Self-employed? Recently had a baby? Here are the essential apps, devices and habits you need to get shit done (and stay sane)
Words Kathryn McMann
Going back to work after having a child can be a tricky juggling act for any woman. But it can be a flat-out circus for those of us who run our own businesses.
Any new parent returning to work has to contend with all sorts of obstacles to getting things done: having your keys hidden in your shoes; being woken up five times a night before a 9am client meeting; trying to placate the ego of a tiny person whose only way of communicating with you is screaming. Unlike new parents who are returning to conventional jobs, however, most self-employed mums lack the benefit of a tidy and structured workplace to return to, the support of colleagues or the ability to take paid leave when baby’s ill. That can make for some very hard times.
But – it is worth persevering. You are going to be amazing! Eventually. At first you will just about cope day to day, and that’s totally normal and great. This is the equivalent of #winning. A few months on, you will look back and amaze yourself at just how much fun you’re having, how productive you can be, and how you’ve adapted to utilising the nuggets of work time that you do have to their fullest extent.
Yes, you are about to become a time-managing ninja. Here’s how.
The most important tip for self-employed mums (and dads) returning to work is to readjust your priorities. Your baby and your health come first, then it’s cleaning and housekeeping purely for hygiene reasons (food, clothes washing), then family, then friends. Everyday housework comes last.
It’s a never-ending battle, so don’t get hung up on it. This may seem obvious, but many people like to “clear the decks” then work at their own pace without interruption. You don’t have this luxury for the first few years. Literal housework and mundane work like clearing emails can wait. You must overcome the background chaos and train yourself to work during baby naps and those tiny moments where your child is safe and happily busy.
Once you adapt to this new strategy to life, you’ll find everything else (eventually) falls into place, but you will need help and the right tools to make this happen…
Whether you work remotely or at home, your mobile will become your centralised pocket office. Arm your mobile with apps that sync with email, accounting, documents, etc., so you are able to utilise opportunities of short time slots to get tasks done – whether in cafes or the park.
Inside your baby/travel bag, include the following:
- Pair of headphones with a good mic
- Portable battery
- Baby harness/carrier
The harness is an essential piece of hands-free equipment, to help get you and baby in and out of places fuss-free, and to bounce baby when you have to take a call.
Managing your time
Have a centralised digital calendar which you share with your partner. When adding dates, invite your partner so that they have to acknowledge and know whether they need to attend or be in for the baby. Life will be fast and you will forget a lot; shared calendars make “time-jenga” a lot easier to manage and will reduce arguments.
Use a video conferencing app to save on travel time. (It’s also mandatory when baby’s sick, and there will be a lot of these days.) Zoom is my favourite. You can share your screen, collaborate on a whiteboard and record your meeting. It’s free up to 40 mins.
You will find that your quietest moments to think are after baby has gone to bed, but firing emails off afterhours sets a precedent showing clients you can be contacted any time of day. The Boomerang app for Gmail helps you set boundaries by scheduling emails to be sent during core working hours, or returns them back to the top of your inbox if you haven’t received a reply.
A good technique to help carve out your time is using a Pomodoro technique app. There are many available. These block notifications coming through until your break period. For tracking client time use Harvest or Toggle, both of which have mobile and browser apps with the Pomodoro timing built in.
Your pocket office
Start using the audio text-to-type capability in apps. It’s not the record button, it’s the microphone icon top left of the text bar. This is important. You can write emails, blog posts, respond to WhatsApp or Facebook messages; and note ideas and shopping lists, all whilst pushing the buggy from A to B. (I even wrote part of this article while my son slept).
You’ll spend a lot of time walking with room to think, but not to stop. Employ a note-taking app that syncs across devices so when you next access your laptop you can transfer to the format you want. I use Evernote (free for up to two devices) but OneNote and Bear (only iOS) are good alternatives. You can add photos, audio and even collaborate with teams.
For grammar and spelling mistakes when you start to see double for yet another late-night work session, use Grammarly. It corrects in any application from social platforms to email.
You are probably already using cloud storage like Dropbox, Google Drive or Box. Make sure it’s synced with your pocket office. Makes sharing and collaboration within the apps simple, wherever you are.
If you are really short on time consider outsourcing simpler tasks to Fiverr. And if you find this helps carve out more time for you consider outsourcing to a VA (virtual assistant) who could shave off enormous amounts of time each month, giving you a much better ROI.
Build in sanity you-time
Firstly, daddy doesn’t do childcare, or babysitting – he does parenting, just like mummy. That’s a crucial distinction. When you need to, hand over the reins and leave the house. He will work it out and it’s important for the whole family’s sanity.
YouTube is a godsend for tired eyes and slow brains, both for learning new skills and for giving yourself a break. Ten minutes of guided meditation is particularly helpful to give you a boost of energy, a deeper connection with your little one, and a smile on your face no matter what’s thrown at you. Do it when baby’s napping or feeding so you can ensure uninterrupted focus for those ten minutes. After six hours broken sleep for months on end, I found meditation really helped me feel more balanced, focused through the noise, and able to take a lot more ‘f**k its’ in my stride. Be strict and do it daily, and you’ll find you can fit in more me-time moments throughout your day.
YouTube is also excellent for building your confidence and vitality back when you are stuck indoors, by yourself, for large parts of the day. From Pilates to ten minutes of cardio, it can help enormously. You will get results but the key is consistency and resilience when you really don’t want to. Put 90% energy into starting, the rest will follow. I managed to knit my diastasis recti (split abdomen) back with the help of several genius fitness mummies on YouTube.
It’s taken a lot of stressful situations, restless nights and gritted teeth to find the right work-family balance that fits me and my business. I’m still working on it as my business grows. But the key ingredients are resilience and perseverance – and it does get a lot easier over time. #ParentWin
Kathryn McMann is mum to a non-sleeping two-year-old, a digital marketer and communications specialist at Kathryn McMann Consultancy, and in her semi-awake hours, The Modern Mummy on YouTube.