taking PR meetings, there is an insane amount of juggling involved.

Just like any business, it’s key to have some solid systems in place—and to know when to just say “no”. Since I also run my own copywriting business and blog (yes, I promise I sleep!) being organized is absolutely essential. I use a Day Designer Mini to plan my days, 17 Hats to deal with quoting and client invoices and HelloSign for sending out contracts to my writers. These make my life SO much easier, and oh-so-happy. Once you see a few patterns in your business, it’s easy to see where a few systems will streamline and simplify, so you can have time to live your own life!

Backup Plans are Essential

In the publishing world, there’s always some last-minute fire to put out. That’s just the nature of the beast when so much is dependent upon several connections down the chain. Whether it’s a contact that’s suddenly vanished, a photo that doesn’t come in or a story that needs to be killed because it’s suddenly a real life issue (true story), something always seems to happen when you’re up against deadline.

Now, I expect it and always keep my cool. This is where it’s key to have that really dependable freelancer in your back pocket who can jump right in and help save the day. This might mean the occasional late-night/weekend hours but hey, a print deadline is a print deadline! And that’s something you never miss.

People Will Disappoint You

I’ve had writers pitch me fabulous story ideas, only never to be heard from again. Or writers with amazing credentials and horrible product delivery. Some brand reps promise quality photos only to send in what looks like something my toddler took, and some people just can’t take the criticism. When you’re working with so many independent contractors, people are bound to disappoint you at some point or another. It’s important to deliver what you promise, always be professional and always make a good impression. Because no, I don’t forget, and many others don’t either.

Marlene Srdic is the Editor in Chief of Life Refined, a private-label luxury lifestyle publication. She is also the owner of Glitz & Grammar where she creates stylish copy for stylish brands and helps female entrepreneurs with their blogging and editing needs. When she’s not whipping copy into shape she’s typically found drinking Champagne on an outdoor patio, shoe shopping or spending time with her husband and their adorable toddler son. You can connect with Marlene on her fashion blog, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook

Nostalgia - Crossing borders and cultures

By Alexandra Riggs

My dearest childhood memories are of playing at my grandmother's house. She was from Russia and always seemed like a strange and beautiful alien to me. While mum was down to earth and dyed her own hair in the bathroom sink, didn't own or wear much makeup and always pushed me to study hard, my grandmother (my Babushka) was completely the opposite. To this day, she was the most glamorous woman I've ever seen in my life. 

Babushka put so much effort into her appearance. She was never without lipstick, hair done, high heels, drawn-in eyebrows (surprised look! Pre-Botox!). Fur coats that smelled of mothballs and Chanel No. 5. Black stockings. Even her voice, rich and thick with a BIG accent peppered with lots of rolled r "darrrrrr-ling"s always a little too loud, a little too deep. A laugh that you could hear two suburbs down. She would say things like "now I wash the shits" and my brother and I would laugh and laugh. "Lobster and crap" she'd say. Delicious! 

I never saw her without red lipstick and her hair done. And when I say done I mean DONE.

This is a woman who went to the hairdresser once a week, teasing and torturing her hair into a bright auburn beehive which would stay that way until her next visit. When the hairdresser washed her hair and I saw it wet for the first time in my life I burst into tears - I thought that she had shaved her head! This strong, powerful and beautiful woman turned into just a regular old lady.

I loved playing in her wardrobe, it was like stepping into Narnia. Full of silk dresses and scarves, lace and big fur coats. Hats and high, high, HIGH heels. I would step into that little world, switch on the light and emerge like a butterfly, smelling of her soft powdery smell and tasting the waxy red paint on my lips, doing the dance of the seven veils with her silky scarves emblazoned with foreign logos that seemed expensive and special. 

But the thing that I loved most was her collection of things from Russia. Sweet painted wooden dolls, laces that her mother had sewn and made, quilts patchworked with pieces of fabric that told little stories of where she was from. A little painted forest, a teapot stitched in pink, embroidered initials of people I didn't know using letters that were fancy and formal. It seemed so foreign and so familiar at the same time. I could imagine her world, bright white with snow, animals like bears, tall green pine trees and icy frozen lakes. Even on a 30 degree Bondi day Siberia didn't seem so far away.

And what is this thing? What is this sense of something that is at the same time familiar and unfamiliar? Painted with a brush of colours that you don't recognise exactly but feel like home anyway? I think it's nostalgia. And I'm nostalgic for a past that may or may not have existed. A past that lives in my mind.

When I look at patchwork quilts, or charm bracelets full of a woman's memories, her travels to here and there, a photo album with faces I don't recognise in black and white or painted colours, I might not know these places or these people but they aren't so far away from my places and my people. Women's stories often have a thread that ties us all together. 

A patchwork quilt sews squares of fabric from different places, ties them together and binds us all in their seams. Our nostalgia and our shared experiences can be woven together with thread that is so delicate and so strong at the same time, reminding us that the arts of the home, of sewing and fabric and colour and pattern are universal. That our stories from Siberia or Bondi, Thailand or Finland are unique and also comfortable and familiar. 

I've made a lot of quilts in my time and we make a lot of quilts for Oobi. They've resonated with mums all over the world and I see photos of their homes, their beautiful intimate spaces, their couches with the funny photos of husband asleep under a mountain of pink squares of fabric. A little girl's bedroom, decorated with so much love, my quilt tucked neatly onto the bed. 

Can you imagine the feeling, seeing the homes of people that have chosen my quilts to fill their domestic spaces? A little piece of my Babushka and a little bit of my memory and childhood shared with their families, warming them on a winter's evening, making a space to sit on at a summer's picnic. New memories created under those patches of fabric. Sick days and holidays, cots upgraded to beds - sad and poignant and exciting all at the same time. The comment on the photo says "the cot is gone, and here is her big girl's bed". 

And there's my work, painstakingly put together, colours swirling into a coherent piece. Florals and stripes, patterns from my mind, the child becomes a big girl... but the childhood remains. 

Alexandra Riggs is the founder of Oobi. She has been in the children's fashion industry for 12 years, starting her company from a garage in Sydney's Bondi. Oobi is a children's fashion label with ethically made garments for girls newborn to 11 years, all designed exclusively by Alex in Australia. 

All fabrics are either reprinted vintage prints or exclusively drawn and designed by Alex for Oobi and hand screen-printed in Jaipur, India. Alex travels to India regularly and works exclusively with two family run businesses there, employing many women and artisans in the screen printing business. 

And what you really want to know... Oobi the name of the brand comes from her mum, Freida, who had a store in Melbourne in the '60s and called it "Oobi Things" because... it was the '60s. Alex and her family always called anything different, quirky or hard to describe as "Oobi" so when she started a children's fashion line, well, it had to be Oobi. And it's pronounced... oo-be!

Kim Wardell of Design Life Kids // Behind The Blog Scene

When I first starting blogging personally in 2010 I did so to capture the beauty of the mundane. The often forgotten, boring moments that create our every day movements. In short I started blogging to find the beauty in the every day. 

When I first found out that Kim Wardell of Design Life Kids had the same tag line for her shop I knew that I had to have her as a guest in our 'Behind The Blog Scene' series. This series is dedicated to women bloggers and business owners from around the globe, carving their own path. Women that inspire and prove without a doubt that anything is possible when you follow your heart.

Kim has taken a life-changing moment - the passing of her husband - to turn her grief into a family run business with the seal of approval from her two daughters. Her store and story are one to be admired and I am thrilled to have her inspiring words with us here today....

Describe your blog in 3 words… 
Modern, Design Minded, Raw
What is your blogging manifesto?
Have fun and only write about things YOU want to. Not every post has to be a happy one, but once you lose the love for what you do, then your blog loses it's magic.
Top 3 blogging essentials?
A dream, an iPhone and time.
My biggest blogging moment/milestone was....
There were two actually. 1: Sharing the loss of my husband. 2: When I announced that I was to transition from full time blogger to fulfilling a dream and opening shop DLK in Oct 2014. 
Best piece of advice I've been given?
Cry when you want to, smile when you have to and find the beauty in the every day.
I'm dreaming about traveling to...
Sydney, Copenhagen, Japan, California, Korea... south of course.
Best piece of advice to a newbie blogger?
We eat with our eyes first. Whether it's food, decor, photography or fashion; it's very much the same. So keep your aesthetic bright and clean and eye catching, then you'll be able to bring in the reader.
If I wasn't blogging I'd be...
Running a store filled with my most favorite things... which is where I'm at now.
Behind the scenes of my blog looks like...
An office full of inventory boxes, crumbs from breakfast on the floor and two little babes running around happy as can be.
This year I'm most excited about...
Bringing on new lines and seeing where the shop goes! I'm also excited to start sharing more about what's going on in our life now and featuring new artists/designers from around the world on the blog.

Jaime Tollas of Less On The Floor // Behind The Blog Scene

I'm always fascinated when bloggers tell me they write not one, but two (or more!) blogs. How they find the time I have no idea but nevertheless I'm impressed and such is the case with Jaime Tollas, the chief content creator behind new lifestyle site for mothers in the so-called 4th Trimester, postmodyrn: After is the New Now and the blog, Less On The Floor, her honest account of balancing work and motherhood.

Like many of our readers, Jaime's blog was blog was born in her kitchen during a confusing, wonderful stretch of months when she found herself suddenly and self-righteously unemployed -- which is to say, the full-time mother of a ten-month-old. I love her humble account of her self proclaimed "entirely ordinary quest to be a mother, even a good mother" - which I'd argue is pretty damn extraordinary don't you? Glad to have her here on the blog today...

Describe your blog in 3 words…
Honest, memoirist, tongue-in-cheek 
What is your blogging manifesto?
Tell a true story and tell it well. And learn how to use social media (I'm still figuring that one out).
Top 3 blogging essentials?
1. Time!
2. A hallmark. Mine is the writing: it's my craft.  Some bloggers I love for their photographs, others for their personal style, others for their practical how-tos...Know what you are good at and make that the focus.
3. A story.  What is your blog about?  Whether you blog every day or once a month, feel free to get creative, but always stay on point.  That's how you build your personal brand.
My biggest blogging moment/milestone was....
The first post I wrote that went viral.  I could tell I had touched a nerve with working moms, and by sharing my own story I had tapped into a huge cultural issue.
Best piece of advice I've been given?
Write for yourself, not for an audience.  Create something beautiful that you feel proud of.  That's what makes it authentic.
I'm dreaming about traveling to...
London, again.  We used to live there, when we were young and wild, and I would love to re-discover it with our children.
Best piece of advice to a newbie blogger?
Just. Blog.  Do it.  Keep at it.  
If I wasn't blogging I'd be...
Staring at a computer trying to start my book.  Blogging is so much less intimidating, so I actually WRITE!
Behind the scenes of my blog looks like...
A high-rise apartment, a dining room table covered in 4,000 Legos, yoga pants, and a glass of water.  Or it looks like the inside of my car, where I spend an inordinate amount of time driving the kids about and thinking of what to write.
This year I'm most excited about...
Taking my blog to the next level!  It's been four years and I've never felt so inspired.  Also, launching my new website postmodyrn, which takes the energy and thought I've put into the pressures on moms today, and turns that passion into a resource instead of a rant.