Productivity Tips for Freelancers with Toddlers Underfoot

toddler-underfootIf you’re the freelancing parent of a young child, you’ll find that many productivity books are simply not applicable. They were probably written by either ultra-productive people without children, or those who are never expected to change a diaper during the daytime.

Advice like, “shut your home office door and focus on the task at hand,” is clearly not for the one who’s primarily responsible for the care of an infant, toddler or preschooler who needs constant attention 24/7.

Yet, you’re a professional who works at home. You do need to get stuff done, or else, how are you gonna make any money? Day care is not an option, because you chose to stay home so you could be with your child in the first place.

Boy do I know how you feel. I began freelancing when my youngest child was 20 months old. Since that time, I’ve discovered a number of things that help me squeeze a few hours of productive time per day. I still don’t work eight full hours a day (I know other freelancers work much longer hours), but I’m not tearing my hair out with frustration either.

In this post, we’ll give you some tips to help you become more productive.

Get More Done in Less Time

Since you have precious little time to actually work, make sure you’re being your most productive when you do work. This means being disciplined enough to turn off all distractions. Admit it, your little one isn’t the only thing disrupting your work all the time. I know your Twitter stream beckons you all day. Or, maybe for you it’s the TV. Whatever your weakness is, shut it off and just focus.

You also need to be super organized, probably much more than the average freelancer. Use whatever productivity¬† system works for you, whether it’s Getting Things Done, Todoodlist or something else. Make sure to keep track of all your deadlines, and arrange your physical and digital files so they’re easy to find. One of these project management tools may help you.

Keep Your Child Happy

A needy child is a clingy child, and you don’t want that. Schedule some time for cuddling and reading a book, for sitting on the floor and playing with puzzles, or for cooking up homemade play dough and getting messy with your child. Your child should have some alone time with you every day, when you’re completely focused on her. When your children’s needs are met, they’re less likely to demand attention every single moment.

Train Your Child to Sleep Well at Naps and at Night

Sleeping times are the best times for us to do our most intense work. Therefore, do what it takes to help your child  take regular naps and to sleep through the night.

I practice attachment parenting, which means I didn’t go the cry-to-sleep route. When my son was younger, I spent many hours typing on the computer with him sleeping in my arms, in a sling. Eventually, he got too heavy for this arrangement, so I started training him to sleep on the couch beside me. He resisted at first, but after a few days, he finally “got it” and now he naps by himself for about two hours every afternoon. Those are precious hours!

It was also very liberating when he finally started sleeping through the night, something that took a few weeks of gentle sleep training to accomplish (Incidentally, I used the No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley to do this). This means, I can work a couple of hours at night, uninterrupted, when necessary, to meet a deadline. Otherwise, the evening hours are for hanging out with the hubby, knitting, reading and tending to my (non-freelancing) blogs.

Find a Part-time Mother’s (or Father’s) Helper

Full time day care may not be a solution, but part-time child care could be. This is the perfect solution for me, because I prefer somebody to care for my child in my own home, in my presence. I haven’t had much luck finding a trustworthy part-time helper other than my older children. I ask them to take charge of their little brother after they come home from school and finish their homework. It helps that my 9-year-old really enjoys playing with her brother. That gives me at least another free hour at the end of each day.

If you don’t have older children, you may find a neighbor’s teen who’s looking for volunteer hours or extra pocket money. Or, you may know another parent who stays home and who would like some extra income. Why not find another work-at-home parent to swap babysitting hours with? Even half a day of uninterrupted work, once or twice a week, can do wonders for your productivity.

Use Interruptions to Your Advantage

Accept the fact that you will have interruptions. Learn how to use them to your advantage. For example, think of each diaper change as a break for you to recharge and refresh your mind. In fact, many productivity experts recommend working in time chunks or short bursts of intense activity. That said, do make sure to keep track of your work so you can easily pick up where you left off.

Focus on the Most Important Stuff

Now isn’t the right time to have a full social calendar. Or to have a house that looks like the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Know your priorities and stick to them. Act as if your time were currency. Because it is. Learn to say “no” to those activities that are not relevant to your goals.

Other Thoughts

The following aren’t productivity tips, but are reminders to help you cope with this challenging phase in your freelancing life.

  • Have realistic expectations.

Recognize the limitations on your time and energy that having a young child brings. Some people who work at home are able to accomplish great things, despite having small children to take care of. That may or may not be you. (I’m not one of them, either, but I know they exist somewhere.) This is neither good or bad; it just is. Accept it and remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.

  • Respect your child’s temperament.

Some children are needier than others. Some can play happily by themselves for long stretches of time. Some learn how to use the potty early. Others are constantly clinging to their parent’s knee. Again, this doesn’t make your child either good or bad. Accept and love your child just as he is, and remind yourself how blessed you are to be able to stay home during these precious years.

  • Be patient.

Your productivity and income are probably limited right now. If you’re the sole breadwinner, get whatever help you need — from family and friends — so you can have more time for your work (see the tip about getting a parent’s helper above). Keep your life simple so you can live on less. And don’t worry, your time will come.

That young child will go to Junior Kindergarten soon enough. Then you’ll look back at these days — because you were there at every moment, watching your baby grow and experiencing all the milestones. Be thankful for this moment. You’ll miss it.

What Are Your Productivity Secrets?

If you freelance at home with a young child, how do you get any work done? Do share your productivity tips by posting a comment below. You never know whom you might help.

Image by lrargerich