Angela Larkin is a graphic designer, illustrator, and half of the husband and wife team at Extra Small Design in Phoenix, Arizona. She is also the mother of a shark-obsessed three-year-old.
I worked from home long before having my son, Owen. As a graphic designer, working remotely and freelancing were already part of my life before I became a mom, and I assumed that kids would fit pretty easily into my lifestyle. My husband is also a graphic designer, and together we run our own small company. Living the dream, right? And in many ways, I’m lucky. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy. Since my son was born, I’ve learned a lot that’s helped me become a better parent and a better business owner, and I’d love to share some tips I wish someone had told me.
You might have to pick a lane
When my husband and I started our own business, I envisioned a perfectly equal partnership in both business and our future parenting. I’m a modern woman! I’m a feminist! And then, I had a baby, and learned that it’s really tough to be 50-50. One person is usually the primary parent — the person who remembers crazy hair day at school, stays home when kids are sick, schedules swim lessons, (insert your own specifics here), etc. I was surprised to discover that I wanted it to be me — modern women’s roles be damned! And real talk: It is difficult to be a primary parent and also be a primary business owner. On a normal day, it’s fine, but add in a crisis on either side and balls get dropped.
After balls were dropped for the Nth time, and the stress and tears that followed, my husband and I realized I couldn’t be everything to the business and everything to my family, especially with a high-energy toddler. There are seasons in life, and right now this is mine. When we made the joint decision that my husband would be the “CEO of the business” and I would be the “CEO of our life,” as we call it, we stopped both trying to juggle every piece of everything. I work a few fewer hours than he does and don’t feel guilty about it, and he doesn’t feel bad about me cooking all the dinners.
Somewhere out there, I’m sure that there are capable parents who can get work done while taking care of their kids. Kudos, you amazing unicorns, you! For those of us without laser focus and total recall (and quiet, invisible children) I have a quick tip: Don’t try. Half my attention on my work and half on my kid has never resulted in great parenting or fantastic work. Once I pick him up from preschool, I’m done with work for the day. If I’m extra busy, I might tackle a task after my son goes to bed, but I don’t want clients to assume I’m working evenings or weekends (that sets a bad precedent). If I do send a late-night email, I’ll use an auto-scheduler so it sends the next morning. Unless there’s a crisis, when I’m with my kid I’m with my kid, and I plan my time knowing those hours aren’t available for work.
Embrace a Slower Pace
For me, the main reason I wanted to work for myself was to have more time for life, including, but not limited to, being a mom. But it’s really easy to dive so deep into creating your own business that at some point you look up and realize that you’re basically working a corporate job, only with longer hours. That’s not why we did this, right? Right. So, the solution for me has been to work smarter, not harder. At a corporate job, you probably only took home about 25 percent of your billable rate. Working for yourself, you keep it all, so even charging less, you have the potential to make more money working far fewer hours.
The trick here is actually working fewer hours. Make sure to schedule your projects for your slower pace: If it takes you 100 hours to do a project, it will take five to six weeks instead of the two to three that it used to. Don’t take on clients that need last-minute or quick-turnaround stuff; it’s almost never worth the stress. Plan it right, and you really can fit more LIFE into your life.
Take a Break
If you spend 100 percent of your time parenting or running your business, BURNOUT IS REAL. You’ve got to take some time to refill your own cup too.
If you can work fewer hours, it’s easier to fit in the stuff that fulfills you (not you as a parent, or you as a business owner, just you), whether it’s hiking, getting coffee with friends or baking a beautiful pie. Let me hit you with a painful truth: As a business owner, your to-do list will never be done. It just won’t. Stay with me; that’s not depressing, it’s freeing! If you try to check everything off your list before you take time for you, it will never happen. You’ve got to set a few key work goals every day (not 17!) that you can realistically accomplish.
I hadn’t been able to stick with any gym routine for years because every time I got busy, it was the first thing to go. So when I joined a new gym a year ago, I did something crazy/seemingly obvious: I scheduled it like a fixed meeting in my calendar, and I was realistic about how much time it would take out of my day. That change in my thinking helped me get consistency. I’ve been going three to four times a week for more than a year, and I feel amazing. Making time for myself a top priority instead of an afterthought has changed my life.
Those are my tips — what are yours?