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 SuccessfulFreelanceMom.com and offers a free course on how to be a freelance writer.