So I feel like a totally fraud with the title of this post - because I am in no position to give tips on being flexible as it is something that I have really struggled with since becoming a mum. But I have identified that it is pretty important when there are kiddos around and for staying sane as a parent - so I thought I would share my experience and what I have learnt so far.
When you are working freelance you are usually having to juggle a whole lot of different balls in the air at any one time. There is invoicing, liaising with clients, responding to emails, sending out quotes, social media, updating your website, blogging (all of these things can be individual jobs in themselves in a bigger company but as a one woman band you have to do them all!) - so finding time to do them all involves being prepared, so that you can utilise pockets of time effectively. This might involve preparing instagram photos and captions in advance so that on the day you can post quickly and then get back to child wrangling. Or maybe it's a case of taking a day and batch writing a load of blog posts so that you have some back-ups for the weeks when you just don't have time/your child is sick etc. I haven't managed this yet but am working on it and dreaming of the day when I am months ahead with my blog posts!
I also think a bit of preparation can help with being flexible. For example, there are lots of apps that can help you get work done on your phone so that you can make the most of pockets of time that you might not know that you will have during the day (i.e. an unexpected nap).
So how can you maximise time you can work by being flexible? With some creativity and help from others you can definitely find pockets of time throughout the day to get bits of work done. My husband gets Reuben up and gives him breakfast in the morning before he goes to work - and as well as get ready I use that time to post on instagram and respond to comments.
If you are out and about and your baby falls asleep in the buggy - dive into a coffee shop and do a bit of work. It could be responding to emails, writing a blog post, sketching out ideas for some photographs, engaging with people on social media. Obviously, you can’t lug all the tools you need for work around with you everywhere - but there is a lot you can get done with just a smart phone in your pocket and some coffee shop wifi.
Another thing to consider is how you can do some work by including your child in the process. This won’t work for everything, but, for example, I am hoping that one day when Reuben is a bit older he might enjoy painting, so that we can get the paints out and I can be working on my lettering and he can work on whatever he fancies, it can be something fun and productive we can do together. Also, photography for blog posts could be another way of including kids. I have started to try and think how I can use him in shots or go places to photograph that he finds fun. These are just a few ideas, and as I mentioned they won’t always work or for some people just won’t be appropriate due to the type of work you do. Also, I want to clarify that I think it is really important to spend quality time with your children, and not be constantly distracted by work and your phone - but every now and then with a bit of creativity and flexibility you can make use of pockets of time in your day.
I think one of the biggest lessons to be learnt to be honest is how to work in short bursts. It can be hard, because often it takes a while to get into a particular task or project and somethings can’t be done in a quick 20 minute nap. But eventually you will start to get the hang of tasks that you can fit in in short bursts and then the jobs that take longer and might be saved for an evening or weekend when you might have some help.
Most of this blog post is written from the perspective of not having childcare and fitting in freelance work around looking after a child full time. Obviously if your child goes to nursery or is looked after by grandparents or a child minder then you might have more scope for longer stretches of time. Even so the suggestions above can still be useful for maximising pockets of time at other points in your week.
Give yourself a break
One thing that it is important to remember that even with all the flexibility and forward planning in the world some days (umm maybe most of them) just won't go to plan. Naps don't happen, bed times go awry, evenings full of cuddles and calpol and that can be really tough when you know there is a long to-do list of work with your name on them. But I think part of being flexible and being a freelance mum is accepting that some times some of the balls will have to be dropped when your child needs you, and actually people are very forgiving and understanding.
This week is a case in point for this. I have committed to posting blog posts on a Wednesday morning, and this post was supposed to go out yesterday. But with everything going on I didn't have time to edit the post and get it to a point I was happy with, so it will be posted on a Thursday instead. I was annoyed with myself and gave myself a hard time for a few minutes, and then decided to give myself a break. Probably no one will notice, and if they do, I am pretty sure they won't mind. Yes it's good to be consistent, but it's also ok to just be honest when things don't go to plan. Something I am really learning running an online business, is that people like to hear the story behind the brand. They like to hear about you hustling, learning and not always getting things right. It makes you more relatable, and it often makes people even more committed to your brand. Some of the small businesses that I love the most, are the ones that are very open about the ups and downs and the behind the scenes. Let's be honest, we are all a bit nosey, and we like to know how other people do things. Don't be afraid to share that.
One thing I am going to try to do going forward, is to plan ahead as much as possible for the weeks when things don't go to plan. I am going to allow extra time for jobs, make sure my deadlines are longer and generous. I am going to try and not take on jobs with very short and urgent deadlines unless I know that you definitely have help with childcare if something comes up.
I have realised that part of the hard work of freelancing and parenting is that it is a constant balancing act, that sometimes I will get right and that will make me feel on top of the world, and sometimes will be a total disaster with balls being dropped all over the place. That is part of the journey and the process and learning how to make it all work.