Seeing your family more often is one of the best benefits of freelancing. In fact, it’s one of the top reasons freelancers cite for starting their own business, according to the insightful Freelancing in America: 2016 report. Whether you’re just starting your freelance business or growing it into a thriving enterprise, it’s nice to spend more time with your partner and kids.
Even so, working from home with kids is complicated. When you need to buckle down and work, it can create a frustrating dynamic at home, especially if you promised to play ponies later, but the kids want to play now. Thankfully, there are ways you can fulfill your many roles without feeling guilty or missing deadlines. Here are a few steps you can follow to stay balanced.
Schedule Your Freedom
If you’re like me, you embrace the “free” in freelancer. After all, you started this business for the freedom. But a schedule is, ironically, the best way to capitalize on that freedom. If you thoughtfully arrange every month, week and day, then you always know if you’re on or off track.
For example, I wake up early, so I work until the rest of my family wakes up around 6 a.m. From then until 9 a.m., I’m on family duty to ensure teeth are brushed, breakfast is served and lunches are packed before school. After that, my two youngest play together in my office while I answer client emails and promote my work on social, since these tasks require less focus. At noon, our littlest two go down for naps, and the kindergartner enjoys an hour of educational tablet time while I focus on work again. Then, it’s family time — each child gets a ton of eye contact and engagement. The more deliberate I am with each of them during this one-on-one time, the better they play alone the following day when the whole dance starts again.
My routine isn’t easy, but it’s predictable, and that sets a familial expectation.
While I’m a bit militant about my schedule, I still believe time management is a myth. Time cannot be managed. I can, however, manage myself. When it’s “work time,” I turn off the streaming radio, close my email inbox and put my phone out of reach. If I crank out my best work during this concentrated jam session, I can give each family member the genuine attention they deserve during playtime, without the guilt of missing work.
Once you have a schedule and the self-mastery to focus when you must, the hard part is over. Now, a little communication can set the standard, so everyone knows what to expect. Share the routine with your youngsters by posting it on the fridge or color-coding an analog clock. Supply younger children with three ideas for play each day when it’s time for them to entertain themselves. One of the most rewarding things is to hear your kids create collaborative games without an adult’s input.
When you’ve completed structuring your workday, you’ll find some circumstances don’t respect any of these boundaries. A kid’s sickness, for example, doesn’t care what time you blocked off or for whom. And your teen may lock his keys in his car just when your creative juices start to flow. This stuff will happen. The only question is how you’ll handle it.
If you plan for two or three short “family breaks” in the day, which you can take whenever and as needed, then you’ll find yourself mentally prepared when those situations happen. When one kid climbs the rafters, you can say, “Ah, here’s the short break I knew was coming. I may be in the middle of something, but now’s the time to take a quick pause.” The trick, of course, is to keep these short. Handle the issue, and get yourself back to the desk.
Employ the Kids
My motto is, “If you can’t beat ’em, employ ’em.” I ask my oldest to sort through dozens of scholarly articles to extract the most recently published ones. Meanwhile, I employ another child to model for my original client photography. And the youngest kid can often be found in my office, shredding receipts. I pay them each a small amount for every hour they work, and their earnings go straight into a Roth IRA to generate that coveted compound interest they won’t appreciate for another decade or so.
Working from home with kids can be done. In fact, the whole family should benefit from your freelance lifestyle. Structure your time, manage yourself, communicate clearly, anticipate random interruptions (but keep them short!) and put your kids to reasonable work. Execute these steps, and you’ll grow your business without an ounce of guilt.