When you’re self-employed and you have children it can be really hard if you also work from home. Just how do you set boundaries for good working practice? Is it ok to work when the children are around? Should you work in the same room as them or somewhere else? There are so many issues to navigate.
If you have school-age children, then holiday time is a whole other blog, so focusing purely on term time or parents with pre-school children, how can you manage both working and making sure your children are ok?
I’m going to state right here that everyone is different, with different issues and considerations, but here are some things to think about to help you determine what works for you and your family.
You need to decide what YOUR priorities are. Is spending time with your children when they’re awake and working when they are asleep what you want to do? If so, then if you need more time than that affords you, you may need to work early in the morning or late at night.
If you know that they will understand if you spend some time working while they are around, then that’s ok too. But, I do think it needs to be discussed with them or explained to them. Blitz a list of everything you need to accomplish in any given week and assign 3-5 tasks to each working day. Don’t give yourself too much to do. You can always do more, but if you prioritise the most important things first then you’re already on to a winning streak.
How old are your children? This makes a huge difference. If they’re small and still nap, then taking advantage of any and every nap time is a perfect time to get some hustling done. If they’re a bit older and can understand the concept of you working from home, then discuss with them what you’re doing and make sure that they understand you’re not ignoring them. Set some agreed times of working with them, and a choice of activities that they can do while you work.
#3. Sleep Patterns
It may be that you have to adapt when your working hours are to what you would prefer them to be. For instance, I’m an early morning person – I love mornings, and pre-children I was always at my desk bright and early, mostly before everyone else. Since having children and going self-employed, this has had to change. No matter how early I get up, my children cotton on and get up early too. So, I often have to work late into the night to get my work done. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is for now. If you have work to do, then you may have to be creative with when you do it. It may not be a forever situation, but you need to work with and be adaptable to your current situation.
It’s so important to plan your week – use my Working Week template to capture your average working week and the time you have available to work, whether that is early mornings, late nights, or set days in the week, or a combination of all of these. Know when you can work, and that will give some structure to your planning.
When you’ve done a plan, tally up how many hours you have available to you. Are you surprised? Horrified? Can you change anything to give yourself more time if you need to? No? Then you need to reassess what you can actually get done in that time, as you might be being totally unrealistic.
#6. Power Hour
If you’re super short of time – or even if you’re not, but want to make the most of what time you have and who doesn’t, then consider something called a power hour. It’s a fab way to make the most of the time you have. If you have a long list of things to do, and a whole day to do them in, you will most likely take a whole day to do them in. However, if you set out to accomplish as many of them as possible in an hour, with no distractions, and put your head down and crack on, then you will achieve an awful lot more than you think. Turn off your phone, turn off all notifications, don’t look at any social media, just blitz it. I often find this is a great thing to do when my little one has his nap, which is usually 1-2 hours in the middle of the day.
#6. Back Burner
Part of feeling overwhelmed is trying to do too much in the time that you have. Seriously look at what you want to do, and be ruthless with what you can actually achieve in the time you have available to you. You may then potentially have to pick one, two, or more tasks/activities/ambitions/revenue streams that you need to put on the back burner. It may be just until you get a certain project out of the way, or until you grow your current business streams, or it may be that you need to set them aside for a year or two until you have more childfree time available to you.
If you have a partner, can you get any work done while they are around to look after the children? Can you amend routines at all to account for when they are around?
Whatever you do, make sure the time that you give your child/ren some quality time. That means giving them your full attention and not being distracted by emails pinging or social media notifications zinging away. We all have times when we’re waiting for a call or email or something else, and that’s ok. But, as a rule, when you’re with them, please, put your phone away – it can all wait.
#9. Hard Days
Some days it is just downright hard to juggle everything! We may have been up all night with poorly children, or have them off school, as being self-employed often gives you the status of the primary carer. It’s ok to feel frustrated, but it’s also ok to prioritise your child while they need you. You may have to put your own tiredness away and just fit your work into the nooks, crannies, and late nights you have available to you (absolutely speaking from experience), or you may have to wait a few days before you can do this. You decide what’s best for you, but know that it’s totally normal and you’re not alone!
If you’re someone who generally watches a lot of television, then if you’re serious about making your business a success, then you can reconsider the hours you spend glued to the box. As someone who made this conscious decision, I can hand on heart say that after the birth of my second child, I was wondering how I was going to fit my business back into my life. I realised I was watching far too much telly, and made the personal choice to stop. I do have date nights with my husband, where we put a film on and eat pizza, but I’m not sat on my bum in front of the telly night after night. I’m sat on my bum in front of my laptop either doing some work or speaking to clients.
Can you do things like listen to podcasts and audiobooks while your children are with you – when you’re on the school run, going to and from meetings, or while you’re making a meal? One parent has also told me that they used to read the books they were studying to their children in a ‘storybook’ voice. Their children didn’t know any different, and they got to learn as they read to, and spent time with, their very young children.
Most important of all, be 100% committed to whatever it is that you’re doing. If you’re with your children, then give them all of you. Play with them. engage with them, read to them, explore with them. Whatever it is that you’re doing together, do it knowing that it’s quality time for you and them. If you’re working, then give that your undivided attention. Housework can wait, use the time to work on your business and the line between work and children will be so much clearer.