For the first summer EVER since my eldest started school, I decided to take the entire summer off work.
No childcare, no meetings in the diary, no summer camp type activities booked – unless the kids wanted to do them rather than so I could have childcare cover for when I needed to work.
The plan was not to do no work, but to make sure that the kids came first and I would just work around them.
So far, so idyllic.
Except of course, for one tiny fact.
I’m an idiot.
Sure, taking the holidays off is a splendid idea. My eldest is going to high school and it seemed like a wonderful way to mark is transition by being totally available parent.
Apart from the bit about the fact that I HAVE to work.
I mean, I’m not so much of an idiot that I’d forgotten that fact, it’s just that for some bizarre reason (especially when you consider how much I like to plan things) I had sort of imagined that my work would just ‘happen’ in the random gaps and downtime in the day.
In reality, what happened was that week 1 didn’t go quite according to plan.
My son (formerly an early riser) suddenly became a teenager who wouldn’t get out of bed, and didn’t want to do anything – and all his friends had gone on holiday. Meanwhile, my daughter discovered a whole new set of friends around the corner and was out all day every day playing with them.
So, instead of trips for the 3 of us along with moments where both kids were out playing with friends, I had 1 kid who was never here and didn’t want to be with me, and another who was here all the time (although admittedly, he probably didn’t want to be with me either!)
And suddenly, I realized that a week had gone by during which I’d achieved nothing beyond trying to entertain grumpy almost teenager, being constantly interrupted by requests for food or complaints about boredom, while being unable to go anywhere because he wasn’t enthusiastic about anything and she was out playing with her friends. And the emails were starting to back up.
As soon as my other half got home from work, I would do precisely the following:
a) moan for half an hour about how I’d achieved nothing all day
b) feed us all
c) spend the entire evening on the computer panicking about how little I’d achieved all day and then panicking some more about how much I needed to do (without actually doing any of it) while being constantly interrupted by either the kids, my other half or the dog!
I hadn’t written any Apricot Ginger blog posts in advance (noticed the tumble weed on here for the past few weeks? *ahem*) and I hadn’t scheduled in any social media beyond week 1. By the middle of the 2nd week of the holidays I was starting to panic. Big time!
So, a few deep breaths later, one slightly ranty email to my other half and a pleading phone call to my mother, and I had secured a full day to myself to get my s*&t together.
In the interests of helping you to avoid the same fate and, if I’m being honest, to avoid making the same mistake myself in future, I thought it might be helpful to share a few words of wisdom to help any self employed or freelance types out there that I learned from my week and a half of stress at the start of the holidays.
Have a Plan
Yes, unbelievably, I sort of shimmy-ed up to the holidays all bright eyed with expectation about how fabulous it was going to be spending time with the children, while managing to still balance my work through the social media and remote working without actually having a plan as to how I was going to manage my workload.
In my utopian dream of a summer off with the kids spent taking advantage of new experiences as they arose I had forgotten the first rule of how to be as flexible as possible:
i.e. having a plan!
Ridiculous really when I am usually Mrs Organization but, because I had never taken the holidays off before, I had forgotten to apply my usual rules.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a blog post plan in the sense that I know what’s coming up. I just hadn’t actually planned when I was going to write the little babies!The best way to be adaptable to new opportunities is to have a plan in the 1st place Click To Tweet
OK, I’ve written about automation before in this post here so I won’t go into masses of detail about how to do it or why, but that little day that the kids spent with Granny was a godsend when it came to social media. Because, beyond the first week, I hadn’t actually scheduled anything in.
Ordinarily, that’s no big deal as I do this once a week, but of course, I had no plan for when I was going to schedule in anything beyond this first week – a time when I was sole carer of the kids for 12 hours each day. So, now I have blocked off an hour on a Sunday morning while my other half and the kids walk the dog/do something away from the house when I can spend an hour bulk scheduling everything on Hootsuite.
Ask for Help
I am super lucky that my Mum lives a short 20 minute drive from me (actually, it was more by design than accident as we moved here for that specific reason after having the kids, however…)
I realize that not everyone is in the same position as me, but even if you don’t have family close by, ask friends for help with childcare – particularly other friends who freelance as they will understand your pain for a start. And of course, you can help each other out in times of urgent childcare need.
Don’t Forget About Execution
To be clear, this is not a childcare strategy – I’m talking about workload (honest).
I found myself half way through week 1 of the holidays not really enjoying myself, not spending any quality time with the kids, and generally feeling slightly anxious. I had half an eye on my work and half on entertaining the kids – which meant I wasn’t doing either terribly well (to put it mildly). In my mind, when I’d promised to take the holidays off, I had a vision of 6 weeks of chilled out bliss.
Of course, what happened was that I didn’t have my work planned out properly (or effectively is probably more accurate. I had a plan of WHAT needed done – I’d just forgotten the HOW I was going to achieve it part!).
In those 8 hours my Mum so generously gave me at the start of July, I wrote out when I was going to work on each of the areas I’d identified as work priorities to the middle of August by working back from 19th August (which is when the kids go back to school here) to the beginning of July and planning when I was going to work on each area in order to get them done.
If you’ve little or no childcare for a month and a half, it’s unlikely that you’re going to achieve as much as you usually do. So perhaps your plan to write a book, develop an ecourse, gain 10 new clients and revamp your website are over ambitious? Look at the time you have and be realistic about what you can achieve.
I’ve given myself 3 priorities over the entire holidays:
Plan out 15 – 20 posts for Apricot Ginger and write/publish 6 of these
Deliver 6 guest posts plus 10 new outlines for my blog clients
Plan and initial prep for a promotion for my consultancy business (note I said, plan – I’m not launching until the end of August!)
Those are 3 areas that I would normally deliver in a much shorter time frame, but I simply don’t have that luxury.
I’ve also blocked off the days I have available to work between now and mid August and for each of those days, I have 3 daily priorities that will help me to reach my bigger objectives.
Carve Out Time Where You Can
My kids are 12 and 9 and the beauty of that is they don’t get up early during the holidays anymore. That means that – as I’m not an early riser – I can get a full hour of work done before they emerge from their rooms in the morning (Who am I kidding? I can get 3 hours done before my son appears!).
There’s no way I could have done this when they were little, as my son used to get up at 6am (which is about as early as I could possibly get up without needing to sleep for an hour at lunchtime myself!).
In those days, I did more work at the end of the day than at the beginning, but I much prefer getting an hour or 2 done in the morning, as it makes for a more relaxing day with the kids. Then I usually squeeze in another 2 to 3 hours in the evening depending on what we’ve had on that day.
Work when you can.
I’m not particularly good at fitting in bits and pieces of work in the odd half hour here and there as I much prefer having some time to focus.
I know it works well for other people – so if you can do that, go for it. But if, like me, you prefer some head down time to really crack on through the work, getting a chunk of time at either end of the day is a life saver.
Learn From Others
I noticed the other week that I was starting to obsess about productivity – everything I was saving onto Pocket, blogs that I was commenting on or sharing on Pinterest or Twitter – they all pointed to productivity.
There are fantastic tips out there if you’re really struggling to use the limited time available during the school holidays:
How to Be Self-Employed Over the Holidays Without Going Insane
12 Productivity Tips from Incredibly Busy Entrepreneurs
30 Quick Tips for Becoming More Productive
7 Tips for Writers Drowning in a Sea of Unwritten Content
I particularly like Ali Luke’s suggestion for batching common tasks (in the 7 Tips for Writers post). Sure, she’s talking about writing but you could apply that to anything in your workload, whether you’re a freelance event manager or a graphic designer. What can you batch and work through more quickly as a result?
I hope you’re enjoying the holidays and not finding the need to balance work and family too stressful – well, no more than usual 😉
I’d love to hear your tips for managing to stay sane during the long summer break so please pop them in the comments below.
And, as Jo Gifford says in her post above, remember why you’re doing this.
If you’re anything like me, you chose a freelance career BECAUSE OF and not in spite of, your family. The first step towards that is to have a clear plan for your work – and the rest should follow.