Monday, November 19, 2012

Self-employed and working at home with kids: A blog mini series - Profile 1: Nicole from Planning With Kids (Part 1)

As I have written here before, I am currently self-employed (as a professional writer, specialising in policy, standards and regulation) and I work at home primarily, with three kids for whom I am the primary caregiver.

This isn't exactly a novel model of work/life, but it's one that I think more and more parents and caregivers, in all sorts of professions, are trying to make work. So I thought it might be interesting to see how four different people, in different professional areas, are managing being self-employed, caregivers, and mostly at home. Hence - a blog mini series!

I'm kicking off the series today with a blogger, author, speaker and blog coach known to many of you: the lovely Nicole of Planning With Kids. I asked Nicole some questions - well, quite a lot of questions! - about her working system, and she was kind enough to give me lots of answers. This post is the first part of her answers; part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

I hope you enjoy this first post in the Self-employed and Working at Home with Kids series. The next profile will be posted next Monday and Tuesday.

Introducing ... Nicole, blogger, writer, speaker and all around good egg :-) In today's post (part 1), I focus on Nicole's strategies for managing her work. Tomorrow, we look at how the work impacts on and relies on her family dynamic in different ways.

1. Tell me a little about your work and your family.

My family is made up of one husband, four sons (13, 11, 6, 3) and one daughter (8). My daughter is smack bang in the middle of the boys. I have been blogging for almost five years now, but for the last two years, blogging has become a platform for my small business. My activities are pretty diverse spanning from:
• Sponsored posts on the blog
• Coaching bloggers
• Consulting to brands
• Freelance writing
• Selling my own products – physical book, e-books, iPhone App and now a calendar.

2. How much of your work is performed at home as opposed to out and about?

Most of my work is done at home. I do go out to do coaching and consulting, but try to do most of it via skype when I can. I find it is more time efficient to do so.
I do love the portability of my job though. It means if I have dead waiting time and no kids with me, I can sit anywhere and work. I have a new super speedy MacBook Air, mobile wifi, so I can work just about anywhere!

3. When you work at home, do you arrange to do so when your children are either absent or being cared for by someone else?

I predominantly work around sleep times! I still have my 3.5 year old at home for the majority of the time. My times for working at home are relatively consistent. Two mornings a week when the littlest one is in preschool, then from about 2-3pm three afternoons a week when he has an afternoon nap.

I also work week nights once all the kids are sorted with homework etc and are off in bed, I will jump online at least three nights and work for about 1.5 hours.

I will then have a couple of hour blocks across the weekend when their dad is home to be primary carer. We literally say to the kids that mum is going to work and dad can take care of everything. They are only supposed to come and see me if there is an emergency!

4. Do you pay for regular or ad hoc care to enable you to work? If so, is it important that the care takes place somewhere other than your house?

I paid for someone else to look after the kids while I left the house to do freelance writing for the first time this October. I simply had too many deadlines and needed a big block of time without interruptions. I couldn’t have someone come to the house to look after the kids and me stay here, as I wouldn’t be able to switch of from “mumming”. The kids would also know I was there and still want to see me.

5. How easy do you find it to work with children present and no other adults around? Do you have any strategies to help your children allow you to work when you need to?

Working with the kids around is almost impossible for me if it involves the youngest ones being around. I don’t like doing it either as I find it frustrating with all the interruptions and I don’t think it is really fair on them either. During school holidays though, when the pre-schooler has his nap, I will allow the other kids to have technology time (they are limited to how much they can use) and I find I can get about a movie’s worth of work done!

Sometimes I do have requirements that come up urgently and I just have to work for a short period of time with the kids around. By unfortunate chance, this usually happens just after school! I will prepare them a big afternoon tea with lots of their favourite foods and explain to them I have a deadline to meet and will be working for example, 30 minutes. I will then give them some ideas for them to play once they have finished afternoon tea – ones they may not have done for a while and I know they love. I will get them out of the toy cupboard if necessary.

As this doesn’t happen that often, I can generally get the 30 minutes I need to finish something off. If I tried to work like this everyday though, I think it would wear off pretty quick.

6. Do you find it difficult to draw boundaries between family and work life when you work at home?

At the start I did. I tried to do both at once and found it was too stressful. Now when I am with the kids, I am with the kids and I try to avoid taking work calls and using social media etc. I do Instagram some photos when we play though, but that is more mum instinct than blog!

The toughest boundary for me is finishing up work at night. I love what I do, so find it easy to work late, but that can take its toll, so I need to watch it closely.

7. How do you manage extra work demands at peak times? (All contractors / self employed people tend to have peaks and troughs of work).

Mid September until mid October this year was insanely busy for me. I picked up a couple of great freelance gigs, on top of being an organiser for a major conference and found myself running on very minimal sleep at times. This was the first time I did pay for a babysitter for one day and I left the house to do a days worth of freelance writing. It was the only way I was going to be able to meet the demands.

I did know the time around the conference was going to be busy, so back at the start of the year, I organised for my husband to take a couple of days holiday leave. They were my saviour! It isn’t ideal to drip use his precious holiday leave, but for us until all the kids are at school, it is a strategy we use to help me get through the peak times.

8. How much do you structure work commitments around family and child activity commitments? When there is a conflict, it always work that gives way, always activities, or a mixture of both?

Work tends to give way the most. Kid and household tasks sometimes take up my whole evening. The kids’ requirements come first, then the basics needed to keep the household running, then work. I will let things around the house go if they are not essential. For example in October, I was keeping the washing up to date and making sure the kids all had their school clothes, but I had a mountain of other washing to fold!

Tomorrow: How does the family help, and what do they make of it all?

This is post 19 in NaBloPoMo. 19 down, 11 to go!

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