Freelancing as a Stay-at-Home Parent: 7 Smart Ways to Be More Productive

stay-at-home mom
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Do you work from home? If so, you’re a part of a growing trend. The number of Americans working from home is expected to increase more than 60% in the next five years, according to research from the Telework Research Center reported in Forbes.

However, balancing your work with responsibilities as stay-at-home parent is a whole new ballgame. Looking after the needs of your family while also bringing in an income to help support them isn’t easy. “Busy” just took on a whole new meaning!

As a mom who juggles a freelance writing career with looking after my one- and two-year-old daughters, I can tell you you’re not alone. I started freelancing about four hours per week just after my first daughter was born, and my business has grown into an actual part-time (sometimes full-time) gig.

We all have the same number of hours each day, but what counts is how you use them. The more efficient you are, no matter what type of work you do, the more money you can earn.  

While managing my time between caring for my kids, working and running our household can be difficult, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that have made the balancing act a little easier. Here are my favorite strategies for being more productive and making more money:

1. Set Realistic Goals and Create a Support System

A sparkling clean house, a successful home-based business and a five-course dinner on the table every night looks great on Pinterest, but it’s not reality. Trying to do everything yourself — and all at the same time — is a recipe for disaster.

Before you begin working from home, plan a support system that will help you manage your responsibilities. My husband and I discussed our “roles” in the household before I started my freelancing career. If I was going to be working and watching the kids during the day, he was going to have to pitch in with the cooking and cleaning. For those without a partner, perhaps family members can watch the kids once a week so you can have uninterrupted time to devote to your work.

Another option is to organize a “kid swap” with another parent (for example, she watches all the kids on Tuesdays, you watch them all on Thursdays) so you can each get some alone time. Many cities also offer Mother’s Day Out programs during the week, or you could look for part-time daycare or a babysitter for a few hours each week.

2. Wake Up Earlier

Getting up earlier each morning was a game changer for me, especially once my second little girl came along. With one baby, I could work during her naps. Now that I have two, naps don’t always happen at the same time.

I compensate by setting my alarm at least one hour, sometimes two, before my kids get up at 7:30 a.m. Make sure to go to bed earlier so you don’t miss out on sleep! I aim to be in bed no later than 10 p.m. so I can wake up by 5:30 or 6:00 the next day.

While waking up early isn’t my favorite thing in the world, it’s made all the difference in my work. I can have coffee, write an article or two, catch up on emails and read all my favorite blogs before the girls wake up for the day. This uninterrupted work time is my most productive of the day — and it means I can bring in a few bucks before many people are even out of bed.

3. Get Dressed Every Day

It’s a small step towards success, but it makes a big difference in how you feel and how you prioritize your time. Staying in your pajamas feels great, but could also lead to lounging, relaxing and avoiding work. Putting on “real clothes” — whatever that means for you — helps you make the transition into productivity mode.

4. Keep the Kids Busy in the Morning

From the moment my girls wake up, we are on the move. We eat breakfast and get ready for the day, and then head off to a morning activity. We usually go to the library or the park, have a playdate or run a few errands, but we always get out of the house.

Why? Going to the playground or the grocery store is tiring for the girls, which gives me the best chance of getting them to nap at the same time later on.

5. Always Work Ahead

While I try my hardest to get my girls to nap at the same time each day, it doesn’t always happen. Depending on that work time could be dangerous: if they didn’t nap one day and I had a big assignment due, I might miss my deadline or turn in work that was less than my best.

Instead, I always work at least two days ahead of schedule to leave room for error. This way, if my kids don’t take a nap at the same time, it’s not a big deal. I can spend time with them without stressing about my deadline, because I know I have time to finish my work

6. Stay Organized and Make Daily To-Do Lists

If you work from home, you probably have a few work-related tasks each day. For example, I write for a variety of different clients, and assignments come and go quickly. Staying organized means I don’t miss anything.

I keep a monthly calendar to track all of my assignments and write out a to-do list each night for the following day. I sleep better knowing exactly what I’ll have to accomplish the next morning. It’s also nice to know ahead of time if I need to wake up early or if I’m able to enjoy a rare day to sleep in.

7. Set Aside Specific Times for Social Media

How many times have you “quickly” checked Facebook, only to look up and realize it’d been 20 minutes? I know I’m not the only one who gets lost in the rabbit hole of social media, and quick checks here and there add up to a lot of time — the average American spends 40 minutes a day on Facebook, according to Businessweek!

Try setting aside specific times to check your social media feeds, like first thing in the morning, during your lunch break or once the kids are in bed. If you struggle to keep yourself off certain sites, try using an app to block Facebook or Twitter during all but your scheduled “social time.”

Balancing caring for a family with working at home is challenging, but managing your time better will free up minutes or hours of your day. Focusing that time on your work gives you a better shot at earning more money from your business.

Your Turn: What are your strategies for being productive while working from home?

Sarah Brooks is a personal finance writer and blogger living in Charlotte, NC. Combining her bachelor’s degree in finance with her passion for writing, she’s been able to make a career out of doing what she loves from the comfort of her home! New to Charlotte, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the area and trying new restaurants.