Photography by Daniel Hughes
Imagine you have a colleague at work who relentlessly needs your attention, messes up your keyboard (which makes your laptop freeze), is beyond filthy and has no personal boundaries? Working from home with a toddler is pretty much like this. In a shared office environment this person would probably have to visit HR but when your office is a corner, or at best a room, in your own home, you’ve got to somehow manage these tiny whirlwinds of energy!
It’s only after 18 months of tears, frustration and stamping feet (and I’m not on about my own toddler…) that I’ve been able to find ways to get through a day where emails have been answered and projects get completed. Here are my top 7 tips should you be on the verge of shipping your own tiny human off…
ONE / Work smarter, not faster
Since having Ophelia and having to really re-work my daily routine to accommodate her and work (which has shown me how actually un-adaptable I can actually be!) I genuinely can’t believe how little I got done before I had her. There’s something about having a 2-3 hour window everyday that gives you some serious laser focus; there’s no time to idle away on Instagram or claim you’re ‘researching’ when you’re head first in a Pinterest rabbit hole.
Nope, you’ve got to be pretty stern with yourself and get that list written out with the top priorities for those few hours. I’m on about important emails (deleting old ones can be done in ad breaks in the evening in front of the TV), making those phone calls that give you the hebe jeebies, cracking on with illustration projects.
The other stuff, the stuff I like to call the ‘chuff’ of being freelance can be done after it’s the little persons bedtime. Invoices need filing? Inbox need clearing? Social media posts need scheduling? Yep, those are perfect ‘sofa jobs’ which don’t require excellent daylight (if you’re an artist) or a desk.
You’ll be amazed with what you can achieve when you limit yourself to just a few hours!
TWO / Work around their schedule
This kind of ties in with the previous tip, but get to know your little person’s routine and make it work for you. If they have a regular time of day when you know they’ll get sleepy, then plan to get your work done in that nap time window.
I know I can’t get any work done when Ophelia is awake (save for a few orders but that is all she can tolerate before boredom hits!) so I always make sure that the time we spend together is just us time. And should it just be the activities we do exert her to the point of tiredness around her nap time then that’s a good coincidence too…
Don’t get me wrong – she’s not a robot and 50% of the time I’m winging it because the day just hasn’t planned out like I thought it would. That’s having children in a nutshell, but I just make sure I catch up when lights are out, which leads me on to…
THREE / You may have to become a night owl
I’ve always labelled myself a lark, and thought that I could only work in the morning and was a useless lump of lethargy by the afternoon. Well, let me tell you that’s just a story I used to tell myself. I’ve had no choice but to become a bit of a night owl since having Ophelia because there are days when there is no opportunity for me to sit down and focus on my work.
Sure I can post to Instagram or answer an email here and there whilst she’s awake, but the stuff that requires my full attention I can save till the evening now when she’s tucked up in bed resting.
FOUR / Get those boundaries in place
I’m very lucky to have a whole room as my studio in our house. A small corner of it does have some toys and a teepee for Ophelia to play in when I’m in there sorting orders but for the rest of the time it’s an out of bounds room. Aside from the fact that her little hands seem to manage to destroy everything in sight in the space of seconds, I want her to understand that that space is my work room and that the things that are in there (my laptop, stock, clients work) is very important and can’t be touched.
The joy of working for yourself is that you don’t have to adhere to strict hours, or dress code or office location, but sometimes there needs to be some boundaries so others can respect that what you do isn’t just a hobby (and I’m not just talking about kids here) and is in fact an important job.
FIVE / Be open and honest with your clients
There’s going to be a day when your child won’t nap, and they won’t just entertain themselves with a film for a few hours, and basically it will feel like they are out to destroy any plans you had for your day. Honesty is the best policy here.
I’ve had a few scheduled client calls which I’ve booked to be during Ophelia’s nap time and of course she’s decided to stay awake to mix all the play dough together (very important job). She’s at an age now where she does have a little understanding that when I’m on the phone, she needs to do her best ‘whispering voice’, however her mind loses focus quickly and so I may at best get 5 minutes with my client uninterrupted.
It’s best to just manage everyone’s expectations and be honest with your client. A very polite disclaimer at the beginning of your call or meeting to explain your situation, and to apologise in advance for any interruption will go a long way to helping ease any discomfort when your darling child starts to pipe up. 90% of the time clients are parents too, and they understand the trials and tribulations that come with it.
Still, it does make you die a little when it happens as you worry that it makes you look totally unprofessional. In that case, make sure you can book any extremely high profile client calls on a day when maybe your little human is out of the house and is screaming down someone else’s.
SIX / Make use of your Village
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I honestly believe that. We’re very fortunate to live close to our parents, all of whom are more than happy to watch Ophelia for me. Whether it’s for a whole day, or even just a morning, I am privileged to have that time carved out to just get work done.
And besides, it brings them joy too.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is nothing weak about it. You are a human, and you can’t do it all (as much as the media may tell you otherwise). Some work commitments and projects just need an empty house, and you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone.
If you don’t have the luxury of family nearby, why not ask a friend who has kids as well? Maybe one of the NCT mums you met when you were pregnant? Either way it makes a great playdate for your children, and great way for you to get your to do list completed. You can always return the favour to your pal another day and in turn give them a chance to a child free day!
SEVEN / Remember the amazing advantage you have…
In the end, it’s important to remember that not everyone gets to spend as much time with their kids when they’re young. Working from home with kids is hard, and it can be frustrating, but remember that you get to see more of the milestones than those parents who work outside the home.
You have this golden opportunity to be there for all the firsts, to hear them string new sentences together, and to enjoy things like going to the park/soft play/cafes/other fun stuff that you can’t do in an office. These young formative years can go so quickly, and to be a big presence in them is very important and musn’t be overlooked.
I hope these tips help in your journey into the world of freelancing and parenting simultaneously. If you have your own life saving tips I would love to hear them! Feel free to drop them in the comments below and hopefully it will help any other freelance parents out there!