From the AgileStyle Blog
Finding Work-Life Balance as a Small Business Owner
Work life balance is a challenge for us all. No matter what your profession, the daily stresses of the job will always threaten to overcome the rest of your life. For freelancers and small business owners, the pressure can feel even greater as your income is often much more sporadic and unreliable.
Like many other billable hour based professions, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid. Add in the many non-billable hours that have to be put in to keep your business running (not to mention commitments to your friends and family) and it is easy to get in the habit of burning the midnight oil. After a few weeks of 14 hour days you WILL burn out—and that’s bad for everyone.
While I think this is a life long challenge with no easy answers, here are some thoughts to help keep that balance:
1. Set Realistic Deadlines
If you think you can get a project done in 4 days, tell your client 6; alway add at least 20% more time than you think you will need. This sets reasonable expectations with your client so that if something comes up (and something always comes up), you have some time built in to take care of it. Don’t use the padded deadline as an opportunity to ignore the work, though! You want to deliver in 4 days. Getting things to the client ahead of schedule will make them happy.
2. Proper Email Management
Email, while an essential communication tool, is also incredibly distracting. It is really easy to get in the habit of checking it every five minutes. Unless you are waiting on something important, whatever has come in can probably wait. Strategies to help with this:
a- Try to have set times during the day when you check it. E.g. 8am, 1pm, 4pm. Spend half an our dealing with the fires, then move on to actual project work.
b- Turn off your phone email notification sound, and maybe even the email badges on your desktop/phone apps. It is hard not to check when you see your email badge count say 5 (WHAT COULD THEY BE?).
3. Tomorrow is a New Day
The world is not going to end if a project goes live tomorrow instead of today. Staying up until 2am might get it done, but the quality you produce is likely going to suffer, and you are going to feel crappy the next day, which means other work will suffer. It can become a vicious cycle!
Most deadlines are soft and the key is keeping your client up to date on your progress. They are people too, and will understand if you needed to take your kid to the doctor, or have an emergency come up with another client.
4. Create Boundaries
Don’t answer your phone or email after your regular office hours.
People check when emails have been sent and it sets a bad precedent if you send off an email at 1am. Even if you are writing an email at that time, save it as a draft and send it first thing in the morning.
Include your office hours in your voicemail and if it is after hours, don’t pick it up. Whoever it is will leave a message and you can get back to them when you are ready.
5. The Before Bed List
I am terrible for going over everything I need to do tomorrow in my head while I am trying to fall asleep. If you are doing this to yourself, you can help let it go by writing everything down in a checklist. You’ll feel better, and have even given yourself a head start when you are ready to revisit the checklist in the morning.
6. Respect Your Away-From-Work Time
Your partner, family, and friends deserve your undivided attention. Put your phone away, close your laptop, and give it to them. There is nothing that cannot wait until Monday, or the next morning, or whatever.
7. Build a Nest Egg
The financial stress of freelancing and running your own business is often very heavy and pushes us to take on more work then we can handle and put in more time then we should. Something you can do to combat over committing yourself, late payments and looming bills is spend a few months building up a little nest egg of money.
These will be lean months where you need to be very careful with your spending, but the more money you put away, the easier it is when you have that client payment that is 2 months late or your laptop bites the dust.
8. Don’t Put Off Non-Billable Hours
They suck, but they are a necessary part of running your business. If you put a bit of time into them each week/month, you will save yourself big headaches down the line. Reducing this stress helps keep other parts of work under control.
While I think it is often necessary for freelancers and small business owners to put in the extra time to be successful, and there will always be situations where these strategies don’t work, I don’t think that it must be done at all times, at all costs. There will always be those late nights and impending deadlines of doom, but in the end, what’s the point of being successful if you haven’t taken the time to enjoy it with people you care about?