Dealing with Early Pregnancy Symptoms While Freelancing

Freelancing while pregnant can be tricky. You may not feel your best, but you need to keep up a high standard of work. If you’re a solopreneuer then there’s no one else to take on responsibilities when you feel terrible. Your workload will rest on your tired shoulders. So, how do you get through the early days of pregnancy without destroying your business reputation?

During my first pregnancy, I worked in a traditional office. I was able to prop up my swollen feet on a stool, take breaks every few hours, and walk around when I was uncomfortable. My coworkers were mostly women and several were mothers themselves. They were supportive of whatever I needed to do to get through the workday.

This pregnancy was a different experience. I’m the sole owner/employee of a small business and I work from home. As I often say, I’m a full-time mother first and a freelancer second.

Another big difference between my first pregnancy and this one was that I already had a child to take care of. This made for some exhausting days. Lifting my 25-pound daughter on and off the toilet, getting her in and out of her car seat, and helping up and down the stairs made my pelvis ache constantly.

That said, I had a lot more freedom to take care of myself during this pregnancy.

Here are some things you can do to make freelancing during pregnancy easier:

Take breaks when necessary

Growing a human takes a lot out of you! The first trimester is especially rough because your energy is drained and you may experience morning sickness.

While freelancing, you have the ability to take breaks when necessary.

You can limit calls in the afternoon and take an hour long nap. During the first trimester, I often took naps while Norah did. As my energy increased, I was able to work per usual during her naps. Sometimes I chose to sit in the bath or read a book to take a mental break from working.

I also left my mornings open to relaxation with minimal work. Instead, I focused on getting things done around the house.

Change your routine

The freelancing routine that worked before you got pregnant may not be so great once you’re feeling sick and tired. You may want to wake up later and do more work in the evening or flip your schedule if you’re exhausted at night. You may also want to alter the times during the day that you typically do things.

During my first pregnancy, one of my biggest nausea triggers was taking a shower and drying my hair. I would get overheated while getting ready every morning.

Freelancing from home allows me to take a shower whenever I want during the day and dry my hair hours later or let it air dry. This helped me avoid overheating and helped with my morning sickness.

I also did more of my work in the evenings when I found that I had more energy and felt less ill.

Ask for help

If you have a trusted person you can delegate work to, now would be the time to do so. If you subcontract employees, you could let them know that you’ll be increasing their workloads for a few months. If you are the only person running your business, you could ask your friends or spouse for some help in other areas of your life. Don’t be too proud to reach out.

While I was able to continue completing all of my work on my own, I asked my husband to take on more household duties. I simply didn’t have the energy to keep up with my daily chores and work while in early pregnancy. My husband was a huge help and did things that are normally my responsibility, like laundry, until I felt better. Once I got into the second trimester, I was able to balance work and household duties and didn’t need as much help. However, my husband has always split the household work with me so this wasn’t a big adjustment.

Take on less work when you feel sick

Even if you’re a highly productive person, you may have trouble keeping up with a packed schedule while pregnant. You may need to stop taking on new clients or projects for a while.

In the beginning of my pregnancy, I took on less work and didn’t actively pitch to new clients. I didn’t want to start work with someone when I was feeling terrible. On top of having first-trimester sickness, I also came down with a bad case of bronchitis that lasted nearly six weeks. I was in no shape to take on extra work. Once I felt better, I ramped up my workload.

Take on more work when you feel better

Eventually, the clouds will part and the sun will shine on your pregnant belly again. You will start to feel better, usually by the second trimester. Even though you probably won’t feel 100%, you will be able to get back to business.

I increased my workload tremendously in the second trimester because I felt much better. I also had plans for my maternity leave and needed to make extra income before my due date. I was able to keep up my workload from 13 weeks on.

Freelancing while pregnant is tough especially when you are the person solely responsible for your business. Don’t be afraid to scale back, ask for help, and change your routine until you’re feeling better. Eventually, you will get back to normal. Your goal should be to make the transition as painless as possible for your clients and yourself.

Dealing with Early Pregnancy Symptoms While Freelancing

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

Staying organized is one of the most important keys to success for freelancers. You need a task management system that ensures that nothing falls between the cracks. The best system will be the one that works for you.

I’ve known people who write everything on post-it notes and others who prefer to digitally record all of their tasks.

I do a mix of both. I keep all tasks online, using the free app Wunderlist, and I also write up a to-do list on paper each morning.

Tracking tasks with Wunderlist

I use Wunderlist to keep track of all client and personal tasks.

When I receive a task in my email, I read it over and then copy/paste into Wunderlist. I save these tasks individually in the client’s list.

If a due date is provided, I add it. My standard turnaround time is 48 hours unless a different deadline was agreed upon.

I set a reminder on each task for the day before it’s due.

When the deadline approaches, Wunderlist will display a pop-up reminder and send an email about the task.

How I organize Wunderlist

To set up Wunderlist, I created two main folders – Clients and Inactive Clients.

In those folders, I create a new list for each client labeled with the client’s name.

In those lists, I add all of the daily tasks for the client.

I also keep my personal to-dos in Wunderlist under categories such as “Housework, Admin, and Things to Buy.” I also record tasks for this blog and The Sturm Agency in Wunderlist.

Other features of Wunderlist

The free version of Wunderlist has numerous other features including:

  • Subtasks, notes, files, and comments. You can add these components to each task.
  • Setting recurring tasks. I have numerous recurring tasks, usually involving invoicing or doing some specific task each week or month.
  • Starring. This allows you to prioritize or distinguish a specific task.
  • Sharing. You can share lists with another person.
  • Emailing and printing list

Paid plans include even more features like:

  • Unlimited subtasks
  • Unlimited files
  • Unlimited assigning/delegating tasks
  • More backgrounds

The pro plan makes collaborating with teammates on Wunderlist streamlined and simple.

Using a paper to-do list

I prefer to be a little old school in my daily approach. Each morning I look at Wunderlist to determine which tasks are due that day then I write up a to-do list on paper. I previously used a small notebook from Amazon ($10), but am now using Leonie Dawson’s Shining Year to-do list that came with her 2017 planners.

I write down my to-do list items in order of importance. Typically the first 1-3 tasks must be done that day while the others have some leeway.

I enjoy both crossing something off a tangible list as well as clicking on a checkbox online. My system works for me because it allows me to keep everything in place while focusing on what I need to do today.

Finding a system that works for you will ensure that you never miss a deadline again. 

**This post contains affiliate links**

 

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

Calming Breathing Techniques for Toddlers

One of the tools in my parenting bag is deep breathing. Breathing techniques are a great way to divert your toddler’s attention and help them calm down.

I’ve used deep breathing for many years to calm myself. I find that I don’t breathe enough when I’m stressed, nervous, angry, or sad. When I’m feeling those emotions, I notice my breath becomes shallow and quick or that I hold my breath.

Since breathing deeply works well for me, I wanted to share this tool with my daughter.

Why should you breathe deeply when you’re upset

Deep breathing has many benefits including:

  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Lowering and stabilizing blood pressure
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Relaxing muscles
  • Decreasing stress
  • Boosting your immune system

Breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system and can reverse the stress response in your body. Breathing techniques can slow down your heart rate and help calm your body and mind.

Breathing techniques to try with your toddler

There several different methods for deep breathing that you can try.

  • Square or box breathing

Square breathing is the technique of inhaling on a four count, holding it for four counts, then exhaling on a four count, and waiting for four counts before inhaling again.

  • Belly breathing

Belly breathing is a technique where you lie on the floor with your knees up and place your hands on your stomach. You inhale and exhale through your nose and bring the breath into your belly instead of your chest. You can also do this exercise while standing. Sesame Street has a great song about belly breathing featuring Elmo.

  • Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing involves blocking one nostril while inhaling and exhaling and holding both nostrils for a moment at the top of an inhale. This a more advanced technique for older children and adults.

How to teach your child deep breathing techniques

This is a skill that you’ll want to practice when your child is in a good or neutral mood. You don’t want to try to tell them to “take a breath” when they are already in distress or crying.

When your child is relaxed and attentive, tell them that you want to teach them something that will help them when they are upset, angry or crying. I call it a “calm down” activity.

Tell them to follow your lead by breathing in then blowing out the breath. Once you’ve done it a few times and they have the concept down then you can try counting the breaths in and out and aiming for a 1-2-3-4 in and 1-2-3-4 out breath.

I started doing this with Norah when she was in her more agreeable 15-18 month old phase. It was already firmly engrained in her mind once she hit the tantrum stage.

Using deep breathing during difficult times

Once your child has the concept down, you can try it when they’re having a difficult time. Next time they are crying, screaming, etc. say “Let’s take some breaths”. They may resist. You should start doing the breathing exercises anyway. They may join you, they may not.

If you continue to do these exercises in front of them when they are upset, they may eventually try them. Once they do, make sure to praise them. Ask them if they feel better afterwards and tell them that deep breaths always help you feel better.

Breathing techniques in other situations

I also use this method when my daughter is overly excited or scared. I have her sit in my lap and we do some deep breaths until she is calm.

I also found it helpful to do deep breaths when my daughter was potty training. Breathing would take her focus off trying to go to the bathroom. She’d usually end up peeing or pooping while she was breathing without really noticing it.

Breathing techniques can be very beneficial for both parent and child. If you child is having a difficult time and you are getting frustrated, try doing some breathing exercises before dealing with their issue. Breathing will help center you and keep you calm. Your positive example will help your child learn this self-soothing technique that they can use for the rest of their lives.
Calming breathing techniques for toddlers

How to Develop Your Personal Brand as a Freelancer

Freelancing allows you to pave your own way and make a name for yourself. But how do you stand out from the pack? One of the biggest ways to do this is by having a strong personal brand.

Creating a personal brand can be tricky. You want to stay true to yourself while remaining professional. If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying it in front of mixed company then don’t make it part of your brand.

Three ways to show your personal brand

1) Have a distinctive look to your website with matching social media platforms

One of the best ways to create is a strong personal brand is to have a cohesive look across your online footprint. This includes your website, social media platforms, headshots, signatures, etc. Having a logo and color scheme is a great first step. From there, you want to make sure that everything coordinates so when someone finds your social media profiles they immediately know it’s you.

2) Share things about yourself in your biography or About Me page

Another great way to display your personal brand is to include interesting or personal things about yourself in your biography or About Me page. Use that section as a way to tell the story of how you got to where you are. Talk about where you came from, why you decided to go on this path, and what doing this work means to you.

Many people like including a non-sequitur, like how much they love tacos, in their biography. I think this is OK, but I’d make sure it flows with the rest of your biography. A bunch of random facts about yourself can end up looking like a survey or Facebook post.

Ultimately an About Me page is a way to sell yourself to your client. You want to list your talents and experience while showing your personality, but you don’t want your personality to be the only thing that someone walks away with after reading the page.

3) Express a passion for a cause/event/charity

Your online platform may be the perfect place for you to share something you’re passionate about. Most businesses, especially large corporations, have a charitable giving element.

If there’s a cause or event that you feel strongly about, include that on your website or in your work. Perhaps you could donate a certain amount of your profits to your cause or suggest that others contribute some amount when they work with you. Being an active member in your community is also something that you may want to highlight.

Three ways that personal branding can go wrong

Personal branding will be different for everyone. However, I would not recommend these three methods as ways to stand out.

1) Excessive or unnecessary swearing

This seems to be the most popular go-to for adding edginess or “uniqueness” to a brand. Unfortunately, swearing is not uncommon and most Americans won’t bat an eye at the occasional swear word. When swear words are thrown in for flair or drama, it just looks cheap.

Swearing is a shock and awe tactic that works wonders for Tony Robbins, but doesn’t always come off as well for everyone else. I don’t think excessive swearing has a place in copywriting. If you’re leaning on it as a way to differentiate yourself, it may be time to rethink your strategy because there are literally hundreds of people and brands doing the same thing.

2) Overuse of slang and emojis

Almost everyone uses the occasional bit of slang in their branding. Some slang, like the word ‘cool’, has become so culturally ingrained that you may not even realize you’re using it. Even though I regularly hear new slang, I rarely use it in my personal brand.

One of the main deterrents from using new, popular slang is that it dates your work. If you’re using 2014’s hottest phrase throughout your copy, your page is frozen in time. Unless you’re going to update all of your “on fleeks” to the current year’s version, you’re going to look irrelevant.

Emojis are fun to use, but can be easily abused. Using emojis gives a brand a playful image and adds an element of humanity to the message. However, using too many emojis or using them too frequently can look unoriginal and juvenile. If you can’t fully express yourself without an emoji then you might want to work on tightening up your writing skills.

3) Writing in one sentence paragraphs

It has become very popular to write blogs entirely in one sentence paragraphs. A typical blog will look like this:

This product is what you need.

Everything about this product is exactly. What. You. Need.

While breaking things up into paragraphs does make your copy easier on the eyes and keeps the reader more engaged, having an entire page of 1-2 sentence paragraphs is becoming cliche. This can’t be considered anyone’s particular style because, just like random swearing, it has been adopted by too many people.

It may take time to find and develop your personal brand style. You may have a few versions of it as you go along. Don’t be afraid to take some risks and put more of yourself into your business. Everyone wants to feel that there’s a real person on the other end of a transaction. And if you don’t like your brand, you can always change it!

How to Develop Your Personal Brand as a Freelancer

Building Your Child’s Language Skills From Birth

One of the first things that people notice about my daughter is her vocabulary. At 2.5 years old, she knows hundreds of words and meets the speech milestones of a 5+ year old.

Some of her speaking ability may be genetic. Her father and I are both very talkative! But I also used tips from experts to build her language skills from birth.

The first three years of a child’s life are crucial to language development. I’ve spent a lot of time since she was born developing her speech through the following methods.

Talking to her and narrating our day

I cannot stress how much I talk to my daughter. For the first three months of her life, I wore her in a sling for most of the day. I took her for walks in the park, did chores with her attached to me, and generally went about my life with her against my chest. Whenever she was awake, I spent a lot of time talking to her.

I would walk around the house and tell her the name of everything. I’d say “here’s our couch, here’s the lights, this is a remote control.” I would describe what I was doing “Mommy is making dinner. We’re having chicken with salsa and rice.”

I don’t think what I was saying mattered as much as how frequently I was talking. I exposed her to thousands of words before she was six months old because I was constantly talking to her.

If I waited for her to hear language when her father and I were home, she wouldn’t have heard much. We are often discussing the same things each night – what needs to get done, what’s on the schedule for tomorrow, and how our days were.

Since I work from home, I rarely see anyone throughout the day. Occasionally, I make phone calls, but those are often me saying “Yes, I can do that. Sure, no problem. OK, thanks, bye.” She wouldn’t get much from those calls either.

Making an effort to talk to her throughout the day exposed her to much more conversation than she would have heard otherwise.

Why this works: The more words a child hears, the bigger their vocabulary will become.

Singing to her and making up rhymes

If I wasn’t talking to her, I was singing to her. I sang kid’s songs, top 40 music, made-up songs, and whatever earworm popped into my head. She would always smile and coo while I was signing so it made me want to keep doing it for her. If she started crying, I would sing and she would usually get quiet and stare at me.

I would make up little tunes for the activities we were doing. I actually did this before I had any children too, it’s one of my annoying or lovable (depends on who you ask!) traits.

I often played music in the house and car for Norah to listen to. Sometimes this was children’s music, but most of the time it was the music that I like.

It’s no surprise that Norah’s quite a little singer today. She also makes up her own songs. One of my favorites goes “It rains on your head, it rains on your shoulders”. She goes through all of the body parts she knows as she sings this song.

Why this works: Singing and listening to music helps children learn the sounds of words and how to pronounce them.

Reading to her every day

From a few months old, I took Norah to library every week to borrow children’s books. We would then spend 30 minutes to 1 hour each day reading. This did not include her bedtime routine with daddy where they read 3-5 books.

By 15 months, she was turning pages in books and spending at least 20 minutes a day looking at them. At 2.5, she “reads” her stories to herself for at least an hour per day.

I’ve always spent extra time with each book asking her questions about the story. For example, if a book has a character who loves cake, I’ll ask her if she likes cake, when we usually eat cake, who makes cake, etc.

She also loves the library and looks forward to our weekly trip. She is great at memorizing the lines in stories and knows the authors of her favorite series (Marc Brown, Norman Bridwell, Mo Willems, and Beatrix Potter).

Why this works: Reading and asking questions about the story teaches children speaking skills.

Engage her in conversation

Both Michael and I make it a point to involve Norah in our conversations especially during meals. We talk with each other, but we ask her questions about her day and let her interrupt with questions about what we’re talking about.

Every day during lunch I talk to Norah about what’s coming up later in the week. I tell her if we have any appointments or playdates. I let her know about relatives visiting or things we’re going to do on the weekend.

As she gets older, she is better and better at picking up context from our conversations. She will often know who or what we are talking about after a few minutes of talking. She likes asking “Are you talking about me?”

It may feel silly to try to have a conversation with a small child, but children are little people. They need social interaction and engagement just like adults do. They want to have their thoughts and opinions heard.

Why it works: Engaging children in conversation helps them develop social skills and learn new words.

There are many ways you can help build your child’s language skills, but the biggest one is being a present parent. If you are interacting with your child throughout the day, you will help their brain build connections. Investing your time and energy into your child’s language development will set them up for success in the future.

March 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

Things started looking up a bit in March although I feel like leads are slow everywhere. Some of my best resources for finding freelance leads have been very sparse this month. I also underestimated the impact that losing two major clients would have on my feelings about freelancing. I felt very defeated for most of the month and had a hard time getting in the right headspace to look for more clients. I do feel like this is a low point during my self-employment career, but I know that I will bounce back from it. I’m sure some of the feelings have to do with being pregnant, taking care of a toddler all day, and being exhausted.

Here’s what happened in March.

Positives

  • Hired a designer to redesign and rebrand Freelancing Mama

After spending some time looking at other great websites, I decided to hire Pixel Me Designs to create a new look for Freelancing Mama. I cannot wait to unveil the new look this summer. I’m redesigning my blog as part of my effort to monetize and grow this site. I’m finishing up an ebook on virtual assistance and hope to have some courses and other products available before the end of 2017.

  • Did project work for a former pitch

Freelancing is a tricky game. I applied for quite a few jobs in February and didn’t get most of them. I have a 10-20% success rate when pitching which is totally normal. One of the client I pitched for, who ended up going with another freelancer, contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing some research work. I took the assignment.

  • Was referred by a few people

I had three different people reach out to me based on referrals from former clients. I don’t know if any of these referrals will turn into gigs, but hopefully I will find out in April.

  • Negotiated a raise with a long-time client

I was able to negotiate a raise with a long-time client that helped boost my income a bit. I only spend about 10-15 hours per month working with this client, but every extra dollar per hour helps. If you’re looking to raise your rates, check out my post on how to do it.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I have not recovered financially from February’s client dropoff. It will probably take some time to get back where I was. I don’t expect to be at January 2017 income until after I return from my maternity leave in September.

  • Negative mindset and decreased motivation

I’ve had issues with feeling defeated this month. The combination of losing clients and the stress of my son’s approaching due date got to me. I spent some time on self-care and read a bunch of books in my downtime. Near the end of March I started feeling more optimistic and started putting myself out there again. Hopefully, things will continue to improve in April.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I have a lot of ground to make up from my lost clients before I will be at the “increasing income” level. Right now I’m trying to get back to where I was in January.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by April or May. This goal has moved down on the importance list for now.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’m thinking that sponsoring something in the summer or fall would be the best bet. It may take that long to get my business back on track. I was in a much better position when I made this goal in December 2016 than I am now.

Income Snapshot

As you can see, my income went down in March. I had no remaining payments coming in from the February clients and I didn’t add any other income sources.

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

Overall, March continued on a downward trend, but I’m hopeful that the rest of the year will improve.

Setting up Your Maternity Leave as a Freelancer

During my first pregnancy, I was a full-time employee at a large company. They offered six weeks of paid leave (at a percentage of your salary) as well as the option to apply for a 12 week Family Medical Leave Act running in conjunction with your maternity leave. This would give a maximum of 12 weeks leave, six unpaid.

The facility I worked at had a beautiful “mother’s room” with a comfortable leather chair for pumping and a fridge for storing your milk. I only had the opportunity to use it once when I brought Norah in for a visit because I did not return after my maternity leave.

When I got the great news that I was pregnant with #2, I knew this would be a different experience. I was now a part-time freelancer and full-time mother to a 2 ½ year old. I had no childcare help. I knew I needed to get organized and I had nine months to do it.

Here are my tips for setting up a maternity leave while freelancing.

Make a budget

The most important part of freelancing while pregnant is being organized! You need to have a plan for your workload and your maternity leave.

Shortly after I found out that I was having a viable pregnancy, I started making plans.

I knew that I need to make approximately $2,000 per month to keep our budget the same. I decided early on that I wanted to take a minimum of 10 weeks off with this pregnancy. I had 10 weeks off with Norah and felt that it was the right amount of time to recover, get into a new routine, and want to start working again.

Deciding on 10 weeks gave me a monetary goal I needed to shoot for. I would need to make a minimum of $5,000 to cover the 10 weeks off. I preferred to set the goal for $6,000 so I’d have some wiggle room.

I started taking on extra work where I could. I pitched for more clients, raised my rates for current clients and requested more work from the people I subcontract for.

Here’s the breakdown of how this helped:

New clients:

First off, I vowed not take on a new client for under $30 per hour. I started with a $32 per hour rate and often didn’t dip below $35. The only exception was people purchasing virtual assistant packages.

Raising rates:

For one client, I raised the rates 32% because I had not received a pay raise in the 15 months we had been working together. For the another client, it was 20%. This brought in an additional $200 per month and only added a few more hours per month to my workload.

Subcontracting work:

Subcontracting work was where I found my biggest gains. I was able to increase my hours and go from making around $100 per week with one client to an average of $400. This alone gave me an additional $1600 per month to put towards the $6,000 goal.

Do this: Figure out how much you would need to make during your time off then add 10%. You want to make sure you’re not scrambling for work while dealing with sleep deprivation and raging hormones.

Inform clients

Because of my previous miscarriage, I wasn’t comfortable telling my clients about my pregnancy until I had confirmed that everything was normal. I waited until my 20 week anatomy ultrasound on February 15 to draft the email and set up meetings with clients.

I let my clients know how much I enjoyed working with them and that I was excited to share some personal news. I told them when I was due and that I would be working as normal up until that time. I personalized the letter to each client to address the specific tasks that I did for them.

There were clients that I was able to ask if I could batch work and complete things before going on leave, therefore leaving me some incoming money. There were others that I had to tell I wouldn’t be available in any capacity for 10 weeks. It depended on the client and the workload. I told them all that I planned to continue working together when I returned around September 15.

I decided that I would set a return date based on 10 weeks from the latest I could possibly have the baby. Should I have the baby earlier, then I would have more time to spend with him.

I didn’t want to worry about informing everyone that I’d had the baby and I would be off for 10 weeks from that point. Instead I told them to expect me to become unavailable around the last week of June/first week of July and returning September 15.

Do this: Be honest and upfront with your clients when you break the news. Tell them how much you appreciate their business and hope to continue the relationship. Then let the chips fall where they may. Some people will work with you while others may end the relationship. You have no control over your client’s reactions so try not to stress about it.

Work more

I knew that in the month leading up to my delivery, I would have to work more than usual. I did this by finding time to work when I could. This included working in the morning before Norah woke up, working in the evening while my husband fixed dinner, and forgoing some of my favorite shows to work in my office at night. This isn’t something that I would do long-term, but as a means to a (very important) end, I was motivated to keep my foot on the gas pedal.

I knew that I would have 10 weeks of doing nothing but caring for my new baby and toddler at the end of this grueling time period and that was absolutely worth it to me.

Having an end goal in place kept me sane and motivated to work.

Do this: Resist the urge to take it easy throughout your pregnancy. Even though you are tired now, you will be exhausted once the baby comes. Trust this second-time mama! Get as much done as possible before baby comes. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Relax and enjoy your leave

After all the preparations have been made, the last thing I need to do is relax and enjoy my maternity leave. I worked hard to set everything up and want to be able to enjoy it without worrying about work. The first few weeks with a new baby are so special and they go by extremely quickly.

Preparing for maternity leave as soon as possible is the best option for a freelancer. You are in control of how much time you take off and your financial situation. Make a plan, work hard, and enjoy the time with your precious new life.

Special note: My husband was also instrumental in preparing for my maternity leave. Although I was confident I’d be able to make the goal myself, he worked hard during my pregnancy to get a raise at his job and take on some additional freelancing work to add to the pot.
Setting up your maternity leave as a freelancer

How We Spent Winter 2016

Winter is my least favorite time of year even though it includes my birthday. Cold weather and gray skies get me feeling down and I find it harder to get motivated to leave the house. I do my best to enjoy the season, but once the holidays are over, I’m simply waiting for it to warm up. I enjoy being outside, but winters in northern Illinois make it difficult to enjoy nature.

The absolute best thing about the end of this year was getting pregnant with baby #2 and finding out we are having a boy!

Erin

Mom’s Groups

I joined another mom’s group this past fall and started going to more events this winter. I already belonged to one mom’s group, but the times that they met were not always convenient with my schedule. I like to work in the morning and take Norah to playdates around 11 am or after her nap at 2 – 3 pm. The new mom’s group has more options for later morning meetups and after school playdates. I plan on continuing to take Norah to events until she starts preschool in September. At that point, I’ll be bringing my son to the baby playgroups.

Reading

Since there’s not much else to do, I love spending time reading (especially by the fireplace) in the winter. This year I set my reading challenge to 53 books. I spent this winter reading the following books:

Nonfiction

  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace – 4 stars
  • Where am I Now? by Mara Wilson – 2 stars
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell – 4 stars

Fiction

  • The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson – 4 stars
  • The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson – 3 stars
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman – 4 stars
  • Because I’m Watching by Christina Dodd – 3 stars
  • The Girl Before by Rena Olsen – 4 stars
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – 3 stars

Handlettering

Mike gave me a book on handlettering, some fancy pens, and paper for Christmas. I’m working on teaching myself. It’s harder than it looks, but surprisingly relaxing. I do too many activities that involve active thinking and this is something that is more physical. I would label myself as more crafty than artistic, but I’m pretty good at eyeballing something and copying the design of it. When Mike and I were dating, I baked a cake and carved it into a Batman symbol!

I hope to create some collaborative artwork with Norah and possible Mike. He’s very talented and majored in art during his first two years of college. Unfortunately, he almost never uses his drawing skills. On the other hand, Norah loves using watercolors and I’d love to add an inspirational quote or word over her artwork and frame it! Perhaps it could be something I could sell.

Norah

Playing in the snow

Although it’s been bitter cold, we haven’t had too much snow this year. Norah was able to enjoy one day of playing outside and sledding in early December. I look forward to her getting bigger and being able to enjoy the giant sledding hill in our backyard. I have a feeling my house will be a sledding destination for her friends.

Holiday celebrations and traditions

Norah is still the only grandchild (for now!) for both sets of grandparents so she gets spoiled during the holidays.

This year she was able to understand the concept of Santa and was talking about him for weeks. She also had her first Toys R Us catalog experience. She carried that thing around for several months, pointing out toys that she wanted. Mike’s work had a breakfast with Santa where she revealed that she wanted a “Shopkins house.” We had a last minute scramble to find one. The holidays only get more enjoyable as Norah gets older. It is so wonderful to experience things through her eyes.

Mike’s been doing Elf on the Shelf since I was pregnant with Norah, mostly to amuse me. Norah loved the book, but did not care for the actual elf. If he was near any of her things, she would throw him across the room even though I kept telling her she wasn’t supposed to touch him. We ended up having him stay in neutral places like the top of the fridge or mantelpiece.

She also loved the Christmas lights and would say they are “boo-ti-ful”.

Going to the library

Norah participated in the summer and winter reading club at the library this year. They have clubs for both readers and pre-readers. The pre-readers activities involved parents reading to the kids and showing them different stations around the library.

Norah loves the library, just like her mama. I have so many wonderful memories of being in the library as a kid. We go to the library at least once a week. We also try to make it to programs every few weeks.

Norah knows several librarian’s names and has a favorite librarian that she frequently asks about. This winter, one librarian was especially kind to Norah and let her come behind the desk and check in some books and then reshelve them. I’m happy to have instilled a love of the library in my daughter.

We’re looking forward to Spring and Summer when we are able to get out of the house more often. We’ll be spending extra special time with Norah before her world is rocked by her brother arriving in July!

How we spent winter 2016

How to Use Time Blocking to Organize Your Day

As a freelancer, you must be organized. I use time blocking to manage my day and stay on track. Time blocking is the process of dividing your day into chunks of time designated for specific activities or tasks.

When you’re just starting out, you may not see the value in time blocking, but once you’re managing multiple clients and their demands, you will find it very useful.

Here are two ways that I’ve used time blocking to plan my day.

Option 1: Time blocking by client

Time blocking by client involves setting specific times each day to work on client’s projects.

Time blocking by client would look something like this:

Monday

9 – 11 am: Client A

11 – 1 pm: Client B

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 4 pm: Client C

If you only had three clients, this would repeat each day. If you had more than three clients then the second day would look like this:

Tuesday

9 – 11 am: Client D

11 – 1 pm: Client E

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 4 pm: Client F

Monday’s schedule would repeat on Wednesday and Friday and Tuesday’s schedule would repeat on Thursday.

You should strategically schedule your clients depending on their workload and personalities. ‘High touch’ clients that need more frequent communication should be placed on Monday’s schedule so you’ll interact with them three times per week. Clients with smaller workloads or infrequent communication could be placed on Tuesday’s schedule.

If a client did not have work for you to do on their day, you could move to the next client on your list. You could also use the time to work on a side hustle or take a break. Here are 10 things you could do for your business with 30 spare minutes.

If you think that this schedule would not work for you then you can try using shorter blocks of time each day. This way you’d interact with each client every day.

Monday

9 – 10 am: Client A

10 – 11 am: Client B

11 – 12 pm: Client C

12 – 1 pm: Client D

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 3 pm: Client E

3 – 4 pm: Client F

The same idea applies, you can skip to the next client if you have no tasks from a particular client that day. With this schedule, you could potentially be finished working at 3 pm if one client had no tasks or 2 pm if two clients were not requesting anything.

Depending on how many clients you have, you can experiment with making the time blocks longer or shorter.

I would warn against scheduling less than 30 minutes per client because it will not give you enough time to start a task, make progress, or complete it.

Option 2: Time blocking by task

Another way you can time block your calendar is by task. This method involves taking similar tasks and scheduling them throughout your day. This method is similar to batching your work.

You can time block by task in two ways:

Single focus day

In this option, each day of the week would have a specific focus.

Monday – Administrative work including expenses

Tuesday – Research and writing

Wednesday – Social media work

Thursday – Phone calls, meetings and emails

Friday – Housekeeping and tying up loose ends

If you have the same types of tasks for each client, you may want to separate your days by what you are doing. That way you can get all of one type of work done on a specific day. Once you’re done with that work, you’re done for the day.

In this scenario, you would be less likely to interact with all of your clients each working day.

One possible negative of this set-up is that it could lead to some very inconsistent working days. Monday you might work for two hours and Tuesday could be 8-10 hours.

Multi-focus day

In this option, you would work on each category every day.

Monday – Friday

9 – 11 am: Administrative work and expenses

11 – 12 pm: Research and writing

12 – 1 pm: Social media work

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 3 pm: Phone calls, meetings and emails

3 – 4 pm: Housekeeping

Figuring out the best way to time block your calendar is a learning process. Time blocking should make you feel more organized, not frazzled. If one method isn’t working for you, try another approach.

Ultimately, your clients should see no change in service while you decide how to best structure your day. You want to make sure you are still reliable, available, and providing high-quality services. Ideally, your client should notice an improvement in productivity and responsiveness!

How to use time blocking to organize your day

We’re Reading 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

We love reading! Every week we go to our library and pick out a new batch of books to add to Norah’s list of 1000 books before kindergarten.

The 1000 Books before Kindergarten program

The 1000 books before kindergarten program encourages parents to read 1000 books to their children before they start school. The program promotes pre-literacy and literacy initiatives as well as family bonding.

Though the goal of 1000 books may seem huge, it’s very doable!

Why you should participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

Reading to your child strengthens their language skills and builds their vocabulary. Did you know that by three years old, a child from a low-income family will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child from a professional family? In addition, one in three American children start kindergarten without the skills needed to learn to read. Two-thirds of children can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade.

Reading to your child is a great way to prepare them for future success. If your family doesn’t have the means to purchase books, that’s no problem. Search for your local library and become a member, it’s free!

Reading aloud to children promotes brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your child daily from infancy.

In addition to the educational benefits, reading to your child helps build a nurturing relationship and develops their self-esteem.

How you can participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

To participate, you only need to make time to read to your child each day. The sooner you start, the better!

If you start at one year old, reading 4 books per week = 1,060 books by kindergarten

If you start at two years old, reading 1 book per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

If you start at three years old, reading 2 books per day = 1,460 books by kindergarten

If you start at four years old, reading 3 books per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

 

How to read 1000 books before kindergarten

 

Most children’s books take less than 10 minutes to read. Even if you start when your child is older, you’ll only need to spend about 30 minutes per day reading. That’s the length of one TV show! If you replace one episode of your child’s favorite show with three books, you’ll be supporting their development and your relationship.

Reading doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Taking your child to story hour at the library counts too!

Find out more about 1000 books before kindergarten

Each library decides whether to participate in the program. Find a participating library in your area. If your library is not currently participating, you can suggest the program to a librarian or the library director.

My local library supports this awesome program. They recognize children who complete 1000 books before kindergarten by adding their name to a poster on the wall and giving them a prize. They also provide a notebook to record books read.

If your library doesn’t participate, you can do this initiative on your own by recording the books read on paper or in a Google document. If your child reaches 1000 books, you could take them out for dinner or buy them something special to celebrate the achievement. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to read to your child on a daily basis to set them up for success.
1000 books before kindergarten