3 work-life balance strategies for freelancers

by Rheanna Chou
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Work-life balance is elusive even for those of us who work outside of the home. When you work in your home, it can become even harder to achieve. I know I struggle with this from time to time.

When you work from home, you aren’t physically separated from your office when your end-of-day comes. It’s so easy to just pop back over to your desk and turn on your computer. Case in point — I’m writing this on a Saturday, a day not usually reserved for writing for my blog. But here I am! And sometimes, that just needs to happen. When you’re building your own business, you learn to do things when the opportunity arises, and before some other thing demands your attention.

But if it starts to get out of hand, and you’re feeling like you’re always working — always on — it may be time to take a step back and find a better balance. Here are three tactics I employ to keep my game on point.

1. Schedule it

Work-life balance often comes down to time management. And the most obvious “fix” for keeping your time well-managed is to schedule everything you need to do. We’re not here to reinvent the wheel — if it works, use it! And I’m not just talking about scheduling important appointments (crucial as that is) — I’m talking about scheduling everything. And I mean everything. Here are a few things I find helpful to have on my calendar:

  • Writing.
  • Client projects.
  • Workouts.
  • Client meetings.
  • Blog posts.
  • Client follow-up.
  • Doctor’s appointments.
  • Kid’s extra-curricular activities.
  • Trips/vacations.
  • Plans with friends.

Notice my list includes work and pleasure activities. My schedule tends to be very flexible, with work and personal activities sprinkled throughout the day. This is one of the things I love most about working for myself, but it necessitates a well-kept calendar.

This kind of hodge-podge calendar works for me because it accomplishes two things. First, because everything — personal and business — is kept in once place, it prevents scheduling conflicts. I neatly avoid agreeing to deadlines that conflict with my kids’ baseball games or ballet performances.

Second, because I’m scheduling my personal activities along with my professional ones, I’m assigning importance to both. If it’s on my schedule, I’m more likely to make it to a girls’ night out I desperately need after a long week. I’m also less likely to take on more work than I can realistically handle.

2. Separate it

I know I just told you to combine everything, but hear me out. What I’m saying here is that when you’re working, work. And when you’re not working, live. (As much as possible, because we all know things happen.) It’s called work-life balance for a reason.

But I don’t know how many times I’ve been out with somebody who answered a work-related phone call or email during dinner or drinks. While I want to be understanding, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. Here’s why:

It’s rude and inconsiderate of the people around you. Everybody’s time is important, not just yours. Don’t place a premium on your time and then cheapen the time you’re supposed to be spending with the people you love.

Pro tip: It’s OK to let the person calling or emailing you know that you’re in the middle of something. Let them know (politely) that you will get back to them. Tell them when they can expect to hear back from you and then get back to what you were doing.

You miss out on the moment. While you’re busy conducting business, your friends and family have likely learned to simply continue without you. Which means by the time you get back to the table, game, etc., you’ve missed out on the banter or an important play in your kid’s game. You can’t get that back, no matter how much others might be willing to offer their commentary. And while it may seem like there will be ‘another’ and you can catch it next time, at some point, there won’t be. Be present.

Your attention is now divided. When this happens, no one is getting your full focus, and whatever you were doing will suffer. You might lose the thread of conversation with your friends, or you might give poor advice to your client in a hurry to return to what you were doing. It’s sloppy, if nothing else.

There are many more reasons I try to avoid mixing work and pleasure, and I’ve focused mainly on the ways your personal life suffers as a result, but this works both ways. When you interrupt work for personal interludes, your work suffers also. Just don’t.

3. Listen

To your body and to the people around you. If you’re constantly exhausted because you feel like you’re always “on”, it might be time for an adjustment to your work-life balance. For example, one of my kids said something the other day that caught my attention. He asked me when I was going to be done working so that I could play hide and seek with him and his sister.

My son rarely asks me about the time I spend working, so I took this as an indication that he felt he wasn’t getting as much of my time as he thought he needed. He’s 7, and not a needy kid. If he thinks he needs more of my time, he probably does. So I gave it to him. I finished what I was doing and then I took a break from my computer.

Often, when your work-life balance is out of whack, the people around you will notice and say something. Your spouse, your kids, or your friends will comment on your crazy schedule. Or maybe a client will comment on your quality of work, or that you’ve been distracted.

When this happens, learn to listen and evaluate with an open mind. And then formulate a plan to fix the problem. It may be that you need a break. Or maybe you need to re-evaluate your workload. I had an uncharacteristically busy week with more projects from one of my clients than was typical. I still met my deadlines, but rather than powering through them all at once, I broke them up, so they didn’t interfere with my family time.

Getting your act together

Striking a balance between the time you spend on your business and the time you spend on your personal life can get crazy. The three things I’ve outlined in this post are deceptively simple, but I’ve found that the simplest solution is usually the most effective.

Use your calendar to keep your schedule organized; separate your time working from your time playing; and pay attention to what’s going on around you and how your business affects your life. Build these strategies into your life and you’ll find that your role as a small business owner becomes easier — and that you’re happier as a result.

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