Five Tips for Making Mommy Hours Work

Evan, Mindy and Madelyn at the Cherry Blossom FestivalAs a freelancer, I work “mommy hours.” During my kids’ preschool hours, naptimes and after they go to bed, I am at my laptop. I love being able to work around my kids’ schedules, but it isn’t always easy. Here are five tips for making mommy hours work:

1. Protect your work time—both the daytime and the nighttime hours. I have limited daytime hours, and I have to use them wisely to ensure I can take care of client calls and interviews. I don’t meet up with friends for coffee, shop or chat on the phone with friends or family. I head straight home after dropping my kids off and as soon as I walk in the door, I head downstairs to my home office and start working. I look past dishes that may need to be done or laundry I should fold, which means my house is not nearly as tidy as I would like, but I am able to grow my business and meet my clients’ needs. I take care of my household chores in the morning before I take my kids to school, evenings as I’m prepping dinner and on the weekends.

My nighttime hours are just as valuable as my daytime hours, so I usually spend those at the laptop, too. I wrote about skipping happy hour in this post.

2. Be flexible. As a freelancer, customer service is paramount. I have to deliver on the projects I take on, so my number one goal is to get the job done. Not everyone works mommy hours and there will be times when a source or client needs to talk with you outside of your scheduled work time. There are plenty of times I need to call in a sitter or set my kids up with an activity that will keep them entertained for a half hour or more. If I know I’m going to have a heavy workload on a day my kids don’t have school, I try to tucker them out in the morning to take advantage of long naps in the afternoon. Just last week I had four interviews lined up for Friday afternoon—a time when my kids will be with me. My kiddos each had classes in the morning (Evan at preschool and Madelyn at Little Gym), then we hit the park for a picnic and a few hours of playtime. Both kids fell asleep in the car on the way home and I was able to knock out all of my calls. I also recognize that this nap time was a gift from the gods, because it doesn’t always work out this way, but I am oh-so happy when it does!

3. Be honest. When I first started freelancing, I tried to hide the fact that I work around my kids’ schedules. I would create little activities to entertain Evan if I needed to take a call after he was home from preschool and rarely asked someone if he could offer up another, more convenient time to talk. As I’ve gotten more stable (and comfortable) as a freelancer, I’ve been able to rein in some of that and tell people upfront what times I’m available. Being honest about what times work for me hasn’t hurt my career and, if anything, it can be an icebreaker when I’m talking with other working parents. I think becoming more comfortable and confident with where I am in life right now has actually helped my business. Plus, I am proud that I am able to keep “mommy hours” and build a successful freelancing business, so here is no reason to hide it. That being said, refer back to tip #2.

4. Plan ahead. To maximize my daytime hours, I spend time each evening plotting out how I’m going to structure the coming day. I review my calendar, ensure I have all of the contact information I need for reaching sources and send any emails that I need to get out. I also look a few weeks out so I keep all of my deadlines straight and can prioritize the interviews I need to get done. I do most of my actual writing in the evenings and on the weekends, so I’ll often schedule certain stories or editing projects for certain nights. Taking a broad look also lets me find time to volunteer at my kids’ school or schedule in doctor and dentist appointments that I have to take care of during preschool time.

5. Be grateful. I know that working mommy hours is a gift. Not everyone has that luxury, so even on the days that are hectic and I’m trying to figure out how to get it all in, I give thanks for ability to work around my kids’ schedules as much as I do. That helps me keep perspective and see those late nights or crazy afternoons as a gift and not a burden. Plus, I know these years are going to go by in the blink of an eye. Evan turned five this month and today we are having a meet and greet with his kindergarten teacher. Starting in the fall, my little guy will be in school all day five days a week. I’m sad he’ll be away from me so much, but I am certain I will use that time wisely.

Make Time for Employee Motivation

Earlier this year, employee morale around my shop was low. I wasn’t happy, but I couldn’t figure out why. The more I thought about it, I realized that I wasn’t being a good boss, even though I am the boss.

I was requiring long hours, making do with technology that wasn’t working quite right and I’d completely neglected employee motivation. I started making a few changes and I’m happy with the results. Here’s what’s changed:

Bonuses: Honestly, the “bonuses” in my business are hockey lessons for Evan and Little Gym for Madelyn—not to mention the occasional trip to Toys R Us for the two of them. That’s great, but it doesn’t always give me the boost I need to do my job better. So, as a little treat, I renewed subscriptions to some writing magazines I like that I had let lapse. I love getting some monthly doses of inspiration delivered right to my mailbox. I also had an amazing illustrator create a new banner for this blog. I loved working with her and was inspired by the whole creative process. Now I just have to get it up!

Oh, and, my hubby and I started treating ourselves to take out a few times a month. After the kids go to bed, we order in, and sit down and have dinner together. We don’t spend a lot of money on eating out and would spend even less on it if I weren’t working, so this is a special treat for us. Plus, it is something I really look forward to each week. Sometimes it the little things that can make the biggest difference.

Create a Pleasant Work Environment: In my last full-time office job, the company kept the refrigerator stocked with Diet Coke. I can’t tell you how often I reached for a soda around 3:00 to give myself an energy boost. Those sodas made me happy, and a happy employee is a productive one. I keep my fridge at home stocked and I hit it frequently during the day. I look at the expense as a cost of doing business. Music, a (sometimes) clean workspace and an awesome office chair I splurged on last year also add to my work environment.

Create Convenience: There are little things in my home office I had learned to work around because I didn’t want to invest the time or money necessary to fix them. Of course, if I worked in an office I’d have been on the line to tech support months ago. I finally took the time to troubleshoot a few things and the end result made my life a lot easier. And, they were a lot easier than I’d expected to fix.

What’s next? I’d like to start making an effort to celebrate milestones. I don’t necessarily measure milestones like I did when I first started freelancing, which makes it hard to celebrate them, but I’m going to get better about it. Whether its meeting financial goals or turning in a certain number of features, there are dozens of ways I can measure success.

How about you? How do you stay motivated?

A Frosting Hangover

My little guy turned five this weekend. Now I am in a cupcake-frosting-and-multiple-celebration-induced hangover. I just took two Advil. I hope they help. I don’t know if I can keep up with all the partying that goes on in the five-year-old circuit, but I love every minute of it. Today we are going to do our best to recover, and I’m also going to come to terms with the fact that I am now the mom of a five year old. They say the days are long but the years are short and that certainly is the case in our house. Is it the same for you?

Digging for Dinosaurs

My little guy has been studying dinosaurs in school for the past few weeks, so we made up a bunch of treasure stones with dinosaurs hidden inside for his class. Each of the kids got to take a stone home from school and unearth the dinosaur.

Evan loved breaking his apart.

Evan loved breaking his apart.

Treasure stone with dinosaurThe stones were easy (but messy) to make.

Here’s the recipe:

2 cups flour
1 cup coffee grounds
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sand
1/2 cup water

Mix it all up, shape into a ball and insert a dinosaur (or other treasure). I let mine dry for several days, but you can also put them in the oven on low for a few hours. I had to make five batches of dough to get 20 treasure stones, but I made my stones a little big because of the dinosaurs I bought.

Also, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I called up one of my seven local Starbucks and asked if I could have some used coffee grounds. They were more than happy to share them with me. The stones did smell a bit like coffee, but Evan didn’t seem to mind.

Loving Hibernation Station

My sister-in-law is a teacher and is always giving my kiddos awesome books. One of our latest favorites is Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus.

The first time I read it to Madelyn, Evan was taking a bath and overheard the story. He hopped out of the bathtub and hurried into Madelyn’s room (dripping water on the hardwood floors) so he wouldn’t miss anything. He loves that it is a rhyming book. Madelyn loves it, too. She recently selected it as one of the books she wanted to read to Minnie.

The story and the illustrations keeps keep both of my kiddos engaged to the end and  Madelyn always asks for more and we read it again and again. The best part for me is that it is one of those books that I don’t mind reading over and over and over! I highly recommend it.

Five Tips for Traveling Without Kids

Tomorrow my friend Sarah heads off to the blogging conference BlissDom child free. Last year I had my first opportunity in four years to travel sans kids, so I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned with Sarah and any other mommas who are heading off without their kiddos this week.

1) When you step onto an elevator, you don’t have to ask in a high-pitched voice, “Who wants to push the button?!?”

2) Going to the restroom will be faster and easier than you could ever imagine. That is especially true if you have ever tried to fit yourself, an infant and a toddler into an airplane lavatory. Enjoy it!

3) While flipping through the channels at night, you might catch yourself stopping on Sesame Street, Super Why or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. You do not have to watch. Quickly move on to something more worthwhile, i.e. Law and Order, Ellen or Chelsea Lately.

4) Food tastes totally different when its hot—in a good way. Savor every bite, but don’t get too used to it.

5) Taking off in an airplane is loads more fun when you have a wide-eyed toddler sitting on your lap (I mean that). In honor of your little ones (and Orville and Wilbur Wright), take a moment to soak in the wonder of taking flight. Then ask the flight attendant for a pair of wings or two for you to take home for your kiddos.

While I’ve never been to a blogging conference, I am a big fan of writing conferences. I know I always come away inspired and bursting with new ideas. I’m also a fan of spending a day or two away from your little ones. You’ll realize how much you miss them and appreciate those sweet hugs and kisses even more.

To all of you who are off on an exciting adventure this week, enjoy!

Favorites from the Week

Alexis Grant has a great post on pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.

I can’t wait until writer and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi publishes a book of her comics for writers, which she has tentatively titled Will Write for Chocolate. Her comics are always right on and the perfect way to brighten my day. This Valentine comic was a favorite this week.

Freelancer Steph Auteri reminds us to be generous with our writing community. Her post goes along well with this one from Seth Godin on the sad irony of selfishness.

Linda Formichelli (aka the Renegade Writer) shared a successful query letter on her blog along with a link to the final article. It is an awesome example and the article is a great read, especially if you’re a BPA-, perchloroethylene- and pesticide-fearing momma like me.

I can totally relate to this post about Girl Scout Cookies from freelance writer Jennifer Larson. She has pledged to buy the overpriced cookies from anyone who asks because she remembers selling them. I’m right there with her and have spent too much on Girl Scout cookies this year.


Easy Bird Feeder

If you’re looking for a quick and easy activity to keep the kids entertained, try these simple bird feeders. Just spread peanut butter on a toilet paper roll, roll it in bird seed and slip onto a branch. The level of parent involvement needed depends on how much mess you’re willing to clean up at the end.

Evan loved making the bird feeders (Madelyn was napping). As we were placing them on branches in our front yard, a flock of birds flew overhead. Evan shouted, “Look, mommy! I think they can smell them.”

It was a hit.

The Path to Becoming a Freelancer

Years ago, I freelanced on the copy desk of a national financial magazine. I became a regular and put in a week or so of long days each month as they were putting the magazine to bed. Every so often a freelance writer with a column in the magazine would stop by for a meeting and to chit chat with people she knew in the office. In my mind, she was a celebrity. She worked from home and had a column (which she still has) in a national magazine. I secretly hoped to be like her one day.

Fast forward eight years later and here I am, a full-time, work-at-home freelance writer. I don’t have the column in a national, glossy magazine, but thanks to some creativity and hard work, I make a living based on the written word.

I truly believe that if I can do it, you can too. I often get questions from people asking how to become a freelance writer and the truth is, there is no set, magic path. I know how much I wanted there to be some formula I could follow, so I’m sure you’re hoping for the same thing. All entrepreneurs’ paths will be different because our strengths, interests, motivations and past experiences are different.

When I left my full-time office job nearly four years ago, I was determined to make my freelance business a success. I had researched how to build a successful freelance career, written freelance articles on the side for a few years and had talked with my then employer about freelancing for her. Yet, I was still worried that I wouldn’t have enough work to make ends meet.

If anything, I’ve been surprised by the abundance of work that is out there. As a freelancer, I write press releases, blog posts, speeches, feature articles, short news items and newsletters for a variety of clients. This work doesn’t just fall in my lap. It is a result of drawing on my strengths. I think one of my strongest attributes is my ability to pull together difficult data and making it reader friendly, which is why I spend a good portion of my writing time on complex fuel and transportation issues. There are plenty of times that I write about a subject that doesn’t interest me on a personal level, but I do it because it gets me to my goal of being a self-employed writer.

My advice to those who want to write is to sit down and make a list of your interests, strengths and everyone you know who could possibly provide you with work. By examining your skills and interests, you can see what you bring to the table that others don’t. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. You may not be able to pay your bills by doing only what you love, but with some creative thinking, you can cobble together an income.

If you haven’t read it, you may want to take a look at this post where I shared six tips for freelance success and this one where I shared my top three go-to sources for work. 

The most important tip I can offer freelancers is don’t be afraid to ask! All too often I think we shy away from asking someone about a potential project or story simply because we’re afraid. Don’t be. You might be pleasantly surprised. Undoubtedly there will be times when you strike out. When I first hung my own shingle, it pained me each time I saw a lull in my work, but I persisted and eventually learned to embrace the ebb and flow that comes with this lifestyle. Through trial and error, you will find the freelance path that works best for you.

Do you have any freelancing questions I can help answer? I’m happy to share what works for me.


Goings On

Wow. The last few weeks have felt pretty hectic at our house. There are only so many hours in the day, and when something in my little world has to drop, I usually let the blog take the fall. Thank you for sticking around and checking back in with me!

While I haven’t been posting regularly, I have been giving the blog some attention offline. I have a handful of half-written posts and I’m putting some plans into action to breathe new life into this little outlet of mine. Be sure to tune in on Wednesday when I offer some how-to advice based on readers’ questions about becoming a freelancer.

Thank you to all of you who have expressed your sweet condolences about Granny. My web hosting company had some technical issues and lost my original post, which also means I lost the nice comments many of you left. I re-posted it, but for some reason comments weren’t working, so your kind emails are very much appreciated.

My little guy has needed some extra attention over the past few weeks. Sometimes I think he doesn’t understand Granny is gone for good, then he’ll say something that makes me realize his little heart is hurting. Motherhood is a new and exciting journey, and I always feel like I should know what to do, but more often than not, I don’t. Plus, as the mom of two, I’m finding that what worked with one child doesn’t necessarily work with the other. That means I feel like I’m constantly starting at ground zero. Can anyone relate? Do you know a secret that I don’t?

On the paid-work front, life has been good! I have several features in the works and I am working on a fun speech for a client. I’m always grateful that I get to earn a living as a writer.

And, speaking of being a writer, on Friday night I took part in the Writer’s Center Leesburg First Friday event with an awesome blogging-turned-real-life friend. It is the first time in about two years that I’ve met up with a group of other writers and it was so much fun to be in a room with all of that creative energy. It was also a great reminder that there are so many ways to be a writer (i.e. you don’t have to have a day job as a writer to be a writer). If you’re a writer looking to add some energy to your writing routine, I definitely recommend seeking out a writing group in your area.