When you’re self-employed, fitting 40-plus hours into your week isn’t straightforward.

Years ago, I worked as an employee for a number of large organisations. Commuting, working Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 (often longer but it was ‘overtime’), a few weeks off per year for holidays … this was my normal life for almost two decades. Then at 35, I had my first child. I loved the corporate job I had at the time and had every intention of returning to work pronto, but as soon as I laid eyes on our precious son, it was game over. My heart was bursting with love. Priorities changed.

My husband runs a successful business so I was lucky to be able to stay at home. By the time I was 40, we had three kids under five. As every parent knows, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 became a distant memory; now, it was 24/7.

As the kids grew, I took on volunteer roles at school and became involved in community work, but once our youngest started kindy I planned to return to work. I soon discovered that part-time jobs are hard to find; finding a job that was actually appealing and had family-friendly hours was almost impossible.  

As I have a passion for the written word, superior English skills, and a natural ability to spot spelling and grammatical errors, it was a logical step for me to become a freelance proofreader. I enrolled in a copy editing and proofreading course and began looking for freelance work on the Internet. It took a while but eventually my business – and my experience – grew exponentially. All the while I continued to hone my skills through courses and workshops to develop my skills in copyediting and, more recently, developmental editing and manuscript appraisals.

What I have learned is that if you’re not careful, your business can consume you, adversely affecting your family and personal wellbeing … Working from home is challenging and a constant balancing act of competing priorities …

I’ve been running Full Proofreading Services for over ten years now and have clients all over Australia, including writers, SMEs, NFPs, government departments and universities … which brings me to the point of this article. (‘Thank God!’ I hear you say).

When I think about my 9-to-5 job of yore, I realise how easy I’d had it. This is a (very) rough example of what eight hours of BILLABLE time looks like now:

8 to 10 (2 hours). 11 to 1 (2 hours). 2 to 4 (2 hours). 8 to 10 (2 hours). Total 8 hours.

You might be wondering why my hours are so fractured. Several reasons:

  1. Quality control. As every editor and proofreader knows, our line of work is extremely meticulous and requires 100 per cent concentration. After two hours working on a manuscript or a long document, I start to flag and things can be missed.
  2. Health. After two hours staring at a computer screen, my neck seizes up and my eyes start to sting. It’s necessary to take regular breaks for my physical wellbeing.
  3. NON-billable work. Each day, I spend a good deal of time on NON-BILLABLE work, such as liaising with clients and contractors, invoicing, writing blog articles, answering enquiries, working out quotes, doing sample edits, reading articles, studying, filing, wasting time on social media … I mean, networking … the list goes on.
  4. Family time. Having a busy family of five means several hours each day need to be put aside for domestic and parenting purposes (and all that it entails, which is a heck of a lot).
  5. ‘Me’ time (aka mental health time). I used to classify sleep as ‘me time’, but my business mentor assured me this doesn’t count! I actually need do something for myself while I’m awake! So I walk the dog every day and try to ‘escape’ to the gym or a ballet class for an hour about three times a week.

As life doesn’t follow a straight line, my hours vary, are often longer than 40 hours per week, and usually spill into weekends (even holidays). For me, a 50–60 hour week is quite normal, but that’s okay as I thrive on little sleep, and it’s not constant. There are quieter times and if I want to go to a networking event, do a workshop, or attend/volunteer for something at one of the kids’ schools, I can do so.

So, what is my message to freelancers starting out? Well, what I have learned is that if you’re not careful, your business can consume you, adversely affecting your personal wellbeing and that of your loved ones. In short, working from home is challenging. It takes discipline and flexibility and is a constant balancing act of competing priorities – especially if you have a family to take care of. Having said that, I wouldn’t go back to ‘working 9 to 5’ for quids … would you?

To those who now work from home, do you miss the ‘9 to 5’ routine?

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