How’s your work-life balance? Are you working long hours, skipping meals and losing sleep because you’re working so hard?
Many people start their own business because the lifestyle appeals to them. They can leave the grind of the 9-5 and take control of their own schedule. They can work shorter hours, hang out with friends and family more, and jet off on holiday anytime.
Only, things don’t always turn out that way. Running a business takes lots of time. And lots of hard work.
You can give up working 40 hours a week as an employee to end up working 60+ hours a week for your own business. According to The Telegraph, 27% of self-employed people are working longer hours than when they were employed.
Plus, 36% regularly skip meals because they’re too busy hustling, and 41% regularly lose sleep because of money worries.
That freelance life sure is appealing right now, isn’t it?!
While I’m not one of those skipping meals (like food too much!), self-care is one of the first things to go when I’m overly busy or stressed, ie, just when I need self-care the most. And I’m not immune to the occasional moment of fretting about money.
But mostly my problem is that I have rubbish work-life balance. Over the years I have turned into an all-work-no-play kind of gal. For me, work-life balance is as mythical as a unicorn and as mystifying as a sphinx.
So my goal for 2019 is to fix that. I’m going to capture that unicorn and stop working so damn hard all the time.
Want to join me? Read on for a behind the scenes look at the ways I’ll be making changes to my business, plus plenty more ideas you can nab to make your own changes.
Side note: I’m aware that so far I’ve sounded pretty negative about self-employment. But I really love it. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything and I have no intentions of ever becoming a pixel-monkey for someone else again. That’s actually part of the problem. If I didn’t love my business, it might be easier to switch off from it once in a while!
How to get control of your freelance work-life balance
This is what I’m focusing on right now to gain some work-life balance, and stay tuned as at the end I’ll be sharing some other tips you can try:
Any links marked with an asterisk (*) are affiliate links, which means if you buy through them I might get a small commission (that will probably be spent on pretty fonts). This is at no extra cost to you and I only share products and services that I use and love.
Set your priorities
The first step is to know why you want to change your work-life balance. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids, or actually start a family. Maybe you’d like to take up a new hobby or travel more.
I have no kids and while I would like some one day, I’m not going to be popping out a sprog any time soon. The main reason I want to make a change is because I’m tired. All. The. Time.
Years of sitting hunched over a computer have left me overweight and unfit, hermit-like, and with one arm full of RSI. Ouch. Oh, and I technically work in a cupboard. It’s a big cupboard, but a cupboard nonetheless. There’s no window so often I barely see daylight, except at the weekend.
So the biggest thing I want to change is my health. I need to get out from behind the computer and out into the daylight everyday. I need, and want, to exercise regularly. And I need to create some time and energy to do that.
Your action plan: Why do you want to change your work-life balance? Write it down and display it in your work space. When you write goals like this down, you have it as a visible reminder of what you’re working towards and make a commitment to achieve it.
Get your schedule sorted
If you know anything about how I work, you’ll know that I like working a 9-5 schedule. I like the routine: there’s no problem getting motivated to work and I don’t get distracted by daytime tv. (Why do people think freelancers are gonna get sucked into watching daytime tv? It’s rubbish!) I know when I’m ‘at work’ and when I’m not. As do my clients. They know that they can send me an email at 11pm if they want to, but it’ll be after 9am the next day before I get back to them.
For the most part, that works out fine. When it comes to my client work that is. I will rarely be working after hours building a website or designing a logo for a client.
But I often find myself working on my own business outside my normal working hours. It just bleeds over so that I’ll spend an evening writing a blog post, or a Sunday morning doing a photoshoot for my other business. My lunch breaks have shrunk from 1 hour to 30-45 minutes most days. And coffee breaks tend to look less like a break, and more like me forgetting to drink the coffee I’ve made whilst I answer emails.
It’s also tough balancing two businesses. Theoretically, I spend at least an entire afternoon each week working on my other business. Last year, every Friday afternoon was reserved for working on Fox + Finch. But time and again that didn’t happen. Something earlier in the week would derail things and I’d have to postpone working on F+F and give Friday over to client work.
A lot of that is outwith my control though. Life happens. Shit happens. To me and my clients. But time and again clients have been late with deadlines, which has affected my schedule, and I’ve just let it slide. So not only do I need to be stricter with myself, I need to be better about enforcing my boundaries and schedules with my clients.
So, a better schedule is needed if I am to claw back my evenings and weekends and take actual, proper breaks.
I use Google Calendar to set my schedule; I can access it on all my devices and it integrates with both Asana (for project management) and Acuity* (where my clients book meetings with me).
Appointments, both personal and business, go in there. I block off time for each client project so I know at a glance how full my schedule is. And I also block off time for things like marketing and admin. But I need to go further. There are a few changes needed, like:
- Fox + Finch time will move from Friday afternoon to earlier in the week. That way, if something happens I can move it to later in the week rather than cancelling it altogether.
- Breaks need to go into the calendar. I’m not sure if this will work, but if it’s written down in my schedule that I have a full hour for lunch, I might just take it!
- Things like writing blog posts need to happen during working hours, so that’s in the calendar too.
- Exercise is a must-add to my calendar. If it’s written down and Google is giving me reminders, it’s much more likely to happen.
I also need to adjust my some of my policies too, like:
- Be firmer in enforcing schedules and deadlines with clients. Like rescheduling fees when a client doesn’t deliver their website content on time, or disappears for a while and leaves me with a hole in my schedule (and therefore, my budget).
Your action plan: Set up a schedule for your work. Plan out your ideal week and block off time for everything you want to work on. Or, if you already have that, audit it. What’s working for you and what needs to be changed? Make those changes in your calendar so you can see what your new, improved work week looks like.
You might also like: 6 tools to help you organise your business
Create extra time
Easier said than done, right? But if I’m going to have time for exercise and y’know having a life outside work, then I need to make it. Note that it’s make time, not find time. That’s a subtle difference, but your mindset shifts when you switch from find to make.
It’s too easy to put things off, saying “I can never find time for that”. It’s like the universe is in control, making your schedule too full for the things you want. But change that to “making time” for something and that puts you firmly in the driving seat. You’re in control of your schedule and you can decide that the things you’d like to happen will happen.
Again, this can involve changes to your schedule, like having shorter or fewer meetings. It could also mean giving up certain things.
Like social media. I don’t mean deleting all your profiles and going offline. But maybe watch a few less cute animal videos.
Or if your Facebook page isn’t bringing you any clients, why spend time on it? Maybe you’ve been spending ages blogging, and creating a short video post would be quicker than writing. Find small ways to save time and you can use it towards the thing you’d rather be doing.
For me that includes:
- Reducing meetings times. I used to offer 50 minute project consultations and my clients could book 15 minute project update calls. I’ve reduced those to 45 and 10 minutes respectively, which can save me up to 30 minutes a week. That’s one workout already!
- Less social media time. I’ve abandoned my G+ page (I only had it for SEO purposes anyway and just posted my new blog posts there). I’ve reduced how frequently I post on both Facebook and Twitter, and I’m going to stop pretending to have (and worrying about) an active LinkedIn profile, when all I really do there is promote my latest blog posts.
- Fewer blog posts. I’ve experimented with guest posts and outsourcing a few posts to a ghostwriter and both worked out quite well so that’s going to become part of my blogging strategy. That means I can spend less time writing blog posts.
It could also involve setting up systems and processes to streamline parts of your business. Things like quoting and onboarding clients. This is something I implemented a few years ago, and I review my processes regularly to see if there are tweaks I can make to improve them and save even more time. It’s too much to go into right now, so look out for a whole post dedicated to that sometime soon.
Your action plan: Track your time for a whole week. Track everything you do so you can see where you really spend your time and look for ways you can save time by cutting down on certain things, or stopping them altogether.
Be less of a perfectionist
Oh, this is a tough one. I want everything I do to be 1000% perfect. But I am only human. Sometimes I make mistakes. I made (what I thought was) a real doozy with my email newsletter recently. I was mortified, but actually, no one cared and the sky didn’t fall in. Lesson: stop worrying so much, it’s ok to be human.
I’ve realised that I spend way too much time tinkering with designs, getting them to as near perfect as possible. Usually this involves tiny little tweaks that only I will ever notice, like moving something to the left by 1 pixel. My clients won’t notice. And their customers don’t care. This kind of tinkering usually means I’m doing more work than I’m charging for too. Naughty, naughty.
So I need to reign myself in. I’m not going to start doing sloppy work (*shudder*), but I don’t need to hold myself to such silly high standards. I have to find the sweet spot where I’m just enough of a perfectionist. So that I’m not tweaking and re-tweaking things that don’t matter and focusing on the stuff that does matter. But keeping one eye firmly on project budgets too, so I’m not doing extra, free, work.
Your action plan: Sorry, I don’t really have one for this. I suspect this is what I’ll struggle with the most, and the best way for me to work through it might not be what works for you.
It’s common advice that if you want to work less, you need to charge more. So that’s on the plan too.
I’ve been reviewing my current services and packages and finding that I’m doing more work than I’m charging for often enough that they need to change. I’m planning quite a major overhaul that will see me earning a fairer amount for all the work I’m doing, while also providing more value to my clients – woohoo! The details are all top-secret for now but all will be revealed in time 😉
Your action plan: Review your current prices. Are you charging enough and making a profit? If not, it’s time to put them up!
Get a hobby
I realised a few months ago that I have no hobbies. Not a one.
I read every day but that doesn’t count. To me, reading is an essential part of my day, as essential as brushing my teeth or sleeping!
I like to cook, but that’s so I have nice food to eat. I’m not into McDonalds or Pot Noodles; I want real food that tastes good, so I don’t see cooking as a hobby either.
So I need a new one. Studies have shown that having a hobby can increase your creativity, productivity and generally make you happier. Sounds good to me.
Trouble is, the last time I started a new hobby, I found a way to turn it into work! I took up linocut printmaking, which very quickly got absorbed into my other business. So it must be something completely unrelated to design, art or crafty things.
At the moment, my best idea is to take up the guitar again. I used to play but haven’t touched it in years. That seems like a good option as there’s no way I’ll be adding music to my list of services! If you have any other suggestions, I’m open to them. Just, please, nothing involving heights!
Your action plan: Spend time on a hobby completely unrelated to your work. The time you spend on that gives your business self a break and can leave you feeling refreshed.
Need more ideas?
Those are the main things on my list, but what needs to be on my action plan might not work for you. So here are even more ideas to help you find some work-life balance:
Take email off your phone
A few years ago I disconnected my work email from my phone just before the Christmas holidays. I decided the temptation to check ‘just in case’ was too much but if the only way to check my email was to get up and turn on the computer, I’d probably manage to resist. And I did.
I never reconnected my email, so still the only way for me to access my work emails are to be in front of the computer. And since that gets turned off once I’m done working for the day, I’m not replying to work emails during the evenings or weekends. It’s great, and I can’t think of a single time that a client has complained about it.
Have a digital-detox
The other week I had an unintentional digital-detox. I forgot to turn on my mobile (not a big deal since it was Sunday) and I never got around to turning on the wifi, so there was no internet either. And that meant the only gadget I was in front of the entire day was a bit of tv in the evening.
It felt great so I’m going to make it regular thing and I’d urge you to give it a go. Step away from the gadgets and there’s no ping or beep as you get a new email. Or a new Facebook message. Or a like or a retweet. Nothing to distract you or interrupt your day.
Take regular holidays
Remember that nice new schedule you set up in Google Calendar earlier? One thing I didn’t tell you to add was holidays. But you should. It’s vital to take time off work, whether it’s a week in the sun, or an occasional long weekend.
My Christmas 2019 break is already in there, as is my summer holiday (just booked that, so straight away I added it to my calendar). Then there’s a day off for my birthday, ‘cos who wants to work on their birthday, when you could be eating cake and drinking wine?
One thing I don’t always get right are bank holidays and local holidays. Many times over the years I’ve either forgotten about them, or just decided to ignore them. Which means I’ve found myself working when most people aren’t. While that makes my inbox nice and quiet, it does make me think I’m being a bit daft by not taking the day off.
So those are now marked in my calendar too, as actual days off, not just reminders that they’re happening. Find out when your local holidays are and make sure you put them in your calendar. Block off the day and you might just remember to down tools and take some time off!
Set up passive income streams
You want to work less but not earn less, so passive income is a great way to supplement your income. You could try creating products and resources to sell. I have a few, including my eBook, that bring in regular small amounts of cash. Or if you have an active blog and social media profiles, why not try affiliate marketing.
Note that not all passive income streams are truly passive though. Some need a fair bit of time to set up, like creating an eBook, but then once you’ve published most of the work is done. Apart from a regular bit of promotion, you can sit back and let the sales come in.
You might also like: 10 ways to generate passive income
Outsource some of your work
I couldn’t get through the whole post without mentioning outsourcing. It’s one of the most obvious and effective ways to work less. You can hire someone to do the bits of your business that you hate or aren’t good at, while you focus on the bits you do best.
But it’s not for everyone. Us perfectionists find it really hard to give up control. Logic tells me I that if I don’t want to outsource any of the design work, then some of the admin should be done by someone else, like maybe my bookkeeping. But I like updating my books. Ok, maybe like is too strong a word, but I like that by doing it myself, I know exactly what’s going on with my finances on any given day. See? It’s tricky.
It’s definitely worth a try though. By experimenting I found that I’m happy to outsource some of my blog posts. I’ve been using a copywriter for years for the main pages of my website, so getting her to help with my blog was the natural next step, and it’s been great so far. Even if she writes just one post a month for me, that’s time saved for me to use elsewhere. Yay!
So try outsourcing different parts of your business to see which, if any, work for you.
Over to you
I’d love to hear what you’re going to change, and why you’re doing it. So why not share your goal in the comments and let’s support each other on our way to nailing that whole freelance work-life balance thing 🙂
Never miss a post
Enter your details to get my latest content by email, including exclusive tips and offers, just for subscribers.