Maintaining a good work/life balance is difficult for anyone, but it’s particularly tricky when you’re a freelancer. At any one time, you’ll be juggling your projects, arranging meetings, keeping on top of admin and developing relationships with potential clients (as well as keeping your existing ones happy). There’s also the worry of finances to add into the mix, making sure that invoices are sent and paid on time, that you’re putting enough aside for the tax man, and that you’ve got enough spare on the day your laptop decides to go kaput.
The funny thing is, a lot of freelancers leave full-time employment because they want a better work/life balance. They want to escape the rules and regulations of a 9 to 5, and have the ability to dictate their own hours and spend more time with family. But self employment is demanding by nature, and it’s far too easy for life to become all work and no play.
Since many freelancers use their home as their office, it’s easy for the boundaries between work life and home life to become blurred. This makes it harder to switch off at the end of the day, especially if it’s been a stressful one. While others can leave the pressures at their desk at the end of the day, jump in the car and head on home, a freelance worker is likely to keep plugging away until all avenues are exhausted, and then lay awake worrying… because if the s**t hits the fan, you might lose out on a big chunk of income!
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. For me, the benefits of freelance life far outweigh the drawbacks. It’s taken a while to find my rhythm, but now, I can safely say that I’m managing a successful freelance career whilst remaining (relatively) sane. A lot of this is owed to a good work/life balance. Want to know more? Here are my top tips.
Get in the zone
Establishing physical work/life boundaries will make it easier to psychologically disconnect. Do this by creating a dedicated work space in your home. This could be anything from the dining room table, to your spare-bedroom-turned-office, to a converted attic, basement or garage. No matter your budget or the available space, there’ll be some sort of solution available for your designated working area. It’s tricky to stop your work from leaking into the rest of your home if you live in a small flat and tend to work from the sofa, but you can reintroduce your boundaries depending on the time. So once the clock strikes 5.30pm, it’s time to clear things away, and your living room transforms back into a place of relaxation.
Be firm but fair with yourself. Identify the tasks that need completing every day and make a conscious effort to tick off that list, but don’t forget to schedule in your breaks. When you work for someone else, you get breaks by law. You’re also likely to take five minutes here and there to make a cup of tea or catch up with colleagues. Freelancers deserve the same rest! You should also be firm with family members, partners and friends. Be clear about your working hours and don’t let them interrupt you. Some people think that freelance translates to “I’m always free!”, so you’ll happily sign for their parcels or take their dog for a walk. But you should never feel obligated to do favours just because you work for yourself. Be strict with people – they need to understand that you’ve still got a job to do.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking on more than you can physically manage. Saying yes to big projects and tight deadlines is great if you’ve got the capacity, but if not, it can be seriously damaging. Stress and burnout is all too common amongst the self-employed, and a lot of the time it’s self inflicted. Be realistic with your time management and don’t be afraid to say no or request longer timescales. You should also assess your rates to ensure you’re earning enough for the hours that you’re working; quality work for a higher price is much more beneficial that high volume at cheap rates. This means you won’t be rushing to finish things just so you can get an invoice sent, your projects will be completed to a higher standard, and you won’t be compromising your free time.
When you work from home, distractions come in droves. I’ll just switch on the TV for a few minutes. What’s going on on Instagram? I need to check Twitter too. I just can’t concentrate, maybe I’ll do the washing up. May as well clean the whole kitchen now… Unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day, and if you want to strike a good work/life balance, you need to nip those distractions in the bud. As I mentioned before, you need to be strict with yourself. If time management isn’t a strong point, try a time tracking app. You should also keep your browser clear of unnecessary tabs, and turn notifications off on your phone – you’re much less likely to visit Facebook if updates aren’t flashing up.
Your new-found flexibility is a serious perk, but it’s important to have structure in place. A proper daily routine will help with motivation and productivity, as well as making it easier to manage your time. And when you’ve got that nailed, you can enjoy a much better work/life balance. Aim to get up at a consistent time every morning, as you would if you worked for someone else. Maybe you make a coffee and get straight to work, or you go for a morning run before you crack on with emails. Perhaps you head out to a coffee shop every Monday morning to kick-start your creativity in a different environment. Wednesday could be the day for client meetings and catch-ups, and then you might take Thursday afternoons off, so you can make your favourite gym class before meeting up with friends. Whatever your routine, try to stick to it. It makes life so much easier!
Use your calendar
The best tool to help you stick to this routine is your calendar. Set your phone and computer to synch autonomously, so your calendar stays up to date with whichever device you’re using. You might also like to use a traditional calendar or diary. Whichever tools you use, you should leave time for both work and play. You can also keep an eye on Bank Holidays; when you don’t work in an office, it’s hard to keep track of these. Remember to also plan for larger chunks of time off, like a long weekend or a week away in the sun. You might overlook proper breaks because you no longer enjoy the benefits of paid holidays, but freelancers still deserve time off.