Freelancing can be a liberating experience. It allows you an independence and flexibility that you simply can’t get as an employee.
But when you freelance – particularly if you work from home – it can be very hard to draw a line between work and play. The seesaw of your work/life balance can easily become tilted too far one way or the other.
If you’re struggling to down tools and make time for a home life, or you’re struggling to get started on the day’s work, then help is at hand. Here are our six tips for keeping your work and home life separate.
Lose the Lie In
If you work from home or at a coffee shop around the corner, your commute is probably a lot shorter than it was as an employee. This will allow you a little longer in bed – and that’s fine. What’s not fine is continually snoozing your alarm or allowing yourself regular lie-ins that waste huge chunks of work time. Have a time to get up and stick to it. Save the lie ins for days when you’re not working.
Get Ready for Work
Tempting though it may be to work in your pyjamas, be honest with yourself. Does this help you get into work mode and feel professional? Nobody is asking you to don a business suit every day, but getting ready for work as you would if you were an employee will help you feel Get clean. Get dressed. Get some breakfast down you. Slap on a smile and square your shoulders!
Make an Office
Some people are lucky enough to have a glamorous shed, garden office or workshop/outbuilding to work in. Others have a room or a separate area in their house that they can use as a workspace. If you don’t have any of these, try to create a workspace, even if it’s a shared area.
If it’s the dining room table, that’s fine – providing you ensure it’s clear of everything except work materials when it’s work time. Ideally, your space needs to be as distraction free as possible and have some capacity for storing whatever you need for your work nearby.
If you set up there every morning, your brain will soon connect it with work – and if it’s somewhere you can close the door on, allowing you to mentally and physically ‘leave the office’ for the day, so much the better.
Take Your Office with You
Home comes with a readymade set of distractions. Unless you do have an allocated space that you can shut off from the rest of the house, there are visual distractions: home comforts, chores that need doing, that Blu-ray you’ve not got around to watching.
Even if you do have a space you can shut off, you may not be able to entirely forget you’re at home. You’ll be subconsciously aware that the dishwasher needs emptying and the lawn could do with a mow.
That’s why it can be good, even if only now and then, to take your work elsewhere. I know someone who uses a spare room in their friend’s house every afternoon while the friend is at work. Some people find meeting up with other freelancers can actually help them focus and get the work done, because they’re accountable; if they’re slacking, there’s someone else to notice!
Coffee shops, cafes, libraries, pubs, co-working spaces, offices or even budget hotel rooms – they’re all worth considering as workspaces.
Have Your Own Office Hours
Before you protest that you didn’t become a freelancer to stick to office hours, I’ll emphasise the ‘your own’ part of that tip.
We all know flexibility is one of the great perks of freelancing. The number of hours you put in and when you choose to work them are up to you. Your work can fit around a penchant for three-day race weekends, Tuesday morning yoga classes and family commitments. You also have the flexibility to adapt to unexpected events that demand your attention.
However, setting yourself office hours that you stick to on standard, non-eventful weeks is essential. You’re giving yourself permission to ignore domestic distractions in work time (just as you would have to if you were employed and elsewhere) – and permission to say, at a time you specify: “Work is over. I’m done for the day!”
Make Your Own Office Rules
Freelancing is still work and you still have a boss. If that sentence started off sounding obvious and ended up sounding crazy, let me explain.
Freelancing is not the easy option; it’s just a different option. You still need to hit deadlines, communicate effectively with other people, work to a satisfactory standard and get enough work done to earn a living. It’s still work.
If you’re considering freelancing or new to it, you may be thinking yes, but there’s nobody to tell me what to do, where to work or when I can take a coffee break. Wrong. We all need a boss to keep us in line and as a freelancer, you do have a boss: YOU. Your health and wellbeing at work, and your work schedule and productivity, are now down to you. So, boss-you needs to make some office rules.
You won’t get any effective work done if your desk is a tip or you’re constantly distracted by social media or your phone. If you’re likely to get a Skype call or similar, you will have to look presentable. If your lunchbreak goes on for three hours or you allow yourself six coffee breaks a day, you won’t be as productive as you could and should be.
Be firm with yourself. Work when you should be working, but equally, remember that breaks are essential for your physical and mental health (and that research suggest prolonged sitting is as dangerous as smoking).
Your work/life balance is solely your responsibility when you’re a freelancer. By giving your working week some structure, you’ll not only make the most of your work time, but also make it easier to step away from work when you’re done.