Freelancing offers unbeatable freedom in your career, but this flexibility comes with a major downside. It can be very difficult to maintain a sensible work-life balance, as boundaries become blurred and professional priorities soak up time which should be spent on relaxation and leisure.
Although there’s a natural desire to work as many hours as possible to keep income flowing, this isn’t sustainable in the long term. Without some downtime, your work will begin to suffer – not to mention your happiness, and even your mental health. How can you set about building a better equilibrium? Here are some ideas.
Create a Work Area
If you’re fortunate enough to have an actual office to work in, this is already a great start in separating your professional and personal lives. If not, it’s essential to set aside an area as a designated workspace. Even if this is just a particular chair at your dining table (not your usual one for mealtimes), defining a location for your work helps you to make the mental switch when you enter it. Crucially, try and keep this work area solely for professional use – for example, avoid using the same room as an office by day and a TV den by night.
Get Out Occasionally
This may seem like a direct contradiction of the previous point, but it’s useful to vary your work location occasionally if possible. Working from home can soon start to feel like imprisonment, with negative results for both work and leisure. Consider taking your laptop to a coffee bar or public park if this suits your line of work, but also make sure you arrange plenty of out-of-hours activities that give you a change of scene for a while.
Dress for Work
Even though today’s workplaces are increasingly relaxed, most people still make the effort to dress for work when heading out to the office in the morning. If you’re working at home as a freelancer, the temptation can be to stay comfortable in your pajamas or sweatpants, but it helps to establish boundaries if you change into something more formal. This doesn’t need to be full office wear, but few people are at their most productive in nightclothes, and changing back into casual clothing later acts as a natural marker for the end of the working day.
Segregate Your Technology
Smartphones are incredibly useful for the independent worker, allowing easy note taking, research, and communication wherever you happen to be. However, there’s a clear downside to constantly carrying your work in your pocket: it becomes impossible to fully relax. Ideally you’d have separate devices for professional and personal use, but this isn’t always cost effective.
Instead, if your device allows it, set up separate profiles for work and rest. When you’re working, you probably don’t want to see the Netflix icon on the same screen as your spreadsheet program, for example. Similarly, during your downtime, you don’t want your to-do list to be constantly in your gaze reminding you of fast-approaching deadlines.
You could also consider a smartphone that supports dual SIM cards, giving you separate numbers for work and personal use. This way, you can divert your professional calls to voicemail outside working hours.
Social and Family Boundaries
When you work from home, family and friends often assume you’re available for them at all times. You can expect demands to be placed on you which would never be made if you had a traditional job. It’s important to make it clear to everyone that work time is work time, and that anything that isn’t truly urgent should wait until after hours, just as it would if you were working outside of home.
Have a Realistic Work Schedule
Freelancing offers the flexibility to work extra hours to meet a deadline, or to organize your work around other responsibilities. However, it’s important to schedule reasonable work hours and manage your workload so that pulling a twelve-hour shift is the exception rather than the rule.
Replace Your Commute
Putting an end to the daily commute is one of the great joys of the freelance life. However, even though a long journey to the workplace is a huge inconvenience, it at least acts as a natural boundary at either end of the work day. Try and think of an equivalent that you can fit into your routine – maybe a short walk or a few stretching exercises, just to establish natural bookends to your professional hours.
Don’t Forget a Hobby
Lastly, many people become freelancers by turning a talent into a profession. Unfortunately, this often involves the destruction of a hobby at the same time. What was once a joy and a way of letting off steam is now the activity that’s paying the bills. If this applies to you, it’s essential to find a replacement, so that you have the opportunity for stimulation and diversion outside of your freelancing duties.
The freedoms a freelancing career provides are worth nothing if burnout damages your work and health. Establishing some solid boundaries will help you keep a happy work-life balance so that you can enjoy the unparalleled benefits of freelancing without it taking over your entire life.