How To Balance Caring And Work As a Freelancer

Working from home is soaring in popularity, as technology frees us from being tied to a desk in an office and a tedious commute. The Demos think tank published research last year that showed the number of freelancing mothers in the UK had risen by 24% in two years, with many citing the need for more flexible hours.

Illustration of a working-from-home mom

It’s not hard to see why it’s an attractive option—as a small business or sole trader, you have great flexibility in how and when you work; something most employers struggle to offer. If you are caring for small children or an elderly relative, or a person with special needs, it may be your only choice.

However, as everyone who runs a small business knows, it’s not as easy as it might sound. Inevitably, work can get in the way of your duties as a carer, and vice versa—the demands from both sides can seem pretty constant! With that in mind, here are six tips to help you balance caring and work.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

Above all, if you want to successfully mix work and caring, you are going to have to be super organised—whether it’s in your nature or not.

You’ll need to map out your priorities and goals in fine detail – what are your tasks for the day, the week, the month ahead? What are your commitments? Don’t forget to include doctor and hospital appointments, school events, hobbies; everything you and your charges do. Write everything down in that spreadsheet, diary or calendar – whichever works best for you.

However you do it, you have to be able to easily identify the gaps in your schedule where you can find time to do your work. With everything written down, this will be much easier – many people find a graphical format such as an organizer app (try Cozi, Orange Diary Pro, or Evernote) best for visualizing opportunities.

Set a realistic goal for the amount of work you want to do in a particular day, given your commitments, and make sure you know which work needs to be prioritised.

Being well organised will also help with emergencies—if (or rather when) something goes wrong, you’ll be able to see at a glance exactly what’s going to be impacted and what you need to do to make sure the correct people are notified about your situation.

2. Try to Expect the Unexpected

Life has a way of sneaking up on you and, hard as it may be, this is something you need to plan and prepare for, as sooner or later an emergency will wreak havoc with your plans.

If you have a partner or family that can help in a pinch, they can potentially provide great backup. Know how long it will take for your ‘crisis partner’ to get to you if you need them, on a daily basis, and have their contact details to hand in case something happens.

While this may help in terms of taking care of some of the day-to-day tasks you have to do, what about any work you have arranged? What if you don’t have a partner or family to help out?

Much depends on your finances – if you’re earning enough you can hire help, outsource work or get in a babysitter/carer to enable you to fulfil any urgent work that’s outstanding. Network to find potential work partners in the same field that you could sub-contract to. This is a better approach than letting them take over a contract, which could have implications for your relationship with your client.

If you don’t have the funds or the family to help, you will have to be both realistic and conservative in the work that you take on.

3. Remember Carpe Diem

‘Seize the day’: it’s a proverb that should be carved somewhere on every small business owner’s desk. Don’t ever assume that if you put off a task you’ll have time for it later, because other jobs and your work as a carer may well get in the way.

This means that if you have an opportunity to work, you have to grab it with both hands – even if it’s just five or ten minutes. It may sound like a big ask, but if you organize yourself well, a few minutes here and there can make a huge difference.

You can also use time when it’s hard to do actual work (such as when the kids are watching a film or TV) to plan, research, or do simple tasks that don’t require 100% of your brain.

4. Make Room for Quality Time

There are some hard questions you’ll need to ask as a freelancer: namely, when do your family need you most? What hours are you prepared to dedicate to family, and which to work?

Mapping out your preferences against your duties helps you to see where you’re overstretching yourself. As you’re both working and caring, your time may seem pretty full, and if you’re not careful you’ll find that your downtime pretty much vanishes.

However difficult it may be to resist working, make time for you, because leaving yourself with no space to unwind is bad for both your caring and your work. Quiet space for yourself can be a luxury at the best of times, but if you are already juggling work and caring, it can seem like the impossible dream. Which leads nicely on to the next point…

5. Learn to Say ‘No’

There are some things in your life that you can’t say no to—if your child or relative is sick, for example, or has an appointment, or simply needs your attention and love. Work can also be inflexible—clients may expect you to pick up projects at the drop of a hat and work to intolerably tight deadlines.

One of the only parts of your life as a carer where you have some flexibility is in the work you choose to do. While it’s always tempting to take on anything that comes your way, you have to make sure it fits with your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask potential clients questions about their expectations, and try to get these nailed down in any agreement.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say no. If a client asks for something that conflicts with your commitments, say so. Try not to be overly dependent on one client, as this can make it difficult to turn down unreasonable requests.

6. Remember: You Can’t Do It All

Unless you are some kind of heroic, self-sacrificing dynamo who thrives on an hour of sleep, you’re going to have to accept that your busy schedule means that something has to give—and that’s often the housework.

You’re going to have to live with the fact that the house may be a bit untidy, and it may go un-dusted. And that’s okay. People often have fixed ideas about how little they feel they can do to ensure their visitors are happy, but let’s face it – a cobweb or two shouldn’t break a friendship!

Summing Up

Balancing caring and work isn’t easy. However, keeping a few simple rules in mind will help you to maximise your chances of succeeding:

  • Make sure you are well organised.
  • Plan for emergencies.
  • Work whenever you get the chance.
  • Try to find space to unwind.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no.
  • Remember, something has to give – make sure it’s not you!

How do you balance caring and work? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments!