A Writer's Guide to Growing a Freelance Business… and a Toddler!

This is a guest post by Rakiah O.

Every freelancer knows that effective time management is key to running a successful freelance business.

That doesn’t sound so hard, right? Set up everything on a calendar and you’re all set as long as you stay on schedule.

But what happens when you have a toddler? Or two?

Working on a schedule becomes a distant memory. Most days, 24 hours feel both too long and too short. You struggle to stay on top of things and constantly battle feelings of inadequacy – both as a mother and a business owner.

Let this go on too long and you’re going to reach a point where you’ll have to make a choice. Motherhood or business? And we both know that’s no choice at all.

The good news is, it’s possible to avoid this choice and grow your business along with your toddler.

You just have to change your definition of time management and make the following changes:

Change your schedule to suit your toddler

Conventional advice says to tailor your kid’s routine around yours. In my experience, that simply doesn’t work.

What does work is tailoring your schedule around your child’s. After all, who’s the adult in this relationship?

Mothers instinctively know their child’s daily patterns and routines – when he gets hungry, poops, naps, play outside etc. If you’re not (totally possible when you’re juggling a business as well), map out your child’s routine for a week and put it on a calendar. You’ll see patterns emerge.

Now that you have their routine, make it formal and allot time for each activity. Allow grace periods for before and after each time slot because we all know nothing is set in stone when it comes to kids! Start with when he wakes up in the morning.

Now, do you see those tiny time gaps between each of your kid’s activities?

That’s your window to get some work done.

Now divide your tasks into small doable chunks and incorporate your own tasks in the calendar you just set up.

Oh, and don’t forget those ever present house chores that you have to squeeze in there as well!

Feeling overwhelmed? I did too until I did the following.

a. Set small goals for each work cycle

Consider the tiny gaps you get your work cycle.
Now, deciding to finish an article in an hour is never going to work. When you sit down to write, it’ll feel overwhelming and that’s exactly when your inspiration will decide to take a hike.

Break the writing process into achievable tasks of research, first draft, fact checking, proof reading, editing, and rewriting.

Some of these tasks can be done in 20 minutes while others can take longer.

b.  Get a big white board and big, loud clock.As a freelancing parent, you can’t afford to lose track of time. Otherwise, you’ll only have networked on Twitter and Facebook before your child’s 90 minute nap is over.In sight reminders and alarms are life savers.

Hang a big white board in front of your workspace and write your kid’s schedule (as well as the house chores that you need to do) on it.

Now set an alarm clock on your desk and set an alarm every time you sit down to work.

You can, of course, forego the white board and clock in favor of a kick ass reminder app but I’ve found it’s much more productive to go old school.

c. Sleep early and wake up even earlier.It’s so tempting to stay up late at night to work. The house is quiet and the baby’s asleep. You have a whole night to work! But that just messes up your entire day.Speaking from experience, you’ll feel sleepy all day long and parenting will leave you exhausted and cranky – much like your child.If your child sleeps at around 8:00 pm, allow yourself to work until 9:30 max. Then, spend at least one hour unwinding. Spend time with your spouse, read a good book – anything that keeps you away from work.Whatever you choose, be in bed by 11:00 pm. And don’t get up until you’ve had a 7 – 8 hours of sleep.

Of course, this is assuming your toddler sleeps through the night and doesn’t wake up at the crack of dawn. If he does, adjust your schedule accordingly. I know freelancing parents who’re in bed by 10:00 pm and are up at 4:00 am!

Working When Your Toddler’s Awake

It’s naïve to think your toddler will leave you alone when you’re working. Kids are busy bodies and will never let your attention divert from them for too long a time.

So, how do you handle such situations?

Here are a few tips that kill two birds with one stone – handling a cranky baby and cutting down on house chores at the same time.

a. Let Your Kids Tag AlongHouse chores are an ever-present evil, there’s no avoiding them. But how can you do them with a baby on one hand and business work on the other?Save some of your chores for times when the baby starts getting cranky. Start with some menial tasks like tidying up the house.Ask your kid to help you with the clean-up. Give her tasks that she’ll enjoy and make her feel grown up at the same time.If its laundry day, let her put the clothes in the washing machine. If it’s cooking you need to get done; get her a stool she can stand on, some utensils, fill them with non-hazardous cooking ingredients then tell her to start cooking.

No matter what your chore, the more “Oh, you’re such a big girl!” vibe you can give, the more engrossed and entertained she will be.

b. Teach Your Child To Let You WorkLetting your kid tag along will only work so far. What happens when your child wants to play with you and you have a deadline to meet?Create a mock office for your kid close to your desk. Give her a table, chair, stationary, toy laptop, a bag etc. Try and give her the things you have on your worktable. Take a minute to give her drawing or coloring “assignments”. Set a timer and make a game out of no one leaving their work until the timer goes off.

c. Be FlexibleSometimes kids just want you in their sight. So, create a flexible work environment for yourself. It could mean taking your laptop to your backyard while your child plays or turning off your computer for an hour to spend time with your child.

Even if you follow all the advice that is given here, word for word, you will still sometimes find it difficult, at times, to juggle the two roles at once – that of a mother and a business owner – but don’t be discouraged, I assure you if you stick to it for at least a month things will become much more manageable.

Rakiah is a freelance writer and blogger who’s raising a freelance writing business and toddler at the same time. She’s also the owner of Blog Labs.

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Francesca Nicasio

I'm a freelance writer specializing in blog posts, web content, and press releases for Internet companies. I also love helping aspiring freelance writers build their portfolio and find clients. Download my free ebook 25 Types of Writing Gigs that Pay Well (and How to Find Them) here to get started.

  • Steph Weber

    Freelancing writer with a toddler? Yep, been there…trying to do that 🙂

    Great tips here Rakiah! For the past year, I’ve been doing the whole staying up after she goes to bed thing. And I thought it was working brilliantly. But I’ve noticed a change in my health…and not for the better.

    So, I’ve started making myself put away the laptop and phone shortly after my daughter goes to bed. Then I read for a bit and I’m out like a light. I’ve actually found getting up earlier and walking on the treadmill while writing/researching is pretty efficient.

    My husband rigged up our current treadmill with a shelf just for this purpose. It’s all about flexibility when you’re trying to freelance with a toddler (or kids in general).

    • Rakiah O.

      Thanks Steph. Actually, in the beginning I used to stay up late and work after she fell asleep as well, but I soon realized that this left me cranky and sleepier the next day, leaving me completely unproductive. So, I changed my habits.
      The treadmill idea is pretty amazing. I always wanted to incorporate a walking regime into my day, but never found the time to do it. Now, I can multitask. Thank you 🙂

  • Christine Renaud

    Hum! That brings me back a few years, but I can assure you… it is totally doable. I was a freelancer (I say was, because I am under a full time contract for another 2 months and cannot wait to go back), when my son was 5 years old. It was the best time of my motherhood and my life, being there for him until he reached 18… raised him too well, he decided to explore the world on his own!
    Sure, it can be a jungle sometimes, but the richness of seeing your child grow and mature, teaching him values and life is priceless. As a single mother, it was not always easy financially, but the happiness that I felt was worth it.
    Hope this helps


    • Rakiah O.

      My daughter just turned two, and her terrible two’s are in full swing. Everything that I have mentioned in the post is tried and tested and am sill doing it, even then it gets difficult at times.
      But you are very right Christine nurturing and caring for your child is priceless. Seeing your child grow, makes it all that much more easier to take the ups and downs of life in stride.