As a freelancer, one of the biggest challenges you face is maintaining boundaries between your work and personal life. Keeping them separate and finding time for yourself can be hard work but is vitally important to avoiding burnout, staying healthy, and maximising your productivity.
More and more people are turning to portfolio careers and freelancing work, so we’ve put together our top 7 tips on how to manage a freelance work/life balance.
- Create Working Hours (and Stick to Them)
- Block Out Your Time
- Try Out the Pomodoro Technique
- Outsource Work
- Share Out Childcare Duties
- Maintain a Social Life
- Learn to Say No
- More Useful Reading
Whether you’re working from home as a result of the pandemic or you’re self-employed, set working hours are crucial to maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Without them, how do you decide when to call it a day? When you’re at home it’s too easy to carry on working well beyond when you would if you were sat in an office.
The way to avoid this is by creating set working hours and stick to them. They don’t have to be the traditional 9 – 5, though. If you work best in the mornings, get up a couple of hours earlier and then allow yourself to finish earlier for the day. Or, do the opposite if you’re a night owl. The restriction doesn’t have to be on what hours you work, but how many. Set an alarm for the end of the day and make sure you step away then. When your home is your office, you need to have boundaries between when your working day ends and free time starts.
One of the trickiest parts of being a freelancer is always juggling a variety of assignments and clients at once. Which makes it hard to prioritise or decide which work needs to be done first. Blocking out your time is a great way to help with this. It essentially means scheduling your time to focus on one task at a time and minimise distractions. It doesn’t always mean you’ll get everything done related to that task, but for the scheduled time, you focus on one thing and don’t multi-task.
It’s a good idea to block out your week in advance, if you can. It not only reduces stress, but enables you to plan for deadlines across various projects. But don’t forget to schedule in time to carry out general admin tasks, too. You’ll still need to respond to emails and calls, search for more freelance work, and update your business social media.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s. The technique is designed so you work for short periods of time, usually of 25 minutes, broken up with breaks in between. This method tends to work by instilling a sense of urgency rather than feeling like you have the whole day, or longer, to get things done. Which just makes it much easier to put things off or get distracted by other tasks.
How to get the Most from the Technique
- Choose the task – It doesn’t matter what it is, can be big, small, or just something you’ve been meaning to get round to.
- Set a timer – Ideally for 25, or 30 minutes. Needs to be a manageable amount of time you can concentrate for.
- Work until the timer ends – Work constantly until the timer goes off. If another job or errand pops into your head during this time, quickly write it down and carry on, but don’t let it distract you in the moment.
- Take a short break – Go make a cup of tea or have little chat with someone else in your household – ideally do something that gets you away from your screen and work for a few minutes.
- Every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break – Once you’ve completed 4 cycles of this, you’ve earned yourself a longer break. Give your brain half an hour off – go for a walk, have some food, it doesn’t matter what you do, just give your brain time away from work to replenish and get ready for the next stint.
As a freelancer, outsourcing work can save you a lot of unnecessary time. There may be a particular area, like finance or marketing for example, where your knowledge is limited or you don’t have the relevant skills to complete the job efficiently. Instead of wasting time better spent elsewhere, look at outsourcing the work to another professional in that field. It’s not only much more cost-effective and time-efficient, but you get to support other freelancers like yourself, too.
Plus, in a lot of cases, outsourcing allows you to take on additional work and projects and lead to higher earnings. You’ll have the time to focus on what you do best, without compensating your work/life balance.
One of the key benefits of freelancing is not having to commit to the traditional 9 -5. You get the flexibility to choose your own working hours – a big bonus when you’re also juggling childcare duties.
A few extra hours across your week can do wonders. Whether you need the time to catch up on work, or just want to enjoy a bit of free time, both are needed for your wellbeing. Talk to other parents and try to organise sharing childcare. If a few of you could take it in turns to have the kids after school, across the week you’ll find yourself with a lot more time. See if friends and family can help out and give you an afternoon off every now and then, too. It’s also worth checking whether your children’s school offers any after-school clubs or activities you can make the most of. Finding yourself a few extra hours in the afternoon will mean you can make the most of your working hours without sacrificing personal time, or missing out on evenings with your family or partner.
Maintaining an active social life and taking time for hobbies and interests is key to achieving a work/life balance. It’s important that there are parts of your day that aren’t centred around work. Whether you enjoy cooking, going for a run, relaxing with a book, or just hanging out with friends and family, make sure you leave time for non-work activities.
Book social time with friends and family like you would a business meeting. Add it to your calendar and ensure you’re flagged as busy so you don’t revert to using that time for work instead. There’s constant research that shows just how important social connections are on both your mental and physical health, so make sure social activities stay a priority!
Freelancers may not get annual leave, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking time off. Constant work without having needed breaks leads to burnouts in the best of us. Plus, you’ll never do your best work if you’re feeling exhausted. So never feel guilty about taking time off to enjoy, and give yourself some rest and relaxation.
As a freelancer, particularly when you’re just starting out, there’s a great deal of pressure to accept every job that comes your way. Although building your business and finding new clients is key to success, you can also risk taking on too much.
Having a workload that you can’t keep on top of is not only bad for your work/life balance as you’ll end up working overtime, but it can also lead to a poorer quality of work. If you’re struggling to manage everything then you can find yourself rushing to meet deadlines and handing over something that’s not quite up to scratch. This won’t encourage clients to give you repeat business. You’ll be better off in the long-run by politely explaining to a client that at the moment you aren’t able to take on anymore work, but would love to stay in touch and be considered for future projects.
Learning to say no is a vitally important part of maintaining a work/life balance. Make sure you have time to dedicate to yourself, your loved ones, and personal hobbies and interests, too.
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