Tips for Creating Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer

equality-1245576_1280
Image courtesy of Pixabay


When you work as a freelancer or independent contractor, you are your own boss. You can set your own schedule, goals and priorities. You can take time off when you want to. You have more freedom. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

But the fantasy rarely lives up to reality. More often than not, that self-imposed schedule and responsibility can get out of hand if you’re not careful. While it doesn’t happen often, freelance work can result in forty-hour plus workweeks. For many freelancers, the opposite is true. There isn’t enough work and they’re scrambling to find new clients. Constant fear and worry can nag at you about making ends meet or getting clients to pay on a timely basis.

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to focus more on your clients than your own family. Even more than your own well-being. It’s easy to lose track of your schedule. It’s easy to forget that you have a social life.

But take heart. There is hope for all freelancers. According to the 2018 freelancer survey by Upwork, 77 percent of full-time freelancers reported having a better work-life balance since becoming self-employed. It is possible to achieve that balance. But like everything else, you have to work at it, and you have to plan for it.

Having work-life balance is critical for your well-being for several reasons. It helps prevent burnout so you won’t feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities. It helps you feel more energized and refreshed so you can face each new challenge. It helps clear your head so you can think more clearly.

pexels-photo-459971.jpeg

Once you decide to begin working for yourself, it’s important to establish work-life balance early on in your freelance career. When you shift from a full-time job with a fairly set schedule to not having a set schedule at all, it can be easy to lose your sense of balance. As your own boss, it’s up to you set create that balance. Make it a part of your business planning. But how do you do it?

Here are a few ideas to help you create more work-life balance in your freelance career:

1. Set a regular work schedule. Establish consistent work hours and stick to them. If you worked a nine-to-five job previously, establish a similar type of schedule when you first start out. Make sure you give yourself two days off each week. Setting up a regular schedule with two off days keeps you in a routine that you can sustain.

2. Stay connected with family and friends. When you work for yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you are alone. That’s not true. No matter how busy you are setting up your business and pursuing new clients, don’t forget about your family and friends. They are your support system, and they can give you proper perspective when business gets too hectic or if things don’t go as smoothly as you planned.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. No to assignments that would be a waste of your talents, no to outside obligations until you meet your deadline, no to clients who don’t pay on time or change their requirements. Know your limits. Know when you’ve had too much on your plate. Pass on the assignment or refer to another professional.

4. Keep your calendar organized. Keep all appointments in one place, both personal and professional so you don’t accidentally overbook yourself. Also set clear goals and priorities and list them in your calendar as a quick reminder of your obligations.

5. Detach and disconnect from devices. Information comes at us 24/7 via our devices, social media, computers and TV screens. It can be difficult to shut it out. It’s up to you to do that. Set aside a day or a weekend to do a digital detox. It might be helpful to put those detox dates in your calendar.

6. Set up a “fun” account. Small Business Trends, an online publication about small business practices, suggests setting up a separate bank account to be used solely for fun activities. As you get paid from clients, set aside a set amount into this fun account so you have money to splurge on that weekend spa getaway or ski trip you’ve had your eye on.

7. Practice self-care. To be your best for clients, you need to live healthily, suggests experts at FilterGrade.com. Eat properly, get proper sleep, practice meditation and yoga, or take long walks. Do anything you can to clear your mind and center yourself.

8. Keep up with personal interests. Maintain your hobbies, whether that’s playing tennis, reading the latest best-seller or attending concerts. Volunteer with your favorite cause. Sometimes when you spend time with those less fortunate, it puts your own troubles into perspective.

Whether you’ve been freelancing for for some time or are just starting on your journey, setting aside time for yourself is as critical to your success as helping your clients. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to make work-life balance a priority.

Related Articles
7 Strategies for a Better Work-Life Balance in the Freelance Economy, Forbes
Here’s Why the Freelance Economy is On The Rise, Fast Company

Five Lies About Writing That Can Derail Your Writing Practice

two men using white laptop computer sitting on brown wooden sofa
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

When it comes to maintaining a writing practice, we tell ourselves a lot of lies – not being good enough, not having enough time to write, not having any good ideas, writing is easy, etc.

Why do we tell ourselves so many lies? More important, what are we basing them on? Whose voices do we hear when we hear those lies? Perhaps it was some offhand comment someone said to you many years ago that you took to heart? Or perhaps it’s someone else’s belief that you adopted as your own, even though that person is no longer alive?

Those lies often act as barriers to your writing. If you get too far ahead of yourself,  you may hear that voice again. That’s when self-doubt kicks in. You slow down or stop writing altogether. That’s no way to engage with your writing.

Maybe it’s time to dispel those beliefs and get real about your writing practice. Maybe it’s time to re-frame those internal messages into more positive ones so you can enjoy writing again.

Below are the most common “lies” that you may have told yourself at one time or another and how you can dispel them once and for all.

Lie #1: “There’s not enough time to write.”
An old friend of mine once told me that he didn’t realize how much time he wasted until he started grad school. Once he started classes, he became more aware of how he was spending his time. “We waste a lot of time,” he told me with a shake of his head.

The truth is we fill our days with busy work, much of it meaningless. If you claim that you’re too busy to write, what are you “too busy” doing? How do you know that you don’t have time to write if you have never tracked your activities throughout the day? Are you using your time as efficiently as you could?

Try this exercise: For three consecutive days, keep track of how you spend your time. Include one weekend day (for example, Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Set up worksheets from midnight to midnight with fifteen-minute increments for each day. Be honest with yourself. Once these worksheets are completed, take note of any gaps in your schedule. Are there pockets of time where nothing is happening? Can you split up a segment of time? For example, if you get an hour for lunch, can you set aside a half hour for writing? Or if you spend most Saturdays watching marathon episodes of your favorite show on Netflix, could you swap out one hour for writing instead?

By seeing your activity in print, you’ll likely find ways to re-allocate your time so you can spend more valuable time writing.

Lie #2: “Writing is too time-consuming.”
How much time do you think you need to establish a regular writing practice? Thirty minutes? An hour, perhaps? Many people believe writing is time-consuming based on some preconceived idealistic vision of what a writing practice looks like. They imagine an overly large oak desk in a drawing room with lots of bookshelves and French doors that open up onto a garden with a view of the lake in the distance.

This scenario is far from the truth. (Hence the schedule assessment). More likely, writers are squeezing in a writing session during their lunch hour or on a bus ride to work in the morning. Most have full-time jobs, families to raise, obligations to the community. They don’t have a lot of time to indulge in fantasy, but they do make time to work on their craft.

The truth is, many writing experts say you only need ten to fifteen minutes a day to establish a regular writing practice. If all you need is ten minutes, you can write anywhere. Check your activity assessment again. Are there gaps in your schedule where you can squeeze in ten minutes of writing?

Lie #3: “There is nothing worthwhile to write about.”
Many aspiring writers stop writing because they think they don’t have anything worthy to say, no interesting stories to tell. But ideas for stories are everywhere if you remain aware and alert for them.

Engage with the world around you. Notice the people walking in the park or through your neighborhood. What are they doing? Riding a bike, feeding the birds, playing with their kids? Observe the other passengers on your next train ride to work or in the coffee shop you hang out. How are they dressed? How are they spending their time? Quietly and unobtrusively listen to the conversations around you. Note how two people speak to one another. In hushed tones so as not to be overheard? Or loud and emotional, as if they are having an argument?

There is plenty to write about. You just have to be aware of your surroundings to be inspired.

Lie #4: “Writing is not a worthwhile career.”
If you believe that writing is not a worthwhile career, go to the nearest bookstore or library, open up a magazine or newspaper or browse the Internet. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for writers. Sure, it may be tough going at the start of your career, or even in mid-career. But that has never stopped writers from writing. You may have to work a dull nine-to-five job to pay the bills while you hone your craft. But ask anyone who has ever been published and they will tell you that writing brings them joy. That in itself makes it worthwhile.

Lie #5: “Writing is for sissies.”
Writing is not for the faint of heart. Especially if you are writing a novel or a work of non-fiction, writing is a slow, agonizing process, complete with false starts and writer’s blocks. Your first draft is usually junk, and you’ll have to go through several editing passes before an editor or publisher believes your latest project is worth sharing with the rest of the world.

The key to progress is consistency. You can work on your latest masterpiece and still it may not be good enough to be published. But writers are the most courageous and heartiest of souls. They risk rejection constantly. Even after they’ve received fifty rejection slips, they dust themselves off and try again.They’re willing to toil for years on one project that is close to their heart, just to see it come to fruition. This writing life is definitely not for sissies.

Remember you are in charge of your own writing practice. You set the schedule and the parameters for success, however success means to you. Once you become aware of the self-defeating beliefs, myths and assumptions affecting your writing, you can flip the script. Rewrite the assumptions as fact-based truths. Then use them to redefine your writing practice.

Are there any lies that you used to believe in that nearly derailed your writing career?

How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

office-659689_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

Nine Ways to Survive Without Communications Technology

closeup photo of person holding panasonic remote control in front of turned on smart television
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

There are times when you need to take a technology break; other times you’re forced to take a break due to circumstances beyond your control.

That was my predicament last week when I lost my cable Internet and TV service. In the meantime, the battery on my mobile phone went on life support and I had to order a new battery. While I waited for the new battery to arrive, I had to keep the phone plugged in at all times.

There’s nothing like losing your cable TV, Internet and mobile phone service all at one time to make me appreciate communications technology.  One wonders what any of us did with our time when we weren’t tethered to our mobile phones, cable TV or Internet service.

Modern technology is wonderful – when it works. But what do you do when it doesn’t? What are our options? How can we communicate with one another when there’s no phone or Internet? Messenger service? Smoke signals? It made me feel that the Universe was forcing me to tap into my own personal reservoir of resources by cutting out the extraneous noise that could interfere with my creative genius.

It was a tough few days, to say the least. After losing technology, I felt I had lost touch with the rest of the world. Rather than wallow in self-pity, I looked around at things I could be doing instead. I found I had more time to do other ore meaningful things, such as volunteer work, communing with nature,  catching up on reading and writing, catching up on sleep, to name a few.

Without technology hogging my time and attention, I was able to get more stuff done in less time. It forced me to slow down my work day, to pay more attention to tasks in front of me. I didn’t feel the added “busyness” of life that I usual did. The experience taught me the value of a “noiseless” environment to help me accomplish my daily writing goals.

If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, without technology, without access to the world at large, don’t fight it. Use the time and space to complete unfinished projects or work on tasks that you’ve been meaning to do. Think about other things you can be doing instead, such as:

1. Volunteer. Get out in the community and do something constructive to help others, whether it’s caring for someone’s pet, helping at a local shelter or food bank, or teaching someone to read. Whatever you do will be good for your soul.

2. Enjoy live music. It’s summertime and that means outdoor concerts and festivals. Tune out the phone and tune into the music.

3. Catch up on reading. Without cable TV and Internet service, you have plenty of time to indulge your reading passion.

4. Catch up on sleep. Oddly enough, without TV and Internet to overload my senses, I fell asleep more easily at night and slept longer than usual. I guess it is true that our technological devices can interfere with our sleep habits. If you need to sleep, turn off your tech tools a few hours before bedtime. Your body will thank you for it.

5. Catch up on housework and home repairs. Without tech distractions, you can tackle those home repair jobs you’ve been meaning to get to. Paint the living room a new, fresh color, fix the leaky kitchen sink, or clean out the closet.

6. Get cooking. Without tech interference, you have more time to explore new recipes or put a spin on an old one. As I like to say, when the going gets tough, the tough get cooking.

7. Catch up on your writing. Got a novel you’ve been hankering to work on for months? Now is the time to work on your manuscript. No technology is needed either – just good ole’ pen and paper and your imagination.

8. Start a conversation. Sometimes we can become so immersed in our phones and laptops that we forget what it’s like to have a real, down-to-earth conversation with a real live person. Head to a nearby coffee shop and leave the phone at home. Instead, look around you and strike up a conversation. Isn’t that what coffee shops are for?

9. Take a hike. You don’t need a mobile device to commune with the great outdoors. All you need is a good sturdy pair of shoes and some sunscreen. Then sit by a pond, or walk in silence through the woods. When you don’t have access to cable TV or Internet, when your phone is running low on battery, it’s time to soak up the sun, the clouds, the moon and stars. How else will you be able to hear yourself think? Sometimes you have to shut out the distractions of your life to hear the messages Mother Nature is sending you.

It’s never fun to lose technology tools. You might find yourself feeling upset and anxious at first, knowing you have to live without these modern conveniences, but after a few days, you may find yourself chilling out more, not feeling rushed and perhaps even feeling a little more clear-headed.

So while you may lose your connection to the outside world, you may find a better connection with yourself instead.

Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

cell-1344985_1280

Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

Tips for Working Productively in Open Office Environment

office-space-1744803_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I recently began working in an office with an open space plan. My staffing representative warned me about the open space when she set up the interview, so I was prepared to see how the space differed from previous offices I worked in that weren’t as open. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of a news room, with a line of desks facing outward toward the windows and another line of desks facing inward toward the inside offices.

Noise can sometimes be a problem in the office. One co-worker who sits near the front reception area often slips into a small conference room nearby with his laptop to concentrate on his project.  Other times, he wears headphones to escape office chatter while he works at his desk.

Open space floor plans have been around for several decades, but it’s only in recent years that they garnered criticism from employees who claim that they don’t provide a lot of privacy and can be noisy. Do a Google search about open offices, and you’ll find loads of articles that downplay their strengths, such as these stories from The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

True, they have many good points, such as letting in more natural light, allowing employees window views that they would not have had otherwise, and producing a closer, cohesive working unit among workers. Open office spaces were designed to encourage better collaboration among employees, but studies show that isn’t always the case. The truth is, not everyone works productively in an open office environment. Some people work in positions that require more privacy for interviews, such as human resources (or as they call it these days, “talent management”), while others need quiet time to read or write reports or technical information.

The good news is that many employers are offering their workers alternative arrangements for dealing with noise issues. By adding sound proof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans, many employers have been successful at accommodating workers’ need to escape disruptions.

Open office spaces are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to work in them. Here are a few tips for working more productively in an open office environment without losing your sanity:

* Move to another location in the office. If things get too noisy, and you really must concentrate on a project, see if you can slip into a nearby empty office or conference room if it’s available. Another possible solution is to put out a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your desk.

* Keep headphones handy. You don’t have to be listening to music or a podcast. When you slip on headphones, you subtly and clearly communicate to others that you are not available. It’s comparable to putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

* Alter your work schedule. What are your most productive times to work? For some, getting into the office a little earlier, say 7:00 am, before everyone else, gives you at least two hours of quiet time to work on a project with no disruptions.

* Work from home. Sometimes working from home may be more productive than working in an office. If you really need quiet time and you know you can be productive there, and as long as your supervisor approves the time outside the office, then working from home might be an option worth looking into.

Open floor plans at the office are here to stay. But knowing how you work in any environment and knowing what options you have to deal with unwanted distractions can help you remain focused so you produce your best work.