No matter your job, I think all of us have struggled with finding a good work/life balance at some point. Several years ago, when I worked at a university in a more traditional day job setting, I sometimes felt like I would bring work problems home with me. Unsurprising that when you own your own business, this balance gets even tougher (especially when your office is in your home).
Today, as part of The B Bar’s April link-up on the topic of work/life balance, I thought I’d share a few tips and lessons I’ve learned over the last 3+ years of running my design studio. They are:
· End the work day, every day · Limit phone use at the table ·
· Learn to communicate clearly · “I’m booked that week.”
Some of these might be a little more relevant for fellow freelancers, but I certainly could’ve used a couple of ’em early on in my career. Read on to see my stories about each lesson, and be sure to check out the end of this post for links to lots of other blog, all of who are sharing their thoughts and ideas on this topic, too!
End the work day, every day.
Step one to finding work/life balance: if you want to have a life, you have to end your work day at some point. When I first started working for myself, this was a tough lesson to learn. There was always something more to do, and it felt like if I didn’t tackle it right then and there, it’d pile up and I’d be drowning in work the next day. But the thing is, there will always be more to do. So you might as well take a break!
Not having a finite end point also drove my husband crazy. He would never know when I would be “off the clock” and when we would be coming together to have dinner and hang out, or (most important) when I could give him my full attention. And I get it. Can you imagine how annoying it must’ve been to ask, “What time should I make this dinner reservation?” and I was all, “Huh? What? Oh. I don’t know. But I really want to go at some point tonight!” Yeah, instituting an end-of-work-day time range was crucial for both our sanities. For me, it’s usually between 6 and 6:30. If I’m going to be late, I always let him know (see below re: managing expectations!). The point is, post-6:30 is considered time for me, and my family/friends. I know I can shut my mind off of work, go enjoy dinner, workout, watch a show, meet up with friends, and just live. Bonus points if I schedule a get together with someone at 5 or 5:30 for a happy hour, and can end the day even earlier. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually don’t enjoy staying at my desk past 6:30 — I feel like I’m stuck at the office!
All that being said, I will admit that I do check in with email at the end of the day, before bed. But, I’ve learned to not respond to any messages. Instead, it’s a way to make sure there are no crazy emergencies (I mean, how often are there really?), so that when I wake up in the morning, I can hit the ground running if anything needs immediate attention. I like knowing where things stand before I get in bed; however, I recognize that for many people, it might be stressful to look at their Inbox before trying to sleep. Being able to read the emails but shelve them mentally until morning is a skill I’ve had to develop!
Bottom Line: Pick a time you want to be out of the office every day, and stick with it. Anything after that time is for the “life” part in the work/life balance equation.
Limit phone use at the table
This is not only a work/life balance thing, but also a general rule so that you’ll enjoy the life part even more. And yeah, okay, perhaps it’s a pet peeve of mine. But is there anything so awkward and annoying as when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone, and it’s obvious they’re not listening to you as they scroll through their phone? I hate when people do this to me, so I try hard not to do it to others (and if I’ve done it to you, I sincerely apologize. It’s the worst!). This is another obvious thing about work/life balance: how do you expect to enjoy the “life” part, if in the moment, you’re still glued to your phone? To limit temptation, I usually avoid keeping my phone on the table/bar while out with others (Exceptions: if you’re waiting for a member of the group to arrive and need your phone out to hear a text/call from them, OR if it’s the type of night out where everyone is taking pictures and videos to document a fun event).
If I absolutely have to take a photograph of something, I sometimes try and wait for lulls in the conversation (like if someone runs to the restroom or gets a phone call), or sometimes, I’ll ask the people I’m with if they mind if I take a picture (though, I’ve found this works better with other social media addicts versus friends who aren’t as into it). If there’s something work related that I have to respond to over email, I’ll try and communicate what it is I’m doing (i.e., “I’m really sorry, I have to reply to this client’s response since their site just launched.”). But the thing is, I always feel extremely lame having to explain why what I’m doing is more important than the person sitting in front of me. So I try to not even take the phone out of my bag. Or, better yet, I’ll often leave my phone at home or in the glove box of the car. If something is so beautiful that I want to photograph it and potentially share it later, I’ll take the image on Joe’s phone, then send it to myself. No temptation to look at my own email, apps, and social media that way!
Bottom line: everyone checks a text/email or snaps a pic while out with people every now and again. Just don’t make it so habitual and disruptive that you can’t even enjoy the people you’re with! It’s the surest way to miss out on real life.
Learn to communicate clearly (and manage expectations)
I think this is a very important skill, no matter your career, and is also completely transferrable to relationships of any kind. If you communicate clearly and regularly with people, you can manage expectations. Managed expectations means people a) feel like they’re on the same page as you and not left in the dark, and b) probably won’t spend extra time hounding you for answers, which inevitably stresses you out more. So whenever possible, communicate and let people know what’s going on. In my own work, communicating when people can expect things from me also allows me to better manage my own schedule, and because of that, my work/life balance. If I know something is due to a client on X day, I can build my calendar around that deadline (for example, I wouldn’t schedule any daytime meetings on a day when I have a bunch of deliverables due). It’s true in reverse, too — I try not to set deadlines that are too short, if I know I’m going to make myself crazy trying to meet them (and end up working late, or stressed out, etc). It’s the whole under promise/over deliver thing. If I’m ever going to be late on a deadline, I let a client know right away — and also let them know what they can expect next.
To communicate with clients, I use a free app called Trello. Lisa actually introduced it to me, and it’s how I manage all my client projects. I love it because I can drop little notes/cards to a client letting them know the status of various items (like a round of revisions, say, or an initial logo). They can respond/comment within the card, which keeps things streamlined for everyone. I also create checklists within Trello, and clients can see as I cross things off. It’s very useful, and bonus: it keeps all those long email threads out of my Inbox.
Bottom line: Communicating with people in your life and managing their expectations — whether it’s for a due date or a dinner date — can help you feel more organized and in control of both your work life and your personal life.
“That week is booked for me.”
This is something I learned to do in New York. If you ever hear me say this, the odds that I have something booked every morning, lunch, and dinner hour during the week is pretty much 0%. However, I adopted a policy that once I had booked 1 or 2 dinners, and 1 or 2 day time meetings in a single week, that week is considered “full” for me. If I didn’t do this, I would seriously never get anything done at work, OR have time to myself. You have to build in that bit of buffer in order to keep good work/life balance, so don’t feel guilty telling people you can’t do something when you don’t actually have anything on the calendar. If you’d already mentally dedicated an evening to yourself (whether that means working out, running errands, reading a book, or catching up on your DVR with a glass of wine), do it — you’re “booked” to everyone else.
I used to get anxious telling people I couldn’t get together with them or go to their event when I knew I had nothing on my calendar. For some reason, it felt like I had to have a legit excuse. Then I realized, you don’t need to tell anyone what you’re doing with your time if you don’t want to. A simple, “Thanks for the invite, but I can’t make it that evening!” pretty much always suffices. In my experience, it’s extraordinarily rare (and would be very telling) to have someone respond with, “Well, what are you doing that night that you can’t come?” Right??
Bottom line: Don’t feel bad about saying no to things if it means you’re going to take time for yourself to rest, rejuvenate, and do the things you love!
Perhaps my four tips are a bit obvious, but for me, having the discipline to regularly see them through allows me to really separate work and life. They’re simple lessons, but ones that have been very effective for me; when I contrast my work/life balance now versus when I first started out on my own, I’m happy to say it’s a lot more in check! What are the ways you manage your work/life balance? I’d love to hear about them.
And, in the spirit of work/life balance discussions, I wrote a little bit more about managing email and social media use over on The Well last week — we’re doing a whole theme month around balance. Additionally, if you’d like to read some other essays about work/life balance as well as tons of insightful tips, be sure to check out these blogs:
The B Bar
26 and Not Counting
Soak and Simmer
The Not Quite Adult
Alyssa J Freitas
With Love From Ellie
Cake & Lilies
Feathers and Stripes
White Oak Creative
Perfect Enough for Us
Random Little Faves
Jacque Of All Trades
Girl for Granted
The Yuppie Files
Something Good Blog
Emilie Lima Burke
Fit for a Bride Blog
A Little Leopard
Corals + Cognacs
Little Wild Heart
Boys and Bombshell