Monday, June 4, 2018

After School Care and letting go of the guilt

My youngest child is now 9 years old. In Grade 4 at school, she is a happy student - loves going to school, has many friends, is doing well academically and enjoys the social aspects greatly.

Since she started in Prep in 2014, she has usually done 1-2 nights a week of after school care. In 2014, with her sisters who were then also at primary school, she went on Monday and Tuesday nights to accommodate my work schedule (I was at that time in a salaried office job). 2015 was a single night (Tuesdays) as I dropped to part time hours at work. In 2016, she only went on an ad hoc basis, as my freelance work needs dictated. In 2017, we booked a regular night each week (Thursdays) which gave me the capacity to have one longer day for meetings and client visits. This year, we started off just continuing the Thursdays, but starting from May, we also added in Tuesdays when I started a new project that requires one office day a week (which is Tuesday).

Unlike her older sisters, who tolerated after care but didn't love it, my 9 year old has always really enjoyed going along. We've been very lucky to have terrific co-ordinators of the after care program across the time that my kids have needed to use it, and the kids get a great mix of free play, activities, and guided games and learning. My youngest is a very social kid and she's really appreciated the extra play time with peers, and the fun of doing different things.

I have spent a lot of time feeling vaguely guilty about after care. Not so much the single night a week - even I, self-flagellator that I am, could not help but see that as an unequivocal good, for both her and my workload. Increasing to two nights caused me a bit of a pang, though, despite her excitement about it.

However, I had a bit of an epiphany last week. I had to travel to Adelaide for work for most of the week, and to accommodate her dad's work needs, she ended up going to after care for 4 of the 5 nights of the week (every day except Monday, when I was still in Melbourne). And guess what? She LOVED it. She was voted Student Leader for the week and had a magnificent time. She did crafts, games, cooking and science experiments. She consolidated friendships with kids she already liked, and met new friends. She had virtually no weekday screen time, and I am sure partly as a result, slept better than her usual wont.

I realised, finally, that I am not abrogating my parental duties by recognising that our week runs better (hers as well as mine) if she goes to after care and I have adequate time to do my work. It means that the time we get together is of much better quality, and more meaningful. We have paused her swimming lessons for 3 months, as we do every winter, so her only extracurricular activity at the moment is ukelele lessons (which she actually does at school, during lunchbreaks), so after care also fills a void very nicely for her in a way that causes zero extra stress for me when co-ordinating my increasingly demanding work schedule.

So we had a chat this morning, she and I, and we've agreed (to her delight) that from next term, she's going to be attending after care 3 days per week. Mondays, which is a fixed work at home day for me, we'll enjoy our walk home together with the dog and our Monday baking tradition. Fridays, I'll attend school assembly and we'll enjoy end-of-week downtime together. The other three days, she'll go to after care and have fun and I'll concentrate on getting full work days in so my life becomes more manageable.

I think this is going to end up being a good decision, for her and for me.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Year Three in Business

My third anniversary in business as a freelance policy, strategy and governance consultant will arrive in a couple of weeks' time, so I thought now might be a good opportunity to review The Year That Was and think about the year to come.

As always, let's start with stats. This year, I have:

- Worked for 6 clients - 4 universities, 1 state government agency, and 1 SME. The balance of the work has been roughly 50% University A, 25% University B, 15% state government, and 10% University C and D and the SME together. One of the university projects came online very late in the year (May), and another was very small, while the SME was a one-shot, which is why C and D and SME together were only a small contribution to the total.

- Had 12 weeks completely off - a week apiece in the July and September school holidays, 3 weeks over summer, a week apiece of project pause time in August, September and November respectively, and 4 weeks in April (the entire month) when we travelled to Japan.

- Worked an average of 4 days a week in the 40 weeks I worked (this was unevenly deployed, with a few 10-day-no-break stretches and some weeks with only a couple of working days in them).

- Attended client sites for meetings an average of 1 day a week except in my Monster Quarter, where it was usually 2 days a week.

- Did 3 business trips to Adelaide for a client there who I've been working with since November.

- Had a very uneven spread of work across the year, with Monster Quarter 2 (Sept-Dec) carrying 35% of the overall year's work while Quarter 4 (Apr-June) carried only 15% (this was largely due to the 4 week break in April and a billing cycle that has pushed some payments forward into next financial year). Quarters 1 and 3 carried 22% and 28% respectively.

- Again made use of subcontract labour to deal with overflow work. I have one very reliable subbie now who definitely helps me manage the fluctuations of the workload, and others I can call upon in desperate times, although that is not as successful generally as they don't have the depth of understanding of my work areas.

- Earned 85% of my earnings from 2016-17 (so a drop of 15%). My goal that I set last year was to have a drop of 10% (I knew that losing April, which is usually one of the most lucrative months of the year, meant I would not match, let alone exceed, last year's total), so I did not quite meet this goal, largely due to a quiet stretch in August-September that I hadn't anticipated. Still, my earnings were more than adequate for our needs, and given that I worked 3 less weeks, I can't really complain.

In non-statistical terms, it has been, on balance, a good year, with moments of being less stellar (but what job or work arrangement doesn't have that?) Learning how to effectively service an interstate client has been interesting and rewarding, and all the projects have had their challenging but also engrossing elements. I have had times of great fatigue, but because I work primarily from home, I have been able to calibrate around my health and energy in a way I wouldn't have been able to do in an office environment, so I count myself very fortunate in that regard.

Looking at my goals that I set last year, I did not too badly. My goals were:

- Get within 10% of 2016-17 earnings: As stated earlier, I didn't quite do this, with a 15% drop, but I went close.

- Take 10 weeks off: I actually had 12, but 2 of them weren't by choice!

- Try to expand my client base: I did this, picking up two new university clients with big projects (including my Adelaide client). I now have three large university clients and two more ad hoc / smaller universities, as well as one government agency and one SME. So that goal has worked out well.

For 2018-19, I am in the unusual position of having the first 9 months already sewn up with work. All three of my big university projects will roll on until at least March 2019, with one of them definitely continuing through til June and one other probably doing so. This means that my income projection is a bit more predictable than it usually is, and also that I am relieved of the burden of seeking further work - a part of freelancing I do not overly enjoy. While I could squeeze in other things - and will no doubt try, if the opportunity offers! - I am not in the position of *having* to find more work until at least March next year, and that's really quite nice.

I'll also be taking a more routine / structured approach to my work weeks, with one fixed day a week on campus for one client, further trips to Adelaide for another, and a more systematic allocation of days between the three big client projects, which I hope will both help manage the heavy workload and also help me with the code-switching I have to do between the projects and their different styles. I anticipate some weekend work will be needed in overlapping peak times, but I am trying to keep that to a real minimum.

My goals for 2018-19 in business are:

1. Exceed 2017-18 income by 20%. This effectively means doing 5% better than my best year so far (2016-17) and given my locked-in work, it should be more than achievable, given that I will not be absenting myself for one of the most lucrative periods of the year!

2. Take 6-7 weeks off. I will, as is my wont, take a week apiece in the July, September and Easter school holidays, and I'll take the Christmas and NY weeks over summer. I'll have to see how things are sitting, but if I can, I'll make that summer break 3 weeks instead of 2 (but given the projects' timelines, that may not be feasible). I'd also love to take another week, maybe configured as a couple of 2-3 day stretches, at some point in the back half of this year, while the kids are at school, to give me a chance to do a few time-hungry personal / life admin tasks I have been putting off, and catch up with friends I rarely see.

3. Plan work strategy for the next 5 years. I'll be 45 years old in a couple of weeks. At the moment, freelancing is working well for me, but I need to put some serious thought into whether this how I want to continue to work in the second half of my 40s, and if so, what my business plan might be for sustainable work attraction, delivery and future savings. I do have a tendency to roll on without thinking further ahead than the next 6 months work-wise, which can be an advantage in that it reduces stress of worrying about unknown unknowns, but isn't the best approach when you are trying to work out how to have a productive mid-life in preparation for a hopefully modest-but-not-impoverished old age.

We won't be taking any big trips in this coming financial year - we've got a nice little 5-day mini-break in the Mallee lined up for September, and will probably do a few days or a week somewhere local next Easter hols too - so that does make work planning easier in a lot of ways. We are, however, thinking of doing an overseas trip in 2019-2020, possibly to either Hawaii or New Zealand, so next year's planning will look a little different! But for now, onwards and upwards into the new financial year.