8 Areas to Improve Work-Life Balance as a Freelance Creative
People love to cite “being your own boss” as one of the best parts about working as a freelancer, but what I don’t see discussed often is the fact that it can also be the source of a lot of stress and internal conflict. Your boss is now your toughest critic, they’ve got all the same insecurities as you, and they sure as heck won’t be generous about giving you vacation time. Of course, all of those things are merely mental hangups you’ve created for yourself. Breaking free of those presuppositions is still extremely challenging, though.
I’ve selected the eight work-life balance complaints I see most often, and lucky for you, I’m here to share some insight on every single one of them. Let’s do this!
I don’t know when to “turn off” and stop working or thinking about work.
As a freelancer and entrepreneur you will never completely shake the cloud of “I have to do just one more thing”. Your subconscious will always be occupied by that one client, one project, or one email you have to answer. The key is to mitigate the stress it brings you. You have unique flexibility as a freelancer and you should use it to its fullest. Keep office hours as if you work a day job, and when you get a call or email outside those hours, either wait until the next day to answer, or kindly remind your client, “I’ll get right to it, first thing tomorrow.”
At first it may feel like you’re letting your clients down, but every business is used to dealing with vendors and contractors who are only available 9-5 and during the work week. Once they’ve learned your operating hours, you’ll find that they don’t mind whatsoever.
Also, as I’ll elaborate in the next section, another great way to help your work brain turn off is to separate your work area from where you spend leisure time.
I no longer feel “at home” in my house because I spend so much time working here.
For me, this was one of the easier things to resolve. First and foremost, you need to physically separate the space you work from the space you spend leisure time. If you have a booming freelance business and the money is rolling in, renting a studio space is a great solution. If you’re privileged to have a large house or living space, designate a specific room as your work office. If you’re in smaller living quarters, use a corner/closet to create a workspace, or consider looking into local coworking spaces.
There are LOTS of options for how to do this, but the most important element is that when you are not working, you’re not in that location. In my creative practice, at the end of my work day I leave my office, shut the door, and don’t go back in until the next morning. The sense of physical closure really helps my mind shut off from work mode, and does wonders for my mental state and ability to relax.
My family/friends don’t respect when I’m working and often distract me.
Thankfully this is not a problem I have experienced, though I do know lots of people who deal with it regularly. Much like drawing boundaries with your clients by setting office hours, you may need to do the same with friends and family. Make sure they understand that when you’re in your office or at your desk, you’re working and need your solitude. Just because you’re physically at home does not mean you’re available to hang out.
Clearly communicating timeframes and expectations helps too. “I’ll take a break in 3 hours and we can hang out together” is a lot easier to digest than “GET OUT OF HERE I’M BUSY!” In my own life, I use the hours my daughter is at school as my work hours, and when I pick her up I close up shop for the day. She knows she has my undivided attention in the afternoon and it helps me to mentally transition from work to leisure. If I have to work on weekends due to a looming deadline, I close myself into my office and she knows that I’ll come to hang out with her when I’m done.
I’m working non-stop, and I’m burning out.
Running yourself into the ground is all too easy to do, especially as a freelancer, where you may directly equate the number of hours you work with the amount of money you can make. If you’re working this much though, one of two things is happening: either you have a huge and growing client base that has become more than you can handle, or you’re severely mismanaging your time and not working effectively.
If, plain and simple, you just have a ton of client work, then CONGRATULATIONS! This is a good problem to have, and the solutions are all ones that will benefit both your pocketbook and your well-being. You need to raise your rates, start turning away clients, or both. Your bandwidth of available hours in the week is limited, and extremely valuable, so you need to isolate which clients most value that time. Quoting new incoming client work at a higher rate is easy, since they have no idea what you charged previously. Having the conversation with current clients about your rates increasing is a bit harder, but something that merits its own post entirely, so perhaps I’ll cover that in the future.
If your problem is time mismanagement, then you need to have a long hard look at your processes. Track how much time you spend on things like client onboarding, billing, and actual time making your work. Isolate where you’re bleeding time and look into ways to improve it. Can you outsource clerical work? Use new software to streamline project management or billing? There are always options.
I have no more social life since working from home.
I’m a pretty introverted and hermitlike person, but even at that end of the spectrum I sometimes feel lonely working from home. I imagine for extroverts that can be an even larger burden to bear. The good news is that every single other freelancer out in the world feels exactly the same. It’s just a matter of finding and getting in touch with them to start to build yourself a network of like minded people.
Whether your connections are made online or in-person, there are tons of meetup groups, Slack channels, and so on that you can tap into. Or you can do like me and make your own group. Something as simple as going to work remotely in a coffee shop or coworking space, just being in the presence of other people, can do wonders for your emotional state. There are millions of people that would love to be friends with you, you’ve just got to reach out!
I feel stressed keeping up my “brand” and seeing others’ success on social media.
When it comes down to it, no one cares about how often you post to your social media channels more than you do. Regularity is great, but miss a week, or two, or three, and no one will care. If you’re like me and tend to have “bursts” of creativity where you output tons of work followed by gaps of nothingness in between, try to schedule out tweets and Instagram posts in advance weeks ahead to give the appearance of more consistency. You’ll get much more visibility and impact from one post a week over three weeks, versus three in one day.
With social media, it’s also really easy to compare yourself to other artists and feel inadequate as a result. Everyone has a completely different journey, and is at a completely different step in that journey. When you see someone at the peak of their career who has been working for decades right next to people still in college on the same feed, your mind can blur it all together and feel very overwhelmed. In my last post, I touched on analysis paralysis, which definitely plays a factor in this. Be sure that when you feel intimidated by the success of others, you contextualize the situation. No successful creative freelancer has gotten there without years of hard work and dedication.
I don’t know how to take time off and unwind without feeling like I’m losing business.
In an office job, you have your designated amount of PTO days each year and know that you have to take them. Working as your own boss, it becomes a real gray area. Every hour you aren’t working can feel like you’re “taking time off” and it’s so easy to talk yourself into never slowing down or resting. Much like other things as a freelancer, it’s about building your own structure that works for your life and goals.
It may feel silly, but you can actualize vacation time for yourself by telling the world it’s going to happen ahead of time. Pick a day or a week that you want to take off from work. Add a note to your email signature saying you’ll be unavailable at that time. Start telling friends and family how you’re looking forward to your time off. Mark it in your calendar. Gradually convince yourself that it’s a structured, real thing that is approaching, and you’ll feel less guilty about it. This also helps warn clients well in advance so they know what to expect and you won’t be forced to work during your time off. At the end of the day, taking time off is critical for you to remain happy, healthy, and productive as a freelancer. Don’t forget that.
I feel creatively tapped out since my entire life revolves around my work now.
Creative burnout has to be one of the most common problems I see universally among ALL artists. The longer I make my living as an artist, the better I’ve gotten at identifying and handling creative burnout. Here are a few strategies that have helped me:
- Sometimes burnout comes from your craft feeling mundane. What types of projects have you been doing lately? Tackle something completely oddball that you have very little experience working with, or try approaching your work with a workflow unlike what you’d normally do.
- Reach out to friends to collaborate on a project together, purely for fun.
- Take your laptop, tablet, or sketch pad and go somewhere to work that you never have before.
- Spend time on a hobby or skill that has absolutely nothing to do with art or creativity.
You’ll notice the common thread among these suggestions is to mix it up. New perspectives, approaches, and surroundings are a fantastic way to snap yourself out of a creative funk.
Freelancing certainly isn’t suited to everyone, but even for those like myself who love it, there are always challenges resulting from being your own boss. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be making good work, so always put your own well-being first. If you feel like you need to, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to a professional for help. Most importantly, don’t forget to stop being your own boss, and just be…you, once in a while.
How do you balance your work and life as a freelancer? Do you face struggles I didn’t even mention? I’d love to talk.