Making the Most of the Flexibility of Web Working



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Flexibility is one reason many of us became freelancers. The idea of being your own boss, choosing your own hours, and having room in your life for other options are all very appealing.

Rockall Recruitment’s Freelance Guide lists flexibility as one of the benefits of freelancing:

Freelancers are their own boss. The only people who dictate to you when you work is you and your bank manager. This flexibility can be beneficial if you have interests outside of your chosen career field, such as your own business, family commitments etc. If you develop a good relationship with your agency, then they will quite happily accommodate you if you need to take a few months off to pursue your own interests, whereas you will seldom find this if you are working permanently for a company.

In the last few months I’ve been able to do some things as a web worker that would never have been possible if I had a nine-to-five job:

  • I look after my eleven-month-old son some days while my wife is at work, meaning that she can work more day shifts, and less exhausting night shifts.
  • I unexpectedly traveled interstate when my dad was very unwell in hospital.
  • I also traveled interstate to celebrate my son’s 21st birthday.
  • I was able to keep up all of the essential parts of my work while being very sick for ten days.

There is often a cost to achieving flexibility, but in each of these cases it has been really worthwhile. Here is how I achieved it.

Caring for My 11-Month-Old

Looking after my son was one of the main factors that drew me towards a more flexible job. My wife, a nurse, had been avoiding day shifts – when I was at work – and did as many evening, night and weekend shifts as possible. She would look after Hayden when I was at work, and I’d look after him when she was at work. And we rarely saw each other.

The transition has gone very smoothly. My wife is still required to do a variety of shifts, but now does more day shifts. And I’m actually able to get more work done than I expected when she is at work.

I normally get up quite early, and do a couple of hours work before Hayden wakes up. And because he’s still quite young, he normally sleeps for an hour or two both morning and afternoon, which lets me get another three or four hours of work out of the way. So when evening comes, more then half of my work is already done.

During school holidays and on weekends, my other kids are sometimes very helpful in sharing the responsibilities. In other ways it’s harder to work when the whole family is home, but that’s another story.

Visiting My Sick Dad

A couple of months ago, my dad was found to have kidney stones, and a few days later had an operation to have them “blasted”. The doctors didn’t realize when they sent him home that they had missed the stones and put a hole in his kidney. After a few days of passing a lot of blood, he returned to the hospital weak and concerned. He received four blood transfusions and was kept in for observation. I kept up with the news of his recovery over the phone.

The next day I was having a great work day – I had got up at 5:00 am and worked productively till lunchtime, when I had finished all of my essential tasks. But while I was working, my wife and sister had been speaking on the phone. My sister lives in Sydney not far from Dad, and had been visiting him. She was concerned, and felt under pressure. The two ladies decided I should go down and support.

They convinced me. I grabbed some clothes and my laptops, borrowed my son’s car, and made the eleven hour trip.

It was an effective week. I stayed with my sister, visited my dad most days, helped him around the house once he was released from hospital, and spent worthwhile time with my sister and her kids.

And I kept up with my work. I got up at 5:00 am every morning and got between two and four hours work done before going to see my dad. I usually got an hour or two done in the late afternoon, and finished the rest before bedtime.

I worked in the lounge room, on the sofa lounge that was my bed, on the dining room table, and at McDonalds, taking advantage of their free wifi. I tried to do most of my work when the kids were in bed, at school, or at sport. One disastrous evening I worked at McDonalds until my laptop battery died, only to arrive home and discover my sister had given me the wrong key. I was stuck outside in the cold for an hour or two with nothing to do.

One lesson I learned that week is to keep my work as portable as possible. While I already kept a lot of my work in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites and Remember the Milk, I had been doing some of my planning in a paper notebook. That notebook was the one thing I forgot to pack, and as a result, I published one article on the wrong day. While the mistake certainly wasn’t a disaster, it is a lesson to learn from. Now I make sure that all of my work and planning are accessible from any computer.

I was very grateful to have a flexible job that week. I spent a lot of quality time with my dad, supported my sister, and felt like I made a difference. And they understood my work situation, and were supportive when I had to vanish for a few hours to “get things done.”

Celebrating a 21st Birthday

My oldest son is doing well for himself and moved to Melbourne this year. He recently turned twenty-one. (Yes, I really do have an eleven month old and a twenty-one year old … and four others in between.) Though he is so far away, I was determined to share his birthday with him, and booked some flights.

There was little disruption to my work during this trip. I didn’t want to try to do a full day’s work on the day of the flights, so I did extra work on the days leading up to them. The rest of the time I worked as normal, took most of the two weekends off, and even went into the Envato office a few times.

On his birthday, my wife surprised us all. She had taken some time off work, and drove the rest of the family around 1,800 kms to celebrate with us. She can be very spontaneous, and the surprise was appreciated by everyone. Unfortunately when passing through Sydney she picked up a very contagious stomach bug while visiting my sister, and shared it with us all. And that leads me to my next story.

Doing the Essentials While Sick

I’ve been quite sick for the last ten days. Every day I’d wake up expecting to be better, and each day I’ve been disappointed. Maybe tomorrow!

If I had a normal nine-to-five job, I would have been on sick leave for the whole time. I wasn’t well enough to leave the house, and I’ve been concerned about sharing the germs. But as a web worker, I’ve been able to keep up with the important parts of my work.

I haven’t done everything, and I have only been able to work in short bursts. But by carefully choosing what really needed to be done, and making the most of my time, I’m surprised with how much I’ve accomplished.

I haven’t done any computer support work. I passed on whatever calls I had to others, or delayed the appointment until a time when I’m likely to be well again. I haven’t returned every email, though I monitored them and answered the ones that were urgent. I haven’t done all of my planning and organizing and paperwork. But I have managed to keep up with my writing and editing, and all important correspondence.

None of that is meant to say that I’m not entitled to be sick. But I want to recognize that a flexible job allowed me to do things when sick that would never have been possible in a “normal” job.

In Summary: Four Key Principles for Flexibility

As a web worker, I don’t want absolute flexibility – I need to maintain a routine to be productive. But from time to time opportunities arise that a flexible lifestyle allows me to take advantage of.

But in order to take advantage of those opportunities, I need to be prepared. Here are four principles I’ve learned:

  • Don’t leave everything to the last minute – leave yourself some room to move.
  • Understand priorities – what you can put off (temporarily) and what you can’t.
  • Be organized – and have a system you can take with you.
  • Remember that flexibility has a cost – your work will have to be done eventually, either late at night, or in long catch-up stints. Make sure it’s worth it!

How flexible is your work? How do you take advantage of it?

PG

This author has published 17 post(s) so far at FreelanceSwitch. Their bio is coming soon!


  1. PG Henrik Pedersen

    Verry nice article!

    I’ve have self being quite sick for the last few days, but I used it as a workday (i’m a student, so I could stay away from school and work from the bed)

    Some of the other reasons I love this thing about being a freelancer, is as you suggest, that you can take your time to your family and parties.

    I was in a waterpark with my girlfriend and one of her friends last saturday, and this saturday (tomorrow) i’m going to my brothers 30 years birthdayparty.

    I’m doing all this, then my friends are cleaning windows, or sorting
    vegetables.

    Being a freelancer realy has upsides :)

  2. PG Mauro

    Well said, Adrian. I’m a freelance copywriter, I had similar experiences. Let me stress even more that it’s really key, if you live with a SO and/or kids, to give with a smile in terms of time and availability (they’re part of you r flexibility, in the end). It will always come back in terms of clear mind and nice attitude once at your desk.

    Thanks!

    Mauro

  3. PG Bob Orchard

    That was definitely an inspirational article. I work a full-time job and freelance between work hours and bedtime – and I always seem to not have “enough time.” After looking over your article – it is plain to see that, compared to you and your family, I’ve got no excuse.

    Thanks for the write-up – very well done and an easy (if not a bit extended) read.

  4. PG Kristi

    What a terrible choice of a photo–texting while driving! This freedom-loving freelancer is about to murder a kid who steps from between the parked cars, run over a cyclists or blow through a red light. Great!

    1. PG Jason

      I agree. The first thing I thought of when I saw the photo was: “Are they seriously using a picture of some moron texting and driving????”

  5. PG tim

    11 month old and 21 year old!!!
    Wow, i’m just about to embark on my first few steps into fatherhood, hope I cope with it as well as you do.

    Great article.

  6. PG rotationbias

    Excellent article, and every word is true. My mom was very sick and eventually passed away two years ago, and because I could sit at her bedside in the hospital with my laptop and work while she slept, I was able to both be with her and continue to support my family.

    I don’t like the picture at the top of this article at all, though. Behind the wheel is the very last place from which you should be sending someone a text.

  7. PG Adam Fairhead

    Great article.

    The image at the top is totally illegal, though – Eyes on the road! ;)

  8. PG Jaki Levy

    Seen via @janchip on Twitter : “If you wait to the last minute, it only takes a minute”

  9. PG Jessie Fitzgerald

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about freelancing. I actually took the time to read every word (I don’t just write for Web readers, but also read like them with the scanning) and you have really touched on some key points I stress to freelance writers. Especially when I’m trying to sell them on going paperless. Because the organizational benefits are outstanding. Combine that with strong personal productivity and you’ve got it good.

    Freelancing can be kind of scary, especially if what you’re doing didn’t translate to any job you’ve had to base some reasonable schedule on. I soak up everything other freelancers say about their schedules because I want to know how they do it. Jenn Mattern on her blog All Freelance Writing talks about how early she gets up to get everything done and I find myself doing very similar things to help my Army husband get ready in the morning. I have a lot of things to juggle and things arise constantly. Using the strategies you touched on above, I am able to do that!

  10. PG Tyler King

    All your examples are great, but my favorite thing about the flexibility of self-employment is that you can let your mood guide you more than usual. Sometimes I wake up on a weekday and decide to turn it into a weekend because I just feel like relaxing. Sometimes I wake up Sunday morning and have the drive to work all day and night.

    In the end, I end up working more hours than I did at my 9-5 job, but the free time I have is more valuable because I can take it whenever I want.

  11. PG Jenn

    The same points ring true for me as well. The past two weeks at least 1 or more of my three boys have been home sick. And then to top that off, I was sick 2 days this week. Flat out on the couch for one of them.

    Through out those weeks, I was still able to accomplish getting some projects completed and keep in contact with clients. (Even on the day I was on the couch. (Thank goodness for laptops!)

    I have to remind my husband of these perks when ever he suggests that I should find a job outside of the home.
    Yeah, people make due all the time, but with 3 young school age boys, I can see it being much more difficult trying to manage.

    I am so thankful to have a job that I can work from home and have the flexibility for my family.

  12. PG George Passwater

    A great article. I understand where you are coming from. I work remotely on what I need to do and am able to take care of my kids at the same time. I have two young children, one is special needs and requires a lot more attention. I am able to be here for medical appointments and whatever is needed now that I am able to work from anywhere.

  13. PG Riaan Knoetze

    As an African, I sometimes smile when I read these kind of posts – What you’re saying above is second nature to freelancers in africa, where Internet (not even talking WiFi) is dodgy at best. Travelling for us is not a perk, it’s demanded – no travelling (to a place that has internet), no job/client/project.

    A question for the fellow freelancers out there: How would your freelancing habits change when you’re stuck in a country with little to no infrastructure that supports your chosen expertise?

  14. PG Ronnie Morales

    Great article! I can totally relate, working at home has its advantages and disadvantages. My wife is currently pregnant with our first baby (it’s going to be a boy!) and I can’t wait for the new challenges of working at home.

  15. PG Janine

    can someone please tell me what cellphone is that? lol

  16. Nice article :-)

  17. PG Heather Villa

    What you’ve pointed out here are some of the great benefits of freelancing and working from home. I recently broke my leg in a sporting accident. Commuting back and forth to an outside job would be difficult at best. But with freelancing, there has barely been a hitch in my productivity.

    1. PG Jeremy

      way to go! are you going to keep it that way after the leg heals?

  18. PG Freelance Blog

    It’s true, freelancing is the best job for a family life. Being around around of your child and seeing how he grows up is great!

  19. PG Lowkase

    The picture that was posted along with this article is completely inappropriate. Its as responsible as photoshoping the texting device out of the image and adding a full martini glass.

  20. PG KNau

    Take a look at the 2 vans on the left in the picture. Either:

    A) The photo it was taken while the vehicle was parked.
    or
    B) The photo was taken at the very instant that a horrible head-on collision occurred.

  21. PG Riaan Knoetze

    Already twittering about the accident he just saw.

    1. PG Jeremy

      I noticed that also, and I just watched that PSA video on Facebook about texting while driving ehhh!

  22. PG Joel Falconer

    The car in the picture is stopped. The image simply illustrates the fact that the freelancer can work without constraints to location and specified working hours. I wouldn’t read too much into a picture.

  23. PG Jannis Gerlinger

    Great ideas. Thank you.

  24. PG Jeremy

    I know people do the best they can but, not a big fan of how people think their situation is better when they work days their spouse works nights and they never see each other. I understand they want someone there with their kids…I have kids I understand that, but it puts too much strain on the relationship long term it’s not worth it…..today with the internet anyone can earn enough to have one of the parents stay home to watch the kids.

  25. PG Stacy Schilling

    You shouldn’t have posted a picture of someone texting while driving. In California among other states, it’s against the law to text while driving and the photo sends the wrong message. Maybe you should have used a photo of someone texting at Starbucks instead.

  26. PG g

    HEY, COOL IT … THE CLUELESS TEXTING DRIVER IS FINE… HE/SHE WILL CAUSE AN ACCIDENT NEAR OR AROUND HIM/HER AND CONTINUE ON, TEXTING AND PERPETUALLY CLUELESS.
    OMG, TOTALLY!

  27. PG Kristin

    Love the article. I hope to achieve this one day. However, gotta add my disgruntlement about the choice of photo. Really? We can multitask while not behind the wheel of a deadly pile of metal, can’t we?

  28. PG Sharon

    You could have written that article for me.

    My dad had to have his appendix out earlier this year (with complications) and I was able to take my mum through to visit nearly every day. Daughter has been ill at school and I was able to go pick her up straight away without arranging for someone to cover. I have also had a wretched cold & bad reaction to flu jab but was able to at least do some work if not my usual amount.

    Then there’s the social aspect – I can meet up with friends for lunch as hubby works evenings so don’t get out much then. I’d have no social life if I worked for a company. Plus, I can watch the forecast and if it’s a sunny weekday with rain forecast for the weekend I go for a long walk down the promenade and pick up the work at weekend.

    Downsides are no holiday pay but you can be sensible and put some money aside to cover this.

  29. PG Welsey Asbell

    Great article! I always have a difficult time getting my priorities in order. It seems there are always things I want to work on and things I don’t. The ones I don’t want to work on seem to always need to be worked on.

    Any way. Did anyone hear about the new energy drink for freelancers? It’s kinda interesting. Take a look for yourself http://www.ElanceEnergy.com.

  30. Great article, and really well written.. Really enjoyed this. It sounds like the discipline you have with your work is what leads to the flexibility you have.

    I’ve taken my work and gone to Sydney for a year (from Los Angeles), and then there are times when I don’t even get out of the house for a week. I suppose it’s all about finding balance.

    I am grateful that my work affords me as much flexibility as I want.

  31. PG Manila SEO

    Im a freelance SEO starting your own business online from scratch kind of struggle and designing your website without a knowledge in wordpress is headache. but i surpass the technical issues. Now im on a stage of marketing my website. Hoping for the best.

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