Do you find it difficult to manage your stress levels? Is your home life taking a hit? Perhaps you’re finding less time to do what you actually enjoy and that you’re working longer hours during a typical workday.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re working for an employer or as a freelancer, you need to always make time for self-care. That means giving yourself vacation time or, at the very least, a day off to focus on your personal life or mental health.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what constitutes a great work-life balance, particularly for a freelancer, and how with five easy tips, you can actually achieve a better work-life balance.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
One of the perks of being a freelancer is the ability to work from home. You get to decide your own work hours, choose your clients, and pretty much work when and where you want.
Telecommuting, however, is also one of the biggest encroacher of your personal time. When working as a freelancer in your own home, your office is your home. This pretty much makes it impossible to leave work, and your professional life will quickly become your only life.
But what exactly is work-life balance? It’s the amount of time one spends both at work and in pursuit of personal activities such as hobbies, meeting up with friends, and family time.
It’s important to remember that work-life balance isn’t simply something for working parents — if you work, you really should try to look for some form of work-life balance.
Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?
While you may think working long hours can help with getting the job done, experts are now saying that it’s actually it’s actually counterproductive. We are, after all, only humans, and we’ll tire from overworking. Have you noticed that the best work you do is usually when you’re energized, alert, and fresh?
The problem with having a lackluster work-life balance isn’t just that the work we produce suffers, it has an impact on our health as well. Studies have linked a number of health issues that results from constant overwork, including:
- Compromised immune system, which means you fall sick more often.
- Constantly feeling tired
- Not being able to fall asleep (insomnia)
- Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
- Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
At its worst, chronic overwork will lead to burnout, and no one wants that — employer or employee.
What a Healthy Work-Life Balance Looks Like
American workers put in some of the longest hours at work compared to most industrialized countries. It’s pretty much in our DNA to be workaholics. But that has to change.
A healthy work-life balance means having just the right amount of work time and free time. It’s putting in the hours to make sure that your work-related responsibilities are performed well, but also making sure there’s time to relax, to do the things that you love and enjoy, and to spend it with people you love.
If you run a small business, this could mean creating a family-friendly work environment. This usually translates to offering flexible hours or allowing an employee to work part-time. For example, if your employee needs to drop off or pick up their kid from daycare or school during traditional work hours, allow them to do so, with the understanding that they’ll find the opportunity to put in the hours that they need to do the job that they’re doing.
While you may not think work-life balance policies are relevant to you as a freelancer, remember that you’re very much an employee in your own business as well. So make sure your employee (which could be yourself) has time for vacation, family, and fun, and that they’re not spending all their waking hours working.
How to Have Better Work-Life Balance
Sometimes, working for yourself can make it even harder to have that work-life balance. While companies and bosses may encourage you to take time off work to spend some quality time with your loved ones, being your own boss means you’re often quite strict on yourself when it comes to taking a break.
But as we’ve already mentioned, work-life balance is vital, so here are five ways to bring equilibrium to your work life and normal life:
1. Incorporate Vacation Time Into Your Rate
As a freelancer, it’s easy to worry about the fact that any time not spent working is time that you’re not earning an income. Unlike employees, freelancers often don’t enjoy benefits such as paid vacation or personal leave, making it very difficult to justify taking time out for a well-deserved break.
Many freelancers decide on an hourly rate based on how much they would like to earn in a year and how many hours they expect to be working. When you’re deciding how many hours you expect to be working, simply include the number of hours you’d expect to take time off as well.
If you’ve already worked your vacation time into your rate, you’ll find it easier to give yourself permission to take some time off work for yourself.
2. Work Fixed Hours
We don’t mean working from 9 to 5 every weekday as you would normally expect from someone working in an office. After all, one of the great joys of working freelance is that you get to decide your hours. When we say work fixed hours, we mean pre-determining the number of hours you’d like to work in a week and sticking to it.
Of course, there will be times when you’d need to be a little flexible — urgent jobs, pending deadlines, emergency situations — and it’s fine to have to work more hours some weeks. But avoid doing this regularly and if you really do work extra hours one week, try to work fewer hours the following week.
3. Put Away the Smartphone
Technically, you can address a client issue or question the second it’s asked. While it may appear to be great customer service, you’ve got to ask yourself if something is really that urgent that it can’t wait a few hours or till the next day.
Clients are often very understanding and know that you have a life outside of work. So if you do delay in answering an email — especially outside of normal office hours — most of them will realize it’s simply because you’re having some personal time.
Clients are also creatures of habit. What this means if you’re consistently replying to emails or requests at odd hours, they’ll come to expect that of you, making it all the more difficult to switch off.
So cultivate the habit of putting away your smartphone to minimize distractions, especially when it’s family time, to focus on what really matters most.
If you’re really worried what your clients may think, it may not hurt to mention to them at the start of the job that family time is as important to you as your work. You can then outline certain times in which they can call or email you, and negotiate a reasonable response time.
4. Time Management Is Key
Those who work from home can sometimes find it difficult to get motivated or find a proper routine. Yes, working for yourself and determining your own hours can mean days of sleeping in and many afternoons spent watching TV.
But then with deadlines impending, you’ll inevitably find yourself working through the night to get a job done.
Such working style is a surefire way to get stressed out — if not burned out — quickly. If this is an ongoing issue, consider seeking the help of a therapist or life coach who’s versed in treating burnout. They can help you implement practices that will help you play the long game well.
Even though you’re your own boss, you still need to manage your time wisely, and preferably, find some sort of routine. Start your day at the around the same time, with scheduled breaks throughout the day. You don’t have to stick to the schedule every day, since working freelance is all about the flexibility to do other things, but you should try to follow it as much as you can.
5. Create a Dedicated Workspace
As we mentioned at the beginning, when you work as a freelancer from your own home, your home very quickly becomes your office, making it impossible to leave work.
Solve this problem by having a dedicated workspace — somewhere that you go to for work. This could be a room in your house, a desk in a room, or even a coworking space.
This way, when you’re at work, you’re at work, and when you’re at home, you’re at home. There’s no blurring of boundaries and your productivity level may even increase with the sharpened focus.
It’s Time to Get Your Work-Life Balance Right
They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and it’s true. But getting a great work-life balance isn’t simply about self-care and giving yourself the opportunity to spend time with loved ones (both of which are very valid reasons). When you achieve that optimal work-life balance, it actually makes you a better worker overall.
So give those five tips a go and see the positive changes it brings to your life.