If you ask the reason why someone has decided to go self-employed, often one of the top answers is “to create a work-life balance”. But what does that actually mean?
For some, it may be as simple as leaving work at 5pm or not doing overtime at the weekends. For others it may be cutting down hours completely. I guess the end result remains the same, to have more “me time”. So, is real work-life balance possible?
Well I have to say, this is certainly an appeal of my job. At least it is now I’ve figured out how to strike that balance.
If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you’ll know I make no secret of the fact that owning and running a business is hard work. It takes consistency and a lot of time showing up. I must admit that in the beginning work-life balance didn’t exist for me. In fact, it was the total opposite. My life was my work and my work took over my life. I should point out that I don’t regret this one little bit. Laying these foundations is what made my business such a success.
In the very initial stages of launching it’s super fun. You get to design your branding, the website and you’re trying to create such a buzz around your business that it’s infectious and somehow doesn’t feel like work. Then the hard part starts, finding clients. For me, there was a real sense of ‘just take anything that comes your way’. Also, because of the nature of my business, there was a sense of instability; I work on an ad-hoc basis where clients can come and go as they wish. Just because you’re making good money one month doesn’t mean you will the next, and as a result I took anything and everything that came my way. Even if it meant working every hour I had.
In the end, it almost took everything I had. There’s only so long one person can work at full capacity before they break. And I have to say I hit that point. I’m not very good at saying no, and I suffer big time from FOMO (fear of missing out) – if I didn’t take a job or take an opportunity, what would I be missing out on? Would my business miss that big break?
What it actually did was cause a huge amount of stress in my life, and I’d feel completely overwhelmed on a daily basis. I was exhausted. The signs even started to manifest physically. I started to develop a skin condition on my face, of all places. Some days it would be in the form of a rash and other days, my face would swell up and I could barely open my eyes. It was so embarrassing; I would hide away and only go out when I really had to.
It took me a while to connect the two, but once I did, I knew something had to change.
At that point I had a couple of Licensees on my team, and I had to do one of the hardest things for me. I had to pass some work over. I had to learn to trust that they could deliver for clients just as well, if not better than I could. I took a deep breath, and I took a step back. Since then, I have to say things have changed, and I’m not just talking about my health improving.
I’ve also been able to focus on developing the business further. I have the time to get out and network, and I have the time to support my Licensees. My role has changed from client delivery to increasing brand awareness.
I have so much more me time. I now probably work an average of 5 hours a day which means I get more time to just do me. I’ve actually just got back from a break to Iceland, and I didn’t come back to any emails, nor piles of paperwork!
So yes, I believe that real work-life balance is possible and should be at the top of all our lists to try and achieve. Here’s my advice for getting it right;
✔ Be fussy. If you’re self-employed, try not to fall into the trap of ‘I’ll do anything’. All the time you spend on doing the things you don’t want to do, you are missing out on the things you want to be doing. Plus, it’s hugely draining.
This includes being fussy with clients. We’ve all had them. The clients who want to negotiate your charge rate or want something for nothing. Just don’t entertain it. You set your charge rate based on your skills and experience. And for every client that tries to get it cheaper, there will be a client who is willing to pay your full charge rate because they recognise your value.
✔ Set a schedule. Most of us say we have a schedule and plan things in our diary, but do we actually stick to them? Set out your expectations of yourself from day one. What is it you want? How many hours do you want to work and when? Then stick to this. Yes, some flexibility is key to a successful business, but don’t end up working every Friday if your aim was to have a three day weekend.
✔ Make plans for you. It’s all well and good saying you want work life balance, but I often find if I don’t make plans for me, I’ll get bored and do some work instead. Make sure you’re making plans to do you, whether that’s hitting the gym, going for a coffee with friends or having a pamper sesh.
✔ Put the phone down! In this day and age, you will never achieve real work-life balance unless you detach yourself from everything digital. Every time your phone pings you’re going to check that email or that message. If it’s in reach, you’re going to routinely check Facebook and Instagram. Having time away from everything digital is going to allow you to clear your mind.
✔ Ask for help. I completely understand, particularly as a small business or start-up that funds can be tight, but asking for help is so important for business survival. If you end up burning out where does that leave your business? Possibly as no business. Getting the help when you need it is the smartest move you’ll ever make for a healthy business.
The only person that can take control of creating work-life balance is you. You have to show up every day and put it in to action otherwise things can slip. If you’re like me and you’ve come from a 9-5 it can be very difficult to break the ‘employee mindset’ and understand that it’s actually ok to take a break. I sometimes find myself feeling like I’m skiving from school (not that I ever did that of course!). Start small! Why not finish your day at 4pm instead of 5pm, or take an extra hour at lunch. Remember, #MyLifeMyRules!