We just get into our working groove and then, sure enough, it’s summer holiday time again. A long stretch of time to spend with the kids. Glorious? Or stressful? If you’re a working parent it’s likely the latter. And if you freelance and work from home then things can be even more complicated. With the kids under your feet all day, how do you get any work done?
Well thankfully, we know a thing or two about freelancing parents, so follow our tried and tested tips on how to freelance successfully during the school holidays and you’ll make it through to the other side with your sanity in check.
1. Reduce your workload
The first thing we suggest before you try any of the tips below is to try and reduce your workload over the summer holidays. It’s likely that you turned to the freelancing lifestyle to get more flex around the family so it makes sense, if possible, to plan to take on less client work over the holidays. You can even try and find some cover and outsource bits and pieces to your peers. Try peers with younger children or older children though as those with school-aged children that need parenting are likely to be in the same boat as you!
2. Get support
Another thing that you should aim to do, whether you’ve managed to reduce your workload or not, is to get more support during the school holidays.
What can work well is if your partner saves some annual leave to take one day off a week for the duration of the school holidays. They then do all the parenting on that day. Or if their employers are flexible get them to work from home and do the juggle that day. We recommend leaving the house to go the ‘office’ that day whether that’s working in a cafe, coworking space or at a friend’s house. Leaving the house will make it easier to avoid all those questions and disruptions from the kids that are inevitable.
If that’s not possible then organise some swaps with friends in the same position as you. You can have both sets of children for Monday and Wednesday and they can take them Tuesday and Thursday. That frees up two days of that week to really focus.
This isn’t an option for everyone but if your kids get on well with the grandparents then why not arrange for them to visit them over the school holidays or get them to visit you and take the kids out for the day. It’s a great opportunity for them to spend more time with each other and it gives you a break. Often, we hear people say that they don’t want to be a bother but in our experience, the grandparents are often itching to help out more.
3. Get the kids on board
It’s important for your kids to understand that you’re working when you’re working from home. To them working often means leaving the house to go to an official place of work each day and they can get just assume that it’s business as usual when you’re at home. It’s important to educate them about the way you work and how important it is.
Explain to them that you have a different way of working so you can make their school play/concert/sports/trip when they need you to be there.
If you used to be in employment then get them to think about times where you have made their school play or encourage them to come up with things they love about the way you work now.
If you used to be on a career break and they are now seeing that you’re not there for them 24/7 in the same way then don’t shy away from telling the children that you need to work and why. Positive messages about you being a working mother can only be a good thing for them to hear.
4. Plan your work more than usual
Seriously plan your work out for the upcoming week, in a way that you might not normally. Make a list of:
- 1. Simple tasks that don’t take much brainpower and generally can be done in less than 10 minutes and often from your phone or tablet
- 2. Mid-level tasks that require some thought but take less than an hour to complete from start to finish
- 3. Chunky tasks that take a considerable amount of time and a lot of brain space to complete successfully
Now cross-reference this with your week ahead.
- 1. Map the times when you will be parenting but where you can also do some simple work tasks. Multi-tasking is the name of the game here.
- 2. Book in those mid-level tasks for when you have early morning or late-night slots with some time to focus or for when your kids are entertained
- 3. Save those chunky tasks for any full half-day away from the kids, whether that’s because they are at a camp or with your partner, friend or grandparent.
5. Plan your family time
Your kids will be less frustrated that they aren’t getting your attention and will let you get more work done if you set aside quality time to spend with them where you switch off your phone/computer. Make them aware of ‘family time’ in the diary. For younger kids draw/print out a calendar and get them to colour those times in.
This can be 15 minutes it doesn’t always have to be a long time. 15 minutes spent with the kids after every 60 minutes spent working can work wonders. This can work particularly well when coupled with the top tip below.
6. Keep the kids occupied with project-based learning
Project-based learning is a style of teaching children that’s taking off in innovative schools around the world. It involves children working on a project for an extended period of time (from a week to a whole term). Projects solve a problem or answer a question and they span multiple subject areas. They usually have an output at the end which is presented.
You would design projects around things you know your child would be interested in and age appropriateness.
Successful project frameworks include:
- Identifying a problem and coming up with an idea for an app to solve this problem. You could talk about a social problem such as the growing use of food banks or isolation in older people. Get them to come up with an app idea that would help then get them to imagine how this would work. Get them to do user testing or user research with family members. Get them to create a paper outline of what the app would look like and how it would work.
- Coming up with an idea for a business. Once they have an idea get them to go through the steps of working out how much they would charge for the product, staff they might need to hire etc. Get them to work through the steps required. Get them to craft a ‘pitch’ presentation to pitch for funding.
- Carrying out a research project. No doubt they will have heard of ‘fake news’ so why not buy them a variety of newspapers and get them to look at news websites and highlight factual information and information that is biased. Get them to produce a newspaper of their own and to cover some local stories.
Tailor the output to the child as well. If they love creating things and are techy get the output to be a video they shoot and edit. If they love to write get them to create a short ‘book’/newsletter. If they are naturally introverted and would hate to to ‘pitch’ their idea to a potential investor get them to create a prototype of the product using cardboard or paper instead.
There are loads of ideas for projects with outlines on how they work online.
This can work for younger children as well. You can set a simple project and get them to 'come to work' with you in the mornings. Pack a bag the night before with lots of surprise activities like colouring, drawing, stickers, counting, writing games etc that can be used for the project.
For younger kids pick something simple and fun. Get them to complete an animal research project on the favourite animal. What they eat, where they live, what eats them, what do their babies look like. Get them to draw various pictures. Make their project output a brochure, poster or presentation. Get them to present to a family member not involved in the project. Or if you are going on a family holiday get them to do a similar thing but for the destination.
Get the kids to sit at your desk and do their 'work’ on their project while you work. This stops you feeling guilty because you can factor in time for them to ask you questions and ultimately it’s amazing for their learning!
Although we do appreciate that this wouldn’t work with all children if you design the right project and the right project output, most children will engage.
7. Emergency plan Bs
There will inevitably something that goes wrong at some point. So your fail-safe plan B for when that happens. Ideas include saving up the kids’ favourite programmes so you can divert their attention while you focus or taking the kids to the local cinema to watch a film and take your laptop/tablet so you can catch up on work - sit at the back so the light doesn’t distract everyone else!
8. Don’t feel guilty
Life is too short to worry about a little bit of extra screen time, or getting other people to do some childcare, or feeding the kids more ‘beige’ food than normal. Cut yourself some slack.
The reality is that your career choice and way of working is benefiting the kids overall and you shouldn’t forget that. Try to remember all the times that your freelance way of life has benefit you and them. If you start to feel guilty or those negative thoughts creep in then start to make a list of all the positive memories that you have about your freelancing career. Really tap into that memory, for example, try to remember that look on the youngest child’s face when you sat in the front row of their ukulele concert and they were chuffed to bits.
Admissions for our “Becoming a Successful Freelancer” course are currently closed, however you can register your interest here.