The delicate art of self-employment during a global pandemic

Updated Jan 6 2024 to fix links

Self-employment tips during a global pandemic. TL;DR: You can do this.

Six tips to help entrepreneurs from an experienced work-from-home mum. Quick links to help you jump around this article:

You’ve got this! If you are new to remote work, I’ve worked from home for over a decade, I’ve learned a few tricks. As we all learn to navigate this pandemic era, these tips might help.  

I used to share an office with my husband—something that now seems unimaginable! My work area at home is my sanctuary, and I have to be rigid in not allowing it to devolve into a common area. 

Back when my kids were younger, working from home while they were around was quite the challenge. But now, with them being older, things are a bit smoother. These tips might be helpful for most people, especially those juggling work and guiding their kids’ learning during this unique time.

Tip 1: Routine

It’s tempting to embrace the whole stay-in-your-PJs vibe, especially with the flood of memes about it. But after a week of that, it’s time to regain some routine. Having a daily rhythm helps manage feelings of helplessness and frustration. Take a look at your old pre-pandemic routine and see what parts you can keep now. 

Be realistic—family might be around more—but find what grounds you. Stick to your wake-up time or exercise routine, if that helps. Maybe even dress up for work, if that’s your thing. If you turn every day into a snooze-fest, it loses its charm fast. 

Simple self-care, like a shower and grooming, can do wonders if you’re feeling down. And if stress eating’s your thing, watch what and how much you’re munching on—it’s a long haul, and bad nutrition won’t make things easier.

Be flexible.

The pandemic completely changed how self-employed parents manage their time. My usual productive hours got thrown off when my kids stopped going to school. I’ve had to adjust—I’m waking up earlier and squeezing work into those quiet morning hours. It means more coffee and longer work sessions, but being flexible has helped me stay on track.

Routines For Kids.

Keeping a routine for kids during these times is vital, but it can be a real challenge. With the pandemic causing upheaval in their lives, they’re missing friends, getting bored, and might not fully understand what’s happening. My own kids quickly slipped into vacation mode, staying up late, wanting more screen time, and bickering more. When I realized the impact was hitting my daughter, who missed her friends dearly, I knew we needed a new routine. I scoured online resources for ideas but found most plans too rigid for us. It’s been a trial and error process, discovering my daughter prefers spontaneity like me, while my son thrives on a structured schedule.

Printable Planners

For a long time, I loved using printable planners, especially the weekly ones. They were a helpful way to organize our week, and my kids liked seeing what was coming up. I used to have a list of downloads and links here, but I’ve removed them now. Handwritten schedules work just as well if you prefer a more personal touch, and you can find plenty of those on Pinterest too. Everyone’s different, and some parents might have more time to create detailed schedules while others might find even these planners too much to handle. Some of us like to balance the function and the “pretty”!

Tip 2: Boundaries

This tip is for both newbie work-from-homers and us more experienced ones too. Boundaries are important for work, time, and personal space. If your spouse and/or family is now in your home all day every day with you, chances are you’re feeling a bit pinched for space.

Work and Time Boundaries.

Working from home can make it easy to keep on working, even during your free time. Especially if your work is project-based like mine, there might be moments when deadlines or urgent stuff means spending more time on work. But giving up free time is something I choose case by case. 

Try setting up blocks of time for work during your day. If you and your spouse both work from home, take turns to work while the other looks after the kids. For me, a proper work block is at least an hour long. Shorter times don’t let me dive into projects or get things done. 

As someone who likes to finish tasks, I need to feel like I’m achieving things, whether they’re work or home tasks. Sometimes, if routines aren’t set yet or the kids are too little, a shorter work block might be all you can manage, and that’s alright! Be flexible. 

Treat breaks between work as fun times with the kids, if that helps. Remember to schedule personal time during your day, even if things seem chaotic. It’s a way to take care of yourself.

 I’ve made it a rule to keep time for myself, making space for workouts or just doing something I enjoy. This mindset helped me say “no” when I’m busy with my workout, teaching my kids about boundaries. But I’ve had days where my only personal time was walking the dog. 

With toddlers, I’d put them in the stroller with books or a snack while I got some fresh air. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. Adjusting to new routines can be tough, so be kind to yourself if you’re finding it hard.

Space Boundaries

Can you separate your workspace from your living space?

If you have a separate room to work in, that’s great—especially if it has a door you can close! But self-employment and working from home aren’t the same thing. If you’ve been working from home without a dedicated space, consider making one now. 

Your family will be around you all day, every day. Having a designated work area can keep work and relaxation time separate. It not only helps physically but mentally too. When you enter your work area, it’s like going to the office—this mental cue can help you focus. It’s also helpful for your family; they’ll know that when you’re in that space, it’s work time and interruptions should be minimal. 

If you don’t have a separate room, room dividers can do the trick. You can even make one yourself or just use a blanket or a nice sheet. It can also serve as a backdrop for video calls, making it less distracting for others.

Pick a good spot for your work, not the kitchen table. If you don’t have a whole room to work in, think about whether others will use your workspace during your work hours. Find a place away from the main living areas if possible. Consider what you’ll need: do you want privacy, quiet, or electrical outlets?  

I sometimes worked at the kitchen table pre-pandemic, but only to change things up or if it was particularly sunny outside and I want to bask while I work. With your whole family at home… all day… the kitchen is probably a high-activity zone, and therefore distracting and probably noisy. Setting up and removing a workspace multiple times a day can be frustrating. Plus, it might not be the best for your posture and comfort.

Tip 3: Pay Attention to Ergonomics.

Ergonomics diagram

It’s awful to set up and then feel uncomfortable due to the wrong chair height or bad posture. You can fix this without spending much. If your laptop isn’t at the right angle, put it on a stack of books. Remember, your kids are likely spending a lot of time online or doing schoolwork at a table. Create a designated “work area” for them too, using the same principles you use for your workspace.

Tip 4: Let in light! 

If you’re working in a basement or an area with little natural light, it can be tough. Natural light is fantastic, and having a window in my basement office is a lifesaver. But if you don’t have much light, there are options. Check out the tips in this Inc.com article and think about getting “daylight” bulbs that imitate natural lighting. Also, use task lights instead of just relying on overhead lights.

Tip 5: Take Movement breaks.

When our kids were small, we adopted the term “go noodles” from the gonoodle.com site that my kids loved. They use it during their school day, and it’s become a routine. Every hour or so, when they’re on screens, we take “go noodle” breaks. Sometimes they pick the activity, and sometimes I make it up or join in. Having short breaks for movement is super helpful, and it doesn’t always have to be big movements like jumping jacks. Any quick movements you can do right by your workspace are awesome – there are tons of online resources for activity ideas.

Tip 6: Get Organized.

If you’re already super organized, you might not need this, but it’s still worth checking out. If you’re feeling a bit lost with all the chaos going on, here’s a lifesaver: bullet journals.

I stumbled upon bullet journals through a podcast called The Perimenopausal Mamas (a client and good friend). I’ve even signed up for their free course myself! I confess that the idea of highlighters and multiple marker colours gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I suspect it will help. On a recent podcast episode, guest Nicole North of Whiteboard Consulting offers an article explaining bullet journals and how to get started using them.

Summary

These are a few tips to navigate a work-from-home setup. This might be a temporary change for you or your new normal if you’re self-employed. I hope you find something helpful in these ideas. And if you’re a work-from-home parent too, feel free to share your own tips and resources here. You never know when your insights might help someone else!

List of References:

These are some of my faves. I don’t benefit in any way if you click on these, but if you like them please let me know so I can pat myself on the back 🙂

  • Kiwico.com – at-home resources for kids and their grownups. Includes printable STEAM activities, Parent Toolkits, and all kinds of cool stuff (free and otherwise).
  • Scholastic Learn At Home – not Canadian, but I like how they’ve grouped their activities. My kids are currently following the daily schedule here, until our local Department of Education releases their own content.
  • Curiosity Stream – subscription website offering “thousands” of documentaries. Not free.
  • Khan Academy – A nonprofit offering “world-class education for anyone”. Free or by donation. Totally awesome learning website. They have recently added a student schedule that is customized by grade and is freely available, and which you might prefer over mine above.
  • Go Noodle – I can’t say enough about this website, I freaking love it. Movement and mindfulness videos by child development folks.
  • Perimenopausal Mamas Podcast – this is a new podcast for mums in their 40s offered by two Canadian naturopathic doctors. Since your own self-care is super critical right now, I highly recommend this podcast to help guide your own health.
  • The Spruce – neat ideas for stuff you can make, including room dividers.
  • Bullet Journaling – article by Whiteboard Consulting about how to get started with bullet journals. Free tutorials available.

2 thoughts on “The delicate art of self-employment during a global pandemic”

  1. I love you and glad you are my friend!! Did anyone tell you that you are amazing yet today??! Well you are 🙂

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