As mums, being self employed can offer us flexibility and freedom, so that we can get our work done around the school run or nursery pick-up. At least, that’s why I decided to go self employed any way! The thing is, you only get that freedom if you can be organised and productive with the time you have. Otherwise it ends up being more stressful and taking more of your time than a normal job – and without holiday pay or cakes on your birthday!
Being self employed can be difficult. Being a mum can be difficult. When you put those two together, it’s like “difficult” reaches a critical mass; sometimes it feels like it’s not a matter of whether you’ll a drop a ball, more a question of which ball you will drop and how soon!
I’m a single mum, and I’m also self employed. I definitely do not have everything all figured out, but after four years of juggling, I have managed to figure out some things. FYI: the ball I most often drop (or don’t even pick up in the first place) is the housework; we do not have visitors in our house in case something falls on them and they are never heard of again! I do have many happy clients though, and I’ve yet to miss a work deadline or a school play. I’m quite proud of that!
Here are ten things I’ve learned about how to stay organised and productive as a self employed mum:
1. Find an organiser that works for you.
Some people work well with an online to-do list like Wunderlist or Todoist; others prefer to use good old pen and paper. I use a bullet journal and customise it for exactly what I need. We are all different, and we all work differently. Try out as many different options as you can, until you find something that works for you – by which I mean, you are able to use it to easily keep track of everything you need to do, you don’t keep missing deadlines because you lost your place or forgot to check it, and you can bring it with you wherever you go.
2. Segment your days, weeks and months.
I don’t know about you, but if I know I have to do a job “some time this week” you can bet it will be done in the last five minutes on Friday afternoon before I leave for the school run! A few months ago I sat down and listed every task I complete on a weekly basis, and I allocated each a day. Now I complete work for certain clients on certain days. You might batch your work differently, and make Monday the day you do sales calls, Tuesday the day you catch up on paperwork, and so on. Knowing exactly what you’ll be doing on any given day can really help you to get things done and stay focused, and also to prioritise your work during those times.
3. Try Pomodoro
Everyone knows about the Pomodoro Technique by now, don’t they? You can get timers online, but I just use the Gym Boss app I already had on my phone for timing HIIT workouts. You can set it to time you for set intervals; I do 25 minutes of hard, focused work followed by 5 minutes of rest. This allows me to break my work down into chunks, and to ensure I take breaks which are key to staying on top of things.
4. Sort out your accounts
Don’t wait until January 30th to think about your annual tax return. And never, ever think “I’ll just put this receipt over here; I’ll remember what it was for when I need to…” you won’t. And you’ll probably lose the receipt and never be able to claim whatever it was as an expense. Use envelopes or plastic wallets to keep your receipts, and if the description and purpose are not abundantly clear, use a pen to note what you bought and why. Use a system – either a spreadsheet or an accounting package – to keep track of money in and out of your business, and stick to it.
5. Make use of inbox features.
If you have more than one email address, forward all emails to one place so that you don’t miss any. Use labels, tags, stars and whatever features are available to you, to keep your email tidy. I use Gmail and there are hundreds of things you can do to keep your inbox tidy, including having newsletters skip your inbox and go straight to a dedicated folder (ready for when you want to go and read about that topic) and sending emails “from” numerous different email addresses without having to log out. Have a search for email hacks for your particular email provider, and see what things you could use to keep your inbox organised.
6. Track your time
I use an app called Rescue Time to track what I’m doing during working hours, both on my mobile and on my laptop. It categorises my time as either productive or unproductive (or neutral) and each Monday it emails me a report showing how productive I was over the previous seven days. This encourages me to stay away from social media (unproductive time) during my normal working hours, so that my productivity level doesn’t drop!
7. Switch off phone notifications
Yes, you read that right. If you are doing any kind of work that requires concentration, a constant dinging noise will only distract you and the job will take twice as long. The only notifications on my mobile these days are WhatsApp and Messenger, and if I’m working on something very in depth I put my phone on silent. A recent study actually showed that even if your phone is switched off, if it’s in the same room as you it makes you less able to concentrate and ultimately more stupid. Many of us can’t face being away from our phones, but switching off notifications is a good start!
8. Leave the building
If you work from home, it can be really tempting to just go and put on a load of washing, or just go and make the beds when really you’re putting off a job you need to get done. Being surrounded by non-work-related things that need to be done can be really distracting, so if I have something I really need to get done I will take only my laptop, my diary and any other information I need, and go to a cafe for a couple of hours. These days there are lots of shared work spaces popping up in cities, and most cafes have wifi. As long as you buy a coffee or two, the staff will probably be happy for you to sit in the corner and work for a while.
9. Communicate and set boundaries.
I don’t know about you, but being self employed and working from home to some people can mean “free for a chat/coffee/visitor all day long.” People can often think that because you are your own boss, you can down tools and chat or go shopping or take their dog to the vet whenever you feel like it; what they don’t realise is that often for a self employed person, no work equals no money, and taking two hours off to hear about a friend’s ongoing argument with their mother in law means staying up two hours later tonight to finish what was missed. Make a point of telling people what your normal working hours are, and that you are not usually available during those times unless there is an emergency. Try to stick to that as much as you can, so as to avoid confusing people.
10. Take care of yourself.
Being self employed means we don’t just down tools at 5pm and head home to watch Game of Thrones (or whatever it is people with jobs do these days). When you’re inspired and working hard to build your business it can be tempting to stay up late every night working and planning. Sometimes that’s fine; if you have a product launch coming up or you’ve taken on a particular job that has a tight deadline then crack on. But remember that you cannot be productive or organised if you are not fit and healthy. Try to impose a finish time for yourself, and to give yourself at least one day off per week. And do things that make you smile!
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