with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
If you work from a home office, chances are you’re already well-acquainted with the phenomenon where everyone else in the world who isn’t a freelancer assumes you just don’t have a job. (Do I sound bitter? Maaaaaaaybe just a little.) Show up for one middle-of-the-day event and suddenly everyone assumes that “flexible schedule” means “I would be happy to put down the bonbons and appear at your beck and call as often as you’d like.”
I’d love to say this happens more often if you’re a parent—small people in our care seem to come with various obligations at school and elsewhere—but I’ve heard plenty of similar stories from my child-free colleagues as well. Sometimes people expect that if you set your own hours, you must always be available. Funny, it doesn’t exactly work that way.
There are actually two separate issues just about every freelancer I know has to grapple with at some point, regarding scheduling:
1) The expectation that you are always available,
2) How much structure you require in your day to get stuff done.
Everyone loves to talk about the first issue. Correction: Everyone loves to rant about it. “I’m a serious [insert profession here]! Why don’t people understand that my time is valuable??” Sure, I would love it if everyone understood that I do, indeed, write for money (like a real writer!) and I require time to do that, and as such I can sometimes adjust my schedule to accommodate non-work things, but sometimes I can’t. I would also like people to understand that my job is a real career, neither something I made up nor a profession that is somehow not as serious/meaningful as a job that takes place outside of the home. All of these things are true. But at the end of the day, it’s up to me to set the necessary boundaries around expectations of my available time.
A related issue to this first one is how you handle actually wanting to juggle other non-work commitments. I happen to be homeschooling one of my kids, and he’s enrolled in an out-of-the-house program three days per week, but two of my five work days, he’s here, too. And we need to get school done. That’s a not-inconsequential impact on my ability to work, those days, and I try very hard to set clear expectations of how much time I will invest and how much time he’s expected to work independently. The days he’s out of the house, I sometimes volunteer or go along on field trips—again, I’m grateful for the flexibility to do so, but I have to manage expectations of how often I’ll be available for those sorts of things.
This is all on top of the regular sort of “what days can I go to the dentist” kinds of things, of course.
The second issue is all about figuring out how you can best optimize your work time and maintain some sort of balance in your life. I wish I had a nickel for every piece written for freelancers, explaining how we must make a schedule and stick to it! Failure to set a schedule is blamed for: working too much, not working enough, unbalanced and disorganized days, hair loss, and erectile dysfunction (I may have made up a couple of those), in various venues. Now, is that really true? Yes. And no.
Some people will find themselves working ’round the clock, as freelancers, if they don’t set a schedule for themselves. And some people will find themselves slacking off, as freelancers, if they don’t set a schedule for themselves.
Most people, I think, fall somewhere in-between. I know that I do. I have a fairly loose regular schedule—I work Monday through Friday, 7:00-4:30ish, most of the time. On out-of-the-house school days I need to take a break to go pick up my kid; on the in-the-house school days I will spend some of that time managing schoolwork. Most days I will not return to work in the evenings (that’s the goal, anyway); most weekends I try to do just a few hours of work. But yes, it’s flexible: some days I will have an appointment somewhere, some evenings I will go right back to the computer after dinner because I have something to finish up, some weekends I won’t work at all and some I’ll work a lot. Sometimes I take an entire day off! It depends. But mostly, this general framework of a schedule works for me.
Some people really need an ironclad schedule to manage their work. And others just work “when they feel like it” and somehow everything gets done. I don’t judge; whatever works for you, works for you! The trick is figuring out how you end up being most productive.
Well, that, and also being able to tell your Great Aunt Mabel that no, you can’t come pick her up at 10:00 on Wednesday because she “figured you’d be free.” Good luck with that.
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