I’ve been fantasising about writing this post for a month … but here in the UK it’s been the summer holidays, so in reality it’s been all I can do to keep paid work going at a roughly normal level, and aim to get my kids off their screens and into the fresh air at least once a day. I also managed to squeeze in five days’ virtually rain-free camping within frisbee distance of the sea, so I feel like I’m winning. But whatever else I’ve been doing, I definitely haven’t been blogging.
Time management in the summer holidays can be tough if you have children. I’m not really moaning, because if it’s hard when you’re self-employed, I can only imagine what it must be like if you have a boss and somewhere outside of the home to be, and you need to organise childcare around all that. But in the eleven or so years in which this has been a consideration for me, I have learned a few things about how to juggle freelance editing with other responsibilities – while also managing to take some time off myself. Here are a few things I’ve found that make it more manageable.
Strip work back to basics
Not blogging is a fine example of this. When I have the luxury of fixed child-free hours on weekdays in term-time, there’s a bit of wriggle room for more business maintenance alongside the core task of doing paid work for clients. This means I can spend an hour here or there on blogging, or keeping up with Twitter, or pruning my LinkedIn profile, or updating my CV, or whatever. All these things are – to me – essential aspects of running my business, but I don’t need to be doing all of them for 52 weeks a year. I’m only writing this blog post now because my son has his best friend round, and while they’re pretty self-regulating they’re not exactly silent, so I’ve stopped editing for the day. I can hear myself think enough to write, but not quite enough to guarantee my best work for a client.
Accept that there will be screens
I used to worry a lot about screen time for the children. Then there was the pandemic, and subsequently the rules have been rewritten. I still make sure the children take breaks from their screens, to read or play with Lego, or draw, or whatever. I also try to get them out for a walk at least once a day (we don’t have a very usefully sized garden, and we live on a busy road). But I also don’t beat myself up for letting my screen standards slip in the holidays. Sometimes it’s simply the only way all of us can stay sane, and I can get enough work done to pay the bills and be able to take a bit of time off for more fun stuff together later, so it’s a no-brainer.
Remember that clients may have similar issues – especially now
It can feel difficult to admit to a client that work is compromised for reasons connected with childcare. But lots of them have exactly the same problem, and most will sympathise. Especially at the moment, when even clients who might usually work in an office are still at home, and fighting their own work/life balance battles. There’s no shame in mentioning the summer holidays, or admitting to having children around. It’s always better to ask for concessions that will enable you to complete a job properly than it is to remain silent and turn in substandard work.
Be clear about your working pattern where necessary
So much of successful freelancing depends on good communication, and this is especially true in the summer holidays, if your working pattern is likely to be different from normal. One of the great things about working for yourself is not having to ask for time off. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t courteous to be clear about your availability – or unavailability – with regular clients. This will help them plan their workflow, and it’ll reduce the likelihood of you receiving urgent requests you’re compelled to turn down just as you’re putting your spare key under the flowerpot and heading off to sunnier (or at least differently cloudy) climes.
Set boundaries – for yourself as well as clients
Out of office means out of office. If you’ve set up an automatic email response when you’re away from your desk, don’t feel you have to keep checking your emails. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the school of not checking emails at all if I’m away, just because it then becomes so awful to return, but I do limit my checking to once a day, and I only respond if absolutely necessary. For example, if I’m offered work I will send a holding reply, especially if I want to express interest in the job, promising to answer more fully on my return. But I don’t try to do anything work-related that I can’t do on my phone, even if I do have my laptop with me.
Remind yourself that it’s OK to stop, and that things will carry on afterwards
This might just be me, but if I take time off I can succumb to a rising panic that I’ll never work again. Even after all this time, I have to very mindfully tell myself that just because I’ve stopped or slowed down for a little while, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped for ever. Working patterns vary, but many of my clients slow down a bit in the summer too. And if I think about it rationally, I know that come September I’ll be inundated again … and looking forward to next year’s summer holiday.