Working from home as a freelancer and story peddler can be rewarding on an innumerable number of levels. We’ve all seen the thousands of articles on the benefits of freelancing from home, so I won’t repeat them here. What I will do is try to explain the formula I have come up with to better handle the mythic creature known as Time Management while working from home…with children.
I have three kids, ages 6, 4, and 9 months. The decision to freelance full-time came from the fact that I could stay at home with the baby and save nearly $7,500 a year on daycare expenses. It also came from the fact that I had recently been laid off, so the timing seemed sort of perfect (in that scary reckless sort of way) to make a go at ghostwriting full time while also trying to get my own writing off the ground.
Often, people ask how I manage to get any writing done with three kids in the house, especially during the summer when school is out. (Notice I said “people” and not “friends”; freelancing from home with three kids doesn’t really allow time for “friends”).
It’s a good question and one that is surprisingly easy to answer, given that the person that has asked has nothing to do for the next few hours.
Here’s the breakdown. Hopefully it will help some of you freelancers and/or writers with kids at home see that you are not alone in what feels like a slow but certain downward spiral into madness. I am aware that schedules fluctuate in terms of married life and how much evil energy your kids have in them so adjust accordingly.
- I get two solid hours of work in while the baby is down for her morning nap. This includes answering e-mails and responding to any comments on social media.
- I get another hour and a half or so in during the afternoon. This is after I have left the house with the 9 month old in tow to pick up the 4 year old from pre-school.
- I can usually sneak in another half an hour after the 6 year old gets off of the bus. This is snack time for them and what I like to refer to as “free roam time” for the baby. Once she learns that dust bunnies are not to be eaten, we’ll have this down.
- My wife gets home soon after that and while she spends time with the kids, I take another 20 minutes or so to catch up on e-mails.
Count that up. We’re up to a whopping 4 – 4.5 hours of work in the course of a workday. Not nearly enough to handle up to 4 ghostwriting projects and a new contracted series of my own writing, now is it?
Ah, but the workday of a freelancer that works from home is not over when everyone else’s ends. Follow along closely, as this is where I think the real secret to a freelancer’s time management success is buried.
I’m not a totally negligent husband, and I do try to spend some time with my wife. Often, this means watching DVR’ed shows after the kids have gone to sleep or simply sitting on the couch and staring off into the distance, wondering where the day went.
After this, usually after my wife has called it a day and gone to bed, I often get back behind the keyboard. Sometimes this starts as early as 8:00, and sometimes as late as 10:00. This is where most of my serious work is done.
Headphones in, music up (I suggest electronic/ambient sort of stuff for maximum results and yes, I can make recommendations) and zone out.
Seriously, this is when I feel that I am most productive. This is especially true on weekends when, on a Friday night, I can work as late as 2:00 in the morning because there is nothing to do the following day. Note: See above when I mentioned having no time for friends.
Now, here’s the amazing thing. This hectic and all over the place schedule has been much healthier for my family than when I was working a 9-5 that I often had to bring home with me. It was a job that made me absolutely miserable and it was reflected in the way I responded to my family after coming home from the office.
While I am currently far from the perfect picture of fatherhood, I can comfortably say that the time I spend with my children is much more relaxed and fun that when I was doing the 9-5 gig. It’s also a small blessing, as most freelancers will tell you, to be able to leave the “office” whenever you want—when a kid gets sick, to play with your kids on the trampoline or in the snow, to head to the fridge for the occasional beer when pulling those late nights and not having to worry about office policies.
Time management is really just one of those spooky things that seminar pushers and HR heads drill into their employees to scare them. It becomes something totally different when you’re a freelancer that works with a variety of clients on a variety of projects.
But as a stay at home freelancer with kids, I know that the schedule always manages to sort itself out. It sometimes requires late nights and rushed afternoons where it feels like you’re having your brain turned into strips of beef jerky, but it always works out.
And as for me, it’s always worth it when my son asks: “Can you stop working and come play on the trampoline?”
Because my answer is always going to be yes.
And later, near midnight when I am trying to make loose plot ends tie together in my dark little corner of an office, the ache in my shins from all the bouncing reminds me that I wouldn’t trade this schedule for anything.