- Back in 2016, I traded in an hour-plus commute for a remote lifestyle as a freelance journalist.
- Though I was already used to working from home, the coronavirus pandemic introduced a new wrinkle with school closings.
- Many of the rules still apply, however, such as staying organized, putting up barriers (like a change of clothes!) between your work life and your personal life, and maintaining a manageable workload.
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People around the world have been getting used to working from home after weeks in lockdown, but this has been my lifestyle for the past four years.
I made the switch from an hour-and-a-half commute into London to a brief stroll into the study of my Hertfordshire (UK) home in 2016 to make it easier for my wife and I to both work and cope with rising childcare costs and school drop-offs.
This meant I wasn’t too concerned when employees were advised in March to work from home to keep the coronavirus outbreak under control. I haven’t visited an office, aside from the occasional meeting, in years.
Some occupations — such as a construction worker or a healthcare professional — cannot necessarily be done at home, but most journalists nowadays really need only a computer, a notepad, a phone, an internet connection, and a strong sense of skepticism.
The school closings during lockdown have created an extra logistical test, but it is amazing how the stomping and shouting of our 5- and 7-year-old girls can soon emulate the rowdiness of a newsroom.
It is not always easy and takes a lot of patience, self-motivation, and teamwork with my wife, but here is how I find the balance between freelancing and being a father.
Forget the 9-to-5
We seem to be hardwired that the working day must take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Before lockdown, commuters crowded public transport in rush hour in fear of being late. But by the time you arrive, get a coffee, and catch up with colleagues, you may not really be ready to start until 9:30 or even 10 a.m. — so why is everyone rushing?
You may find your most creative and inspired moments are earlier in the day or even later. As long as I met deadlines, this gave me time to do school pickups and drop-offs pre-lockdown without any guilt of being away from my desk. Nowadays it means I can spend quality time with my family and do our allocated daily exercise. Often the best ideas will also come when you are away from your desk.
Plan your day
This is all the more important for families in which both parents are working and homeschooling. Our children are sent a timetable from their teachers to follow each day, and the same should go for your work. My wife and I alternate so one of us can teach and the other works at the same time, and we tick off what we have covered as we go.
Make a to-do list with reasonable expectations for your working day, but don’t worry if it isn’t completed as long as the most important tasks are prioritized. Even ticking off simple tasks such as sending a specific email can give you motivation. The online organization tool Trello can help prioritize your workload and inform others of your progress.
Professional versus personal
We have told our daughters they still need to wear their school uniform during homeschooling. They may not be too pleased with the Shoffman school rule, but I find it helps them focus as it differentiates between work and play.
The same is true with working from home. You don’t need to wear a suit, but getting out of your pajamas will switch your mentality from pillows to productivity. Shoes are optional.
Create a dedicated work area, even if it is just somewhere you regularly sit at the dining table or the couch, so you have the feeling of traveling to work. Some recommend walking around the block each morning as if you are commuting. Our spare room is my office, but it is good to occasionally have a change of scenery if you are lacking inspiration.
Don’t do housework
You wouldn’t get up to empty the dishwasher or put on a load of washing while working in an office. It shouldn’t be any different when you are at home and following your schedule. Don’t let household chores disrupt your working day.
Working from home can be lonely, as there are no colleagues to have a quick chat with. Find professional bodies or networking groups to attend events or make an effort to meet with old colleagues regularly. This is good for your mental health and useful for picking up ideas and more work. It is harder to meet for a drink nowadays, but there is nothing to stop Zoom or Houseparty catchups or a phone call.
Find your niche
Freelancing has meant I can be more flexible about what I do, but finding a specialty makes it easier to source work. I focus on writing about personal finance, and there are plenty of blogs, industry newsletters, forums, Twitter lists, and Facebook and Slack groups where you can get ideas and discuss opportunities.
Take time to develop your professional skills to keep up with your industry’s trends. As well as writing, I also record a weekly personal-finance podcast in the evenings called “In for a Penny.”
Family comes first
There will always be deadlines, but you don’t want your children to remember you for how much work you did. They will treasure the time you spent with them, not working around them.
Don’t be afraid to say no to jobs. This will keep your workload manageable and achievable and ensure you still have some free time from freelancing.