Designer, freelancer, parent: how to actually work in a home office

Designer, freelancer, parent: how to actually work in a home office

Lauren Bonk's Layout avatar

Finding a way to follow your passion in design and make a steady living is the ideal for every self-employed designer… and for a lot of you, that means working from home.

The arrangement can offer the best of both worlds: more time with the kids (also less money going to childcare), as well as the ability to contribute financially to the household. On the surface, this all sounds quite wonderful, but this full-time job has a lot of gray areas to work around… and clean up. So how do you actually work from a home office?

I’ve worked from home as a freelancer since 2010 and have been learning how to juggle parenting, client work, and blogging ever since. I figure the best way to do this is to talk about what, in my experience, doesn’t work… as well as what does.

What does not work

Let’s just rip off the Band-Aid and talk about what you definitely don’t want to do.

Working all over the house

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Photo courtesy of Rick Burtzel

Getting work done amid the clutter and din of everyday life is hard to do well. When you’ve got a sink full of dishes behind you and crunched-up Cheerios under your toes, productivity can seem like a mythical beast. Not only that, but it’s easy to get a glass of water dumped onto your laptop or supplies if you leave them at the kitchen table.

Try to set up an office area or workstation for yourself that is (ideally) separate from your family and your other responsibilities. Having an area designated solely for your work assists with your own concentration and provides you an opportunity to start setting boundaries with your kids. If a separate work space is impossible, do your best to make the workspace at hand specific to and conducive to getting things done.

Bouncing between work and parenting

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Photo courtesy of Theron LaBounty

Attempting to produce coherent, focused work while doing the voice of every Thomas the Train character ever means that something, be it work or parenting, is going to suffer. Your work deserves your undivided attention, but so do your kids.

Designating separate time for work (although I realize this is easier said than done) is imperative if you want to keep a consistent level of quality in both parts of your life. Schedule out your days if you can. This may mean that your work time happens at night or during naptime… but if you’re passionate about what you’ve chosen to do, you’ll make it work, regardless of convenience.

Getting distracted by social media

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Photo courtesy of ConcordDog

Carving out time to dedicate solely to work is incredibly important, so make that time count. Social media can obliterate the precious time you’ve set aside to take care of business. This can be especially hard if you use Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform to promote your business, but you’ve got to get good at powering through the temptation to click that Buzzfeed listicle on ’90s Nickelodeon kids shows.

You’ve got a lot of options to help with this, ranging from apps to sheer willpower-management. The key is to be aware of the temptation and the potential waste of time, and find a way that works best for you. I like to use social media as a reward. If I can finish an entire project or cross two things off my To Do list, I’ll let myself check my notifications and respond to them for five minutes. After that, I force myself to move on to the next item on my list.

If you need some extra help though, some of the most popular apps are Freedom, Cold Turkey, and Self Control.

What does work

Let’s assume our glass is half-full (and hasn’t been spilled on something important) and move onto what does work.

Shaking things up

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Photo courtesy of Soggydan Benenovitch

The daily grind can get exhausting. After a few weeks of the same old routine, your life can start to resemble a snow globe filled with the LEGO you can’t stop stepping on. When you feel like you’re more of a parent than an individual, it’s time to shake things up. This can be something as simple as finding a friend who can take the kids in a pinch, and it’s even better if this friend is another worker-at-home who would appreciate the returned favor. Coffee shops and even bars are great places for a change of pace.

But I wholeheartedly suggest the public library, because it’s free and its benefits are vast. You can bring your own caffeinated beverage, hook up to the wi-fi, and claim a table.

The library is an especially great place to work if you need to work with more than just a laptop. You can usually find a large table to spread out drawing materials or whatever else that might require a flat surface and a moment of peace.

And don’t forget the power of co-working. If you and your fellow worker-at-home can both find childcare, bouncing ideas off another brain or even just being in the presence of someone who understands your situation can be a lifesaver.

Organization

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Photo courtesy of Fernando

You have got to find a style of organization that works for you, or you’re going to spend most of your work time AND your family time feeling stressed out, pressed for time, and you’ll generally be terrible to be around. Disorganization can lead to procrastination, and leaving your work to be completed at, say, a busy time for the family can lead to disaster.

Find a resource that works for you. Home organization apps like Cozi or Hub can help keep things in check, or you can use more tangible forms, such as planners and bulletin boards.

Communication

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Photo courtesy of Julie Faulk

No matter who the main helper in your parenting life is, it’s imperative to communicate your work needs with them openly and honestly.

If you’ve procrastinated on a project and are down to the last minute, you’ve got to tell them you need the extra hours, regardless of how embarrassed you are of your time management. Scrambling to finish work at 3 a.m. when you know your youngest is going to wake up at 6 is NOT going to result in a good-quality product or a good-quality day with your family.

You’ve also got to power through the “parenting guilt.” While you may hesitate to miss out on family time by leaving to work in the evenings or on the weekend, it’s important to stick up for your business needs, too. Quality time spent with family is worth the most when you are present, and when your mind is on deadlines, presence of mind can be hard to find.

With that, keep in mind:
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Photo courtesy of Rob Swatski
  • Both parenting and work can be very personal things, and everyone does things differently. These points are merely suggestions and must be personalized to your situation for them to work for you.
  • My children are both under the age of five. Working from home with older children is a completely different ballgame and requires a lot more communication and boundary-setting, but usually results in a more structured work schedule.
  • Things aren’t going to be like this forever. Children grow older and (hopefully) more understanding. Think of this season of life as the perfect time to build your business’ foundation so that you can hit the ground running when your time opens up.

This post was based on a presentation given at Barcamp Omaha. Why not take a peek at the slide illustrations by Erin Human of Human Illustrations?

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Mardra

    October 10, 2014

    Soooo true! Great tips and may I agree: I LOVE THE LIBRARY!

  2. Ratko

    October 20, 2014

    Great tips mate. Thanks for writing this article.

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