So at some point you took the plunge. You decided to become a freelancer, you quit your job and burned your bridges by sending an email around the office telling everyone what you really think of them (just me?). You had a vision of being a freelancer that involved long days creating kick ass pieces over a latte in a coffee shop. You would spend more time with your kids, partner, friends and generally be a more balanced person. Maybe you would finally take up Yoga or Pilates or whatever other life affirming pastime you have been dreaming of. Then you actually start working for yourself and work takes over your life. You won’t mean it to, you never intended it to, but you suddenly find yourself replying to emails at 11.30 pm and drifting off during conversations with loved ones as you think about your next marketing strategy.
It figures that you are going to much more invested in your own business than in a role working for someone else. After all if you don’t succeed it can mean going a month without a wage or struggling to meet your bills. But, and this is a big important but, if you do not create some boundaries for yourself you will go insane. You need down time, your body needs time to relax and perhaps most importantly the people around you need a little of your undivided attention.
This is all clicked for me one evening when sat on the sofa surrounded by electronic devices and pretending to watch TV with my better half while actually doing half a dozen work related task. Suddenly my normally very placid and lovely boyfriend snapped at me to ‘stop looking at a screen for 10 seconds!’. OK, so first I was angry at him, couldn’t he see I was trying to build a business, improve our lives and achieve something?! But after the steam cleared a little, I realised we had been playing out this scene most nights for the last fortnight and I had largely been ignoring my family the entire time.
In answer to the title of this post I do think it is possible to freelance and build a work-life balance but you really have to set yourself some boundaries and then stick to them. The key one for me is to set a start and close time for work related stuff. This will probably be longer than office hours so maybe eight till eight. I don’t need to be head down working hard for all of this time but this is the period in which I will answer correspondence, carry out admin tasks, research and generally actively input into my business. You may think that you just can’t wait to respond to the article request about the rise of the boyfriend jean but I promise that you can and more importantly that you should. Remember no one expects a 24 hour service from their freelancer and if they do they should be paying you a bathtub load of cash for it.
Another key skill is to learn how to prioritise. It’s really easy as a new freelancer to get so excited about any job coming in that you treat everything as a code red priority. As you start to get busier that is simply going to lead to you being burnt out really fast. Look at the urgency and timescale of every task and give it a deadline and slot of your time accordingly. Of course on occasion this will all go out of the window and ten super urgent things will come in at once. That’s ok, everyone is going to have a rush now and again but if you try to implement a decent system of organisation and prioritisation 80% of the time you will feel much more in control.
Finally, remember why you started this whole freelance adventure in the first place. What did you hope to achieve and gain? It’s a little cheesy but pin these up in your home office or workspace and reflect on them now and again. If your aim was to see more of your kids and you are actually seeing a helluva lot less of them then you need to reshuffle and re-evaluate. Freelancing can be the path to a great career and a great work-life balance but it’s really easy to get side-tracked by all of the minutiae of running your own business so tread with care.