by Leo Wiles
30 January 2019
Congrats on your new bub! As you may know, Rach and I are tireless advocates for working smarter not harder, and we’ve swapped countless war-stories of balancing work and children (from newborns to tweens). Complete with tips on how to make it work with sick kids, nagging bosses, absent partners etc.
Which is my long-winded way of saying yes, Jess, if you are prepared to be as nimble and flexible as a gold-medal gymnast, you can totally make it work freelancing from home around your little one. Trust me: you’ll end up becoming very clever about snatching those pockets of time. Here are my tips.
Mornings for me as a new mum meant stimulating my then-baby daughter with endless community offerings: rhyme time at Balmain Library, Newtown’s Magic Yellow Bus, local parks, riding the Sydney ferries. All of which enthralled my darling girl and induced a longer deeper nap later in the day which I could use for working. But I will admit it can be a mental shift. Instead of maximising your peak times, you’re suddenly forced to work around a baby’s schedule – and if you’re tired, that can be hard.
Getting into a routine can be your saviour as a freelancer and a parent. Start by mapping out your child’s needs through the day, block out those times and work out what’s left. If you can get solid nap times happening during typical office hours, that’s when you can confidently schedule interviews, pitch, chat about changes, send invoices and all the other glue that holds your freelancing business together. Just be prepared for the fact that babies can wake up and will try to insert themselves into your interviews. (Some interviewees are great about this. Others are not.)
You’ll very quickly realise that you can’t work at the capacity you did before. It’s just impossible as a new parent, especially if you are working around your baby’s naps for now. So with the work you DO take on, start by being very honest about how long it will take you, and how efficient you can be in the blocks of time you do have. While it’s tempting to take on more, pushing an already tired brain isn’t worth it, especially if you run the risk of handing in sloppy copy that’s not up to your usual standard. It might be that you can manage 1 x 800 word feature a week. If that goes well, maybe you could add in a couple of client blog posts or some social media posts. Just know that overloading yourself when you have a young baby and need whatever sleep you can grab yourself is a false economy.
If all of this has left you feeling a bit depressed and wondering how on earth you’ll cope before your kid goes to school, don’t despair. You WILL become a lot better at taking those small chunks of time and using them effectively. For example, does writing come easily and can you do it while your baby is entertained in the rocker? I quickly figured out that I could type for 20 mins while bouncing the rocker with my foot – score! (Tummy time added another five minutes onto that.) Can you respond to emails while spoon feeding your toddler? Are you able to write at night for a couple of hours? Having these insights about your workflow will allow you to match your freelance tasks with the required energy levels and hopefully some hours when editors and clients are about.
There are so many and what you choose for childcare is really about what works for you and your family. I know some freelancers who’ve worked only around naps and school times. Despite the expense, others opt for part-time nannies because it’s easier to still work if your child has a cold (if they’re in daycare you have to pull them out for the day and still pay daycare while you’re not actually earning anything, so that might not make sense to you). Others use competent grandparents or other relatives who’ll offer up a day a week childcare while you work.
Personally I believe that even though a client might make soothing noises about your screaming teething child not bothering them, it’s complete and utter bull shrimp. It’s up there with using parenthood as an excuse for missing a deadline (even if that means filing your story from hospital). So my advice would be to create that professional distance between baby and client at all times, if you can. Does that mean pretending you don’t HAVE a baby? Not necessarily. One freelancer I know has an email signature that mentions her 3am emailing is largely due to the amount of small people she is responsible for. It’s really up to you in how much you wish to divulge to clients, as some will be super understanding, and others not so much.
Listers: do you have any tips for Jess on freelancing as a new parent? How did you manage it?