Given that many people turn to freelancing in the belief that it will deliver a better work-life balance for them, it’s ironic that one of the major challenges cited by freelancers is… achieving a good work-life balance!
If it’s something you struggle with, here are five tips to help you get your work and home life operating together in harmony.
Embrace the free in freelance
Remember that you don’t have to work 9-5 unless that’s what suits you, nor do you need to work the same hours every day, week or month.
Of course, you need to give yourself enough time to do your work and ensure you have time to spend with family and friends when they’re free, which will often be evenings and at weekends. But flexibility is what freelancing should be all about, so make sure your schedule works for you.
It may feel odd at first to go out for coffee or go for a run in the daytime, or to take a day off because a friend from afar is visiting—but providing you get your work done, you’re doing your duty.
You should also give yourself permission to take a sick day or holiday when you need to. It can be surprisingly difficult to plan and take time off when you freelance, particularly if you have regular gigs, but ensure you do.
When taking on and scheduling work, you need to be realistic about how long it will take, and any other commitments you have. You should also factor in a time cushion for unexpected events. The only way to make sure you know exactly how much time you have free when approached about a new project is to ensure that you’ve ‘pencilled-in’ existing work in either a digital or paper diary/calendar.
Don’t just note deadlines; jot down what you’ll be doing on any given day. I use a multi-column diary designed for families, but instead of family names, my 6 columns are headed up with types of commitment (home/freelancing/employment) and a.m., p.m. and evening, so I can plan what I can fit in when. This helps me ensure I don’t overcommit by forgetting that family commitment or that extra task I promised to a client that doesn’t start for another three weeks.
And when you’re planning, don’t forget…
Allow yourself time to run your business
If you pack every conceivable moment with paid work, you may find there’s no time for that other essential part of being a freelancer: running the business that is you. You will need time for admin, bookkeeping, promotion, updating social media accounts and your website, touching base with clients… the list goes on. It’s easy to forget these tasks and how long they take, but they’re important, so schedule some time every day or week to keep on top of them.
Do you want to answer work emails in the evening or at weekends? How distracting is it when that talkative friend rings when you’re right in the middle of something?
There are some clients who want you to be instantly available by phone or email and there are also some relatives and friends who don’t, with the best will in the world, get freelancing. You know who they are: those who seem to think you are always available for a chat or trip or, at the worst extreme, those who don’t see freelancing as ‘real’ work at all and are quite derogatory about it. The minute you take it out of the office and don’t have a boss telling you when and how to do it, it mysteriously stops being work in their eyes.
To avoid never getting your work done because of friend/family distractions and never getting any leisure time because of demanding clients, you need to set boundaries and expectations.
Let all parties know upfront when you’re happy to be contacted and when you’re not, setting clear expectations. And remind anyone who needs a reminder that if you weren’t doing ‘real’ work, there would be nobody willing to pay you ‘real’ money…
Have a workspace
If you can manage it, have a separate workspace—even if it’s not always the same place. If you work from home, being surrounded by the trappings of domesticity can be distracting when you’re working, while having the paperwork and tools of your trade in sight when you’re not working can make it hard to switch off and relax.
Working outside your home, particularly if you can’t carve out a separate space to work there, can be helpful. So, consider your options: a local pub, café or hotel lounge? The library? Local office space? Co-working or hot-desking spaces? Even a friend’s house, left empty while they work?
If you work outside your home for some or all of the time, you may find it much easier to bring down the barriers between work and home life. But even then, if you’re a café worker, you might find it beneficial to pick a different café from the one where you have long, relaxing lunches with family or friends. It might feel just too comfy!
Let us know about the challenges you’ve faced in trying to balance your work and home lives—and if you’ve put any of these tips into practice!