If you think being your own boss means being able to sleep in til noon and screw off whenever you feel like it, think again.
While working for yourself does give you the freedom to make your own hours and set your own deadlines, in order to run a successful business, you can’t let yourself adopt an “all play and little work” attitude. (At least not until your biz has become so large you can afford to automate it and let the money roll in. At which point, have at it!)
In fact, many self-employed workers, especially when they’re first starting out, often find it’s quite the opposite—they put in long hours, work on weekends, and often spend more time hustling than they did when they were working for someone else. Having no set schedule to follow, combined with the pressure of growing and maintaining a business, can result in some long hours, to the point where you begin to wonder why you even decided to do this in the first place.
It will take some adjusting to get used to being your own boss, but the good news is that it is possible to run a business and have a happy, fulfilling life at the same time. All it takes is a little thought and a lot of discipline. Start off with these strategies:
One of the reasons people go into business for themselves is so that they can negotiate a better work-life balance than a traditional 9-to-5 affords them. When you’re your own boss, you can pick your children up from school in the middle of a project, take a workout break mid-morning, or attend a conference call in your pajamas while leisurely sipping your morning coffee.
But when the “work” and “personal” spheres of your life bleed into each other too much, it can feel like you never have a chance to unplug. In order to keep your sanity intact (and yourself from crashing and burning), it’s best to set up some clear boundaries for when “work” occurs and when it doesn’t.
For me, this means stopping all client work at 5:00 pm every weekday and refusing to look at my business email on the weekends unless there’s a special exception (like a client launching a new site, which requires more legwork upfront). I could easily work 24/7 if I wanted to—there is always more to be done—but these clear “stop” times force me to let go and focus on the other parts of my life that, you know, I kind of started this business to enjoy more.
Create a Routine That Maximizes Your Energy
A routine is more than just a time management strategy; it can also help you get into work mode and make the most of your body’s energy levels.
I find that I’m most productive after my morning coffee, so that’s when I do all the “heavy lifting” tasks that really require my focus and creativity, like writing blog posts and editing submissions for the sites I manage. After lunch, I work on less complex tasks like responding to emails and scheduling social media posts.
By making the most of my energy’s natural ebbs and flows, I’m able to get the most work done in the least amount of time. Once I tuned into this, I was able to finally enforce that 5:00 pm cutoff time rather than scrambling each day to get everything finished. Pay attention throughout the day to the times when you feel the most alert and energized, and structure your schedule accordingly. You’ll be amazed at the productivity boost, which in turn leaves you more time for “you” time.
Enforce, Enforce, Enforce
Friends and loved ones will assume that, since you’re working for yourself now, you are free to do anything at any time. They’ll want you to run errands “because you’re home anyway.” They’ll have a day off from work and want you to spend it hanging out with them.
While, technically, you can slack off whenever you want to without any immediate consequences, that doesn’t mean you should. Letting other things encroach on your work periods only means that work will have to get done at another time—like when you’re supposed to be enjoying dinner with your family.
If you work best in the mornings, let your significant other know you can’t take the kids to a dentist appointment unless it’s after noon. If you feel tempted to blow off a Friday because it’s nice outside, make yourself complete a set number of tasks before calling it quits for the day. Not only will it keep you from having to pull an all-nighter later, you’ll be able to really enjoy your time off knowing there aren’t undone projects hanging over your head.
Similarly, stand strong when it comes to the times you are not available to work. Make sure your clients know when and how to reach you, and make it clear from the start that you check your email/phone messages/etc. during certain periods. If a client can’t respect your boundaries and continues to hijack your time with emergencies and last-minute rush projects, it may be time to consider whether they’re really worth what they’re paying you.
How else do you maintain work-life balance? Share your tips in the comments!