You know work/life balance? That thing that hypothetically exists...somewhere?
Last week, we talked to three expert freelancers about how to run a business, have a family, and manage your life without losing it.
They’ve been through it all before. Here are their top 5 tips, from the trenches:
1. Make time for adventures
Even if you’re doing work that you enjoy, you’ve got to make time for doing crazy stuff. If you don’t try things outside of your comfort zone, your skills can stagnate.
“I try to identify and do activities that are just for myself, purely for fun - that take my mind away from everything else,” Tiffany Estes, owner of Whole Brain Creative, told us. You never know when your side gig could influence your “main” gig – even if it’s just by expanding your horizons or making you a happier person.
2. If you can swing it, try to outsource the things you don't enjoy.
As a freelancer, you’ve already gotten rid of annoying things like staff meetings and bosses. But there’s a lot of paperwork, taxes, accounting difficulties, marketing, and a thousand other things that aren’t as glamorous.
This is what outsourcing is for.
“Outsource things that are not-so-fun, or tedious. There are a lot of great resources out there,” Mark Powers, owner of PowersPercussion, says.
Try TaskRabbit for tasks that a personal assistant can take care of (without hiring a part-time personal assistant), or use sites like oDesk or Elance for virtual work. You’ll never have to do your own accounts again.
3. Beat the isolation of freelancing by volunteering
Freelancing can be a bit lonely. Even if you’re working as a full-time freelancer at a company, people might act like you’re “different” and not part of their tribe. And if you work at home, it can be an effort to make sure your cat/fish/plant isn’t the only person you talk to today.
How did Tiffany combat freelance solitude? “I started doing a lot of volunteer work. That allowed me to meet people who became friends, clients, and business contacts.”
Volunteering in your community a) gets you out of your house, b) makes your community a better place, and c) lets you meet new people and learn new things. Visit VolunteerMatch to find a volunteering opportunity that suits you.
4. Create success on your own terms
One of the biggest obstacles to work/life balance is in your head. Yes, it’s the belief that you should be doing this or that: should be working more on this project on the weekends, should be going to your friend’s social event even though you’re slammed, should be making $X salary because your friends do.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself, establish your own set of values, and don’t measure them against anyone else’s.
“I’m the crazy-busy mother of three young kids – which is why I decided to create success on my own terms,” life coach Erin Cox told us. “When I was working for a large corporation and moving up the typical corporate ladder, they wanted me on their schedule. The same definitions of success that applied in corporation land do not apply in freelancer/mother land. “Now that I work for myself…life is wonderful.”
And remember, there’s no such thing as the perfect work/life balance for everybody. “Balance is something you have to define for yourself. You’ve got to be diligent about protecting it. For me, it’s about making time to have face-to-face interaction with other people; I think it’s important to figure out what your ‘happy place’, is in terms of balance.”
5. That said, be OK with un-balance
You’re not going to have a perfectly balanced life all the time. Not even our freelance “experts” do. As Mark says, “Things get out of balance sometimes – it’s a natural pattern.” The important thing is knowing how to cope with un-balance and get back on track – and, of course, not giving yourself the added stress of thinking you should be balanced all the time or that other people have it all figured out!
Relaxing and setting reasonable expectations will work better in the long-run than exact schedules and hyper-defensiveness around your personal time.