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


  1. Malista says

    Yep, not all freelancers are GTD-robots! But while it is daunting at first, the 2 can complement each other beautifully.
    Among other things, children are outgoing, spontaneous, non-judgemental, curious and intrepid; qualities crucial for a creative person. There’s a lot to learn watching them and interacting with them.

    A good self-discipline is important too. For example:
    – “keep your child happy” (!!)
    – when you say: “not now I’m busy”, offer an alternative for your child to focus on
    – do not open your emails until your finish an important task left opened (applies to RSS feed as well)
    – do not accept others to assign priority to task
    – only accept to work for free for the nappy company; and swap!
    – work within a project time frame with flexibility
    – invest in the tool you need (no time to suffer from sluggish/buggy apps or hardware). And back-up manually at any relevant time (split milk on the shinny laptop never happens at the scheduled 3am run)
    – outsource parts of a job (I’m sure an other freelance dad or mum will love to code this shopping card you’ll prefer to style…)
    – regularly look around at what you’ve got (nice light through the house, smell from the garden or the stove, breeze from the open window, etc.) and re-visualise what it was like back in those days in an office… Make an other tea!
    – “use interruptions to your avantage” (!!)
    – don’t underestimate networking at the playgroup, the school and library
    – don’t be afraid to bring your child at meetings: make them factual and concise (1/2 hour meetings are healthier and far more productive anyway!)
    – don’t use a picture of your child as desktop image; go and play with her rather

  2. says

    The photo is cute and exactly what I did when my son (now 9) was about a year old. I gave him an old keyboard (wires cut off) and let him bang away on his while I typed on mine. Eventually, between 2 and 3, he received his own toy computer to play on – and now has his own laptop from which he blogs and plays games. When he was young enough to be happy in the Pack N Play, I would sit him in front of the TV with educational videos (e.g., Baby Einstein, Genius Babies, foreign language for babies, etc.) for about 30 minutes at a time. When a video finished, I took breaks with him. I also set him up with his own tool set (like Daddy’s) and gave him a variety of building block sets that kept him busy for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. I managed to get work done in chunks of time ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours (during his naps).

    And now I still work that way… when he’s in school I work like crazy and try to stay focused and away from Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. I indulge in 10 minute (max.) coffee breaks combined with social networking and then get back to work. When school gets out, he’s got me all to himself for anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, whatever he needs. Then he does his homework and computer play while I work a few more hours.

    It’s the best balance for us and is much superior to the 50 hour weeks I put in before he was born while I (I mean the babysitter) was raising his older sister.

  3. says

    @Teresa – That’s a terrific idea! Little kids (and even bigger ones) love to “work” alongside a parent. I caught my 9 yo “blogging” at the laptop recently, when she had a chance to use it. Thanks for the tip!

    @Christie – Yes, it’s totally worth it to work at home, no matter what the challenges :-)

  4. says

    Yes, thats true. I have twins, 2 sweet boys crazy about computers in age of 2.5 yr. I working from 10 to 4 am later on 5hr to bed but they are usually 4 and later get up and begins daily routine. I have a rule that I dont working in weekends, and try contact with client max to wednesday later is complicated. One thing is good I havent any problems with sleep, standing, seating, laying. In last one since wednesday Im capable “disconnect from matrix” in just a few minutes. It’s hard especially in case of any diseases at home or similar cases, but Im happy working for myself. Money arent such big like in big companies, but you dont miss some much more important things like first steps, soup on a wall, first reset of pc ;), some sketches and colour correction in prints for client. Is much more worth like any money. Time is most precious thing on earth. So keep ahead, if I can with twins rest with one can for sure ;))). Waiting for comment of designer / parent of multi.

  5. says

    Thanks for writing an excellent article! I have a 16-month old and it’s really tough juggling him. It’s just that daycares in this area are so packed and the waiting list is way too long. I definitely agree with having others take care of your child and sharing duties with other parents in helping out.


  6. says

    “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.”

    That’s quite liberating thought, Lexi.

    Am inspired to see people like you who are able to balance child rearing (or some other concerns) and their careers.

    Thanks Lexi for this useful post.

  7. says

    Thank you for the tips! I don’t often see articles like this out there – that focus not just on the Mompreneur (or Parentpreneur), but on one with little children not yet in full-time school.

    I am just about to leave my corporate job to work part-time from home as a freelancer, and one of my biggest worries has been how to handle just being at home all the time. While I love it most of the time, we all need to go out and be free sometimes.

    The additional advice I’d offer, therefore, is to make sure to take your little ones to interesting places (i.e. the grocery store, Target, etc…seriously!) and to also get out on your own at times (Starbucks to work instead of home office, when hubby is home, for example). Getting out of the house usually helps with my own motivation, and helps to tame my kids’ (yes, two of them, 3 and 1, and I work at home!) energy levels which helps them to nap better and get me some straight work time.

    Again, thanks for this post! Look forward to more like it!

  8. says

    Ah, one other piece of advice…

    Work out expectations with your spouse or significant other well ahead of time. Know how you’ll need their help and get their alignment to your plan. Maybe you need them to have the kids on their own a few nights per week, or maybe you just need to ensure they are ok with you working instead of spending time with them after the kids go to bed. Make sure you work out household chores arrangements, be it them helping with more things around the house or just being ok with lower standards for level of completion.

    It’s easy to get wrapped up in our freelance work, but we can’t forget that our marriage and families come first and need to be managed.

  9. says

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’m a mom who is trying to push her foot into real freelance writing, and I too practice attachment parenting. Most of the books and articles aren’t written for parents of young kids, and the few that I have found that do assume parents are far more mainstream about naps than I am.

  10. says

    This blog is very much pioneering; there is no doubt about it. I definitely appreciate the way you looks life. You have sorted it out very sensitively. But what I want to ask you that don’t you think that it is quite tough to mould a toddler into these types of training session? As a father I occasionally find myself restless to handle these types of situation.

  11. says

    Awesome article! One thing I do is to bring my laptop into the playroom with my 1 year old. This usually allows me to work for 10 minutes, play for 2, work for 10, play for 2, etc. It’s not the most productive time of the day but I find I can get some things done this way.

  12. says

    Wonderful comments everyone! One thing I did forget to mention is that despite the distractions and frustrations we might experience while working at home with small children, we do love them and are teaching them so many important messages through this living example of working at home. And therefore we are tackling two jobs at the same time – that of parent and professional.

    On the other hand, at my last job working IN an employer’s office I DID NOT love the many people who inflicted upon me really annoying distractions and frustrating experiences that caused me to have to work late/overtime without extra pay. And my family did not deserve the anger I sometimes arrived home wearing.

    For anyone contemplating Freelancing at home, please be encouraged that your life can be much richer than it previously was and your family can be much happier and healthier for it, provided you are a disciplined and organized worker – and have the ability to market your services effectively.

  13. says

    It’s definetly a challenge. But I always make sure that I make time for my kids. I’ll do what work I can and then spend time with the kids. When it comes down to it, work is important, but the kiddos are even more so.

    Great post!

  14. says

    This is just what i needed to read as I get ready to dive into 3 freelancing projects this week!
    I’ve found the list-making to be of the utmost importance. Because my 11 month old’s distractions are really good at clearing my mind, the only way to remember anything is to have that LIST. Right now mine is in a tabbed notebook, but I think it may be time to look into a computerized version.
    And I agree, having realistic expectations is key. I have to constantly remind myself of that when I read about the amazing freelance/home business owners out there and all the fantastic creative mind-blowing things they’re accomplishing. Rarely do they have any young children.

    The best point you made? That even with these tips in place, you’re not working a full 8 hour day. That’s been my biggest concern and you’ve just confirmed my suspicions: it’s not possible right now. And that’s ok!

    I hear the Babe waking up from her nap ;)

  15. says

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    @James – I’m still looking for someone to trade babysitting hours with. It doesn’t help that we moved into a new city so I hardly know anybody :-(

    @Heather – Awesome advice! In fact, my spouse (who works full time outside the house) takes on an awful lot of the household chores. A neighbor once told me that I’ve got a “nice gig” going ;-) – Not sure what you meant by “tough training sessions” but for sleep training, I follow gentle methods, not the cry-it-out methods. Elizabeth Pantley’s approach isn’t tough at all. And you can always come up with your own ways of molding your child, depending on your child’s and your temperament.

    @Teresa – Yes, our children are definitely growing up with different notions about what it means to earn a living. For one thing, I’m glad my daughters don’t think that having a career is not compatible with being a Mom.

    @Mari – Guess we’ll catch you at the next nap!


  16. says

    This is a great post. I’ve been going the Freelance route since my son was 4 weeks old and so far we’ve made it to 5 months already! I think patience is your best tip. It took a while to figure out that my son feeds off of my attitude, and a patient parent equals a patient kid. When it is nap time you just grab the coffee and type away, when he wakes up it’s an opportunity to be young again and go enjoy your kid. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Now if only I could get the sleep all night part down…


  17. says

    Hi Lexi, thanks for your kind response. I definitely do not mean tough training actually but what I wanted to say that it is really overweight for a father to take care his 2 months old child alone (as I have lost my beloved wife in an accident). I always desire to adopt innovative thing so that I can provide my child the best comfort he can tolerate as well as I but sometime it is out of my reach and I can do nothing except an appeal to the Almighty to solve my problem immediately.

    With Regards

    Millar Travolta

  18. Jess says

    With two very little ones at home I found it really difficult at first to balance my work and home life. I finally found that I can work in snatches throughout the day while they’re napping or really engrossed with some toy, and I do most of my work at night after they go to bed, from about 8pm until midnight or one.

  19. says

    I am thrilled that you wrote this article. I’ve been trying to learn more on this topic and most of the feedback I’ve received has been that it’s no different than working for a company and to put the kids in child care. Kind of defeats the purpose of working from home for me personally. Great post, great tips — thanks again. You’ve given me hope!

  20. says

    I’ve got a 2 yr-old and luckily he understands when daddy closes the office door, it’s workin’ time. Fortunately, my wife (project new biz/mananger/motivator) has time to watch our son during the day. I help out with music education, dinner, play time, reading, and putting him to sleep. Remember fellow freelancers: there’s always time for your child. Work will always be there. Prioiritize family time into your daily schedule and try to take weekends off. Or only work Sunday nights. You’ll thank me later.

    Now if only I had room for a couch in my office.

  21. says

    I’ve only recently started freelancing, but I’ve been working from home since my 8 year old was born. The corporate job was a tougher struggle, in that I didn’t (often) have the option of working at night; the hours were (roughly) 9-5. All that you said worked for me; at one point I had two toddlers at home! Still, I’m glad they’re in school now, allowing me to do more than work and parent.

  22. indy says

    Re-reading this for the umpteenth time… (i have it bookmarked) Such good perspective on why we are doing what we are doing.
    I have been blessed to be able to stay home with my bebes (now 2 & 4) and have had a steady flow of design come through the door over the years. I’m not gonna lie- it has not always been easy. There are still times that I forget the “why” and meddle in the “why me?” but when I remember to keep perspective and live today as it was intended- raising my beautiful bebes instead of my neighbor or a stranger- then it is a good, good day.
    I do think the most difficult part is being limited to the 10 minute productivity bursts. It often takes me 9 of those minutes just to get focused and back in the flow. When I actually get an hour, or *gasp* TWO consecutive hours it feels like I’ve hit the jackpot!
    Thanks for another dose of right perspective… until next time.

  23. says

    I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems? A handful of my blog visitors have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any suggestions to help fix this issue?

  24. says

    Thanks! I needed this today!

    I can so relate about the (dirty) house, the (lack of) social life, and (endless) distractions throughout the day. I have an 18mo old and a 4mo old, and I’m trying to write a book in my spare time. Hilarious. Today was less than stellar. One minute I was worried about not getting some writing done and the next about how my toddler wanted more Mommy time; ergo, I got NOTHING done.

    Time to step back, remember what’s important, breathe, and try again. Thanks for the reminder.

  25. says

    I am curious to find out what blog platform you have been utilizing?
    I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest site and I would like to find something more safe. Do you have any suggestions?


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