In theory, a solid work-life balance is more manageable for a freelancer. But as I’ve learned firsthand — along with nearly every other writer — it can feel like the opposite. Suddenly you go from being gainfully employed, logging 9-to-6 days, to hustling around the clock to ensure your next paycheck.
The good news is, most of the time, it’s a fulfilling and exciting shift since there is undeniable freedom in setting your own hours and logging in from wherever you’d like. However, giving yourself permission to take a break, go on a vacation, and not be tied to your email 24/7 can be much more tricky.
This makes it all the more important since no one can have a life that centers solely on work. It’s never a perfect science, but two freelance professionals who have mastered the fine art share their most effective strategies.
Here’s how to successfully juggle work-life balance as a freelancer.
First things first: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
vLike with any habit, it takes time, trial and error before figuring out your ideal lifestyle. You can’t go from typically working six days a week to four overnight, but you can start to take baby steps by relieving yourself of the pressure to do it the most perfect way, according to leadership development coach and career expert Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker.
For her, it took years to really understand the rhythm that helps her reach high impact in her work, without sacrificing her personal quality of life. A big part of that was taking time to explore her boundaries, being honest about what she needs out of her personal and professional life, and of course, not adding limiting words like ‘must’ or ‘should’ to her self-talk vocabulary.
Take off weekends.
Technically speaking, you could only work weekends and take the whole week off if your freelance schedule allowed. But, for most freelancers, making ends meet requires diligence and restraint, not to mention setting hours so you don’t miss deadlines.
Career expert and legal writer Wendi Weiner says at first, she was working nights and weekends to stay afloat. It may have been necessary to build her mountain, but now that she’s comfortable with the slopes, she decided to take weekends off.
After all, that’s how most professionals structure their weeks, so why shouldn’t freelancers have the same liberty? “This allows me to fully recharge and decompress from an intense work week that I’ve just had,” she adds.
Figure out what productivity means for you.
While traveling with another writer reviewing various luxury properties in Mexico, we quickly realized we weren’t compatible in our most productive times. While I prefer to rise early, eat a hearty breakfast and work non-stop until 3 p.m. so my afternoon is free, my pal was a night owl.
She focused the best once the sun went down and into the wee hours of the night. Whittaker-Walker says productivity means different things to different people, and it’s important to really double-down on the moments when you’re feeling on fire. And just as my friend and I had to learn, it’s okay to be on opposite ends.
When we define our personal impact by someone else’s definition, we risk measuring our worth by an arbitrary standard. We also risk losing our sense of purpose. Be conscious of your work and family expectations, but center your purpose. It’s what will help keep you going when the hustle and bustle of life attempt to distract you from your call.
Strategize your to-do list.
Sure, you could spend the next eight hours doing every little lingering task on your never-ending list… or you could be more structured with your deliverables. This is one way that Weiner has given herself space and time to grow her career, while also having downtime alone or with friends and family.
I make a list of non-negotiable tasks that have to be done each day based on priority level. If the project/task is time-sensitive, it comes first. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many tasks I can complete as a solo business owner. The priority to-do list keeps me on my toes and also allows me to feel that I don’t need to undertake everything at once.
Pay attention to how you work — and when.
There are mornings when I jump out of bed the moment the alarm goes off — and others when I can’t get enough of ‘snooze.’ Certain topics are simple for me to write endlessly about, while others take many more hours and editing.
Whittaker-Walker says it’s essential to remember these moments of ease and stress, and to try and determine what could be triggering the good and the bad:
Think of as many examples as you can, and pay attention to any trends that surface. How can you be intentional about increasing those ease factors? What can you learn about the stress factors? How can you choose differently?
If you are into journaling, scribble down your patterns so you can identify areas to improve, and to maximize your productivity in ways that are healthy.
How do you stay focused without sacrificing your personal time?