The Harpoon Blog

How Freelancers Can Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance

by Alexandra Plesa in Business Tips

When I first started freelancing full-time, more than a year ago, I had a plethora of concerns. I won’t find enough clients. I won’t be able to pay my rent. I will starve. I will miss deadlines. Clients won’t pay. Clients will write nasty things about me online. Clients will come to my house with pitchforks. OK, that last one is a stretch, but you get the idea. I had a lot of anxiety. As always, it turns out I was worrying about the wrong things. Sure, I had my fair share of bad clients, but what I struggled with most was achieving a healthy work/life balance. And the funny thing is, I still do.

For the majority of us, freelancing means working from home. We no longer have the option not to take work home with us. It’s already there. It’s always there. You can get glimpses of piled up documents and hefty to-do lists when walking from the kitchen to the couch with a large bowl of pasta in your arms. It can get stressful. You can forget to unplug. You can end up working for 14 hours straight on a project and curse the day you ever decided to quit your job and start your own business, which is neither healthy nor productive.

You know what the biggest irony is? You likely ditched that full-time job precisely to achieve a better work/life balance. However, once bills start to pile up, and clients begin to demand more and more, you can easily lose track of your majestic goal. Before you know it, you find yourself putting in more late nights than any overtime you had to endure at your 9 to 5 and spending your weekends crunched over your computer. The agony.

But work/life balance hypothetically exists, right? So how do others achieve it? I’ve gathered a few tips that might help us all. Fingers crossed.

Set Clear Boundaries Between Work and Home

Ideally, you have your very own, cozy home office. You can lock yourself in there during working hours and get things done. That’s great. I don’t. I live in a studio, so my desk is excruciatingly close to my bed. It’s hard not to merge business with pleasure under these circumstances. So if you’re like me and can’t come up with a designated working space, head to the local coffee shop or library from time to time. You’d be amazed at how much you can achieve when you’re away from home. Not only will this get you out of the house, but you’ll also eliminate common distractions like the fridge, the TV, or that dirty pile of dishes. You’re welcome.

Be Firm with Loved Ones

Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you’re not working. There are enough distractions around as it is. You don’t need your flatmate coming into your room constantly or your partner calling in the middle of the day to complain about their boss. If they do, have an honest chat with them and explain kindly how their interruptions are causing you to go insane. You love them, but they’re messing with your creativity. I’m sure they love you back, so they will hopefully get the point and act accordingly. I bet it’s even more difficult if you have kids, since they probably don’t grasp the idea of ‘working hours.’ In that case, hiring help might be your best choice.

Don’t Overload Yourself

It’s common for freelancers to take on more than they can accomplish without burning out. I’ve been guilty of this unhealthy practice as well. So learn how to properly assess your time and say ‘no’ every now and then. From personal experience, it’s better to work on a large project than on multiple smaller ones, so I usually try to take on assignments with generous deadlines. This way, I have enough time to get organized and come up with a reasonable work schedule. Oh, and always keep this in mind: done is better than perfect. As a creative, you might be tempted to excessively tweak your work. Know when to stop and send the finished project on its merry way.

Come Up with a Routine

OK, I know this is the right thing to do, but I find it really hard to stick to ‘working hours.’ Maybe because I dreaded being at work from 9 to 5 and I’m now taking maximum advantage of the flexibility that comes with being a full-time freelancer. So I learned to live with this. Sometimes I work in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes late at night. I still have a routine though – I listen to a couple Beyonce songs before sitting down, then I launch Focus Booster and get into the zone. But if you’re able to stick to a routine, please do. I miss knowing that come 5PM my work for the day is done and I can binge-watch BoJack Horseman guilt-free.

Take Time Off

I’m sure you saw this coming, and for good reason. Taking time off to unplug is a must. When you spend most of the day staring at your computer, you can forget there’s an entire world outside your window with grass and laughter and fresh air and loved ones. Remind yourself of that at least once a day. I love reading, but I switched to audiobooks to give my eyes a break. Now, grabbing my headphones and taking the dog on a long walk is my favorite way of relaxing after a few hours of work. Find a similar ritual to help you recharge. Meditate, journal, exercise, call your parents, grab a beer with some friends. You’ve earned it. Whenever possible, get out of the house. And give yourself at least one entire free day per week. You’ve totally earned it.

There you go. Take it easy. Unplug. Don’t overwork yourself. I’ll do my best to follow my own advice from now on. But I’ll also try to learn how to cope better with un-balance. Because whatever you do, there will always be hectic times that call for long hours and extra stress. And that’s OK. I’m sure no one has things all figured out. And if you do, @ me on Twitter. I’d love to learn more about your magical ways.  

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