Work/life balance tends to be one of the reasons that many of us enter into freelancing and entrepreneurship. On the outside looking in, it may seem as if there is parity between our work lives and our personal lives. Yet, by leaning in closer, we may discover that work/life balance can be equally as difficult for those of us who are self-employed as it is for those who are traditionally employed.
Because neither our home nor professional lives are always predictable, linear, logical, or fair. Deals fall through; contracts aren’t signed; and balances may be past due. Compound that with unexpected illnesses, the death of a family member, or an unexpected life event, and some freelancers find themselves in quite the conundrum, not sure how to prioritize or how to determine what has to give.
And it’s for this reason that sometimes our desire to put equal time and energy into our work life and our personal life may feel like an endless and tenuous game of tug-of-war—one of my least favorite games growing up. Besides the inevitable sore palms and aching arms, there was always the looming sense that there were never any real winners, just a bunch of sore kids with one group having earned bragging rights for the rest of the school year.
The seriousness of finding balance doesn’t relegate it to the same designation as that of a children’s game, but it does call into question why we sometimes pit two things that are equally valuable—work and life—against each other. The reality is that they can be complementary and not contending forces.
Here are a few simple strategies that you may want to consider in order to create that balance:
Set office hours
Whether you work remotely, in a co-space environment, or even in a brick-and-mortar space, you may want to consider establishing set office hours. There tends to be a misconception that freelancers are available 24/7. Although you may have great flexibility and adaptability, structure is still important to your longevity in the industry. Set office hours signal to your clients when you are available and more importantly, it frees you up to have a life outside of work.
I have written about this before and it is worth repeating it in this blog:
Saying "no" may be incredibly difficult, especially when you are first starting and you are trying to build up your clientele and/or establish your brand. The sooner you become comfortable saying no, or at least having criteria for when a request requires a "no" answer, then the better off you will be in the long haul as those requests start to multiply or they become more time-consuming. The good news is that saying "no" to one thing frees you up to say "yes" to something else.
Budget for vacation time
Just because you have started working for yourself, it doesn’t mean that you should forfeit the fringe benefits that you deserve, including a well-earned vacation. Take the time to budget in vacation time. You may not be able to take concurrent weeks off, but there is a strong possibility that the vacation time can be parceled out and spread out over the year.
Let’s be honest: Burnout is real. It is also preventable. No matter how much you love what you do or how passionate you are, you need a break. By planning ahead of time, you can let your clients know or you can avoid scheduling any projects or events during your designated time away. One of the most rewarding aspects of earmarking vacation time is that you can include your family and friends in the process of both organizing and executing your plans.
The reality is that people do quit or suspend their freelancing careers because they can’t find the sweet spot between what they may want to do and what they have to do. Just like in the game of tug-of-war, a 50/50 split may not be realistic. Yet, the interesting thing about being self-employed/freelancing is that our work/personal lives often intersect and they often overlap. The key is being clear about what work needs to looks like and what life needs to look like for you. And as much as I am speaking about this in generalized terms, your definition of balance is as unique as you are.