This guest post is contributed by Afoma Umesi. Afoma Umesi is a freelance B2B writer and editor for marketing and productivity Saas brands. When she’s not working, you’ll find her cooking, procrastinating on Twitter, or immersed in a good book. Say hi on Twitter.
Work-life balance can seem impossible to achieve as a freelancer. After all, you are your business. Your freelance business depends on your skills, time, energy, and marketing. How could you possibly also balance a social life, rest, physical activity, and just living?
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Many even argue that a “work-life harmony” approach is more feasible and beneficial than grasping at the elusive “balance.”
Work-life harmony means that work and life fit into each other in a complementary way.
Work-life harmony means that work and life fit into each other in a complementary way. Instead of a “balance” where each facet of your life receives equal attention every day, work-life harmony involves meeting your needs as they come up. It requires a flexible mindset, contrary to the rigid distinction between work and life that work-life balance entails.
If, for example, you have small children and run a business in a pandemic, work-life harmony may be less oppressive and more achievable for you. But if you have fewer responsibilities, you might be able to find a more structured sense of balance.
I practice a mix of work-life balance and work-life harmony (and I recommend it if your circumstances allow). Here are five tips that keep me sane and centered while running a freelance business.
Get enough rest
I’m a firm believer in Amy Poehler’s hallowed words “Sleep helps you win at life.” Most people need a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night — yes, you too. After years of sleeping five-hour nights (thanks, med school), I was sure I only needed five or six hours to get by. But getting seven hours of rest consistently in the past year has been a game-changer. I feel more awake at my desk, less prone to meltdowns, more able to handle curveballs, and less crabby to my friends and partner after a hectic day.
Practice deep work
Starting the day well-rested works wonders, but only if you use it well. Focus on the task at hand. Don’t waste your best hours scrolling mindlessly on social media or searching for jobs (when you’re already overloaded with work) on LinkedIn. In the last six months, I’ve worked between 20-30 hours every week while managing a freelance business and single-handedly creating content for an affiliate website. My only hack is focusing on tasks. You complete work quicker when you’re giving it your full attention, even if it’s for focus sprints, like with the Pomodoro technique.
Use a to-do list
Having trouble focusing? Try a to-do list. I used to be a pen-and-paper girl, but I’m a digital to-do list convert. Find a to-do list app you can use on your laptop and mobile devices. I’ve found a mobile app helpful for adding tasks that pop into my head during non-working hours. If you want an effective to-do list, keep your list to 3-5 items. You’ll feel satisfied when you tick all of them off, and managing your workload realistically will save you from burnout.
Set daily boundaries with work
While vacations or breaks during your workday are helpful for maintaining balance, setting boundaries goes a step further. Good boundaries with work allow you to have mental time-off from work every day. For example, some people stop working at a particular time daily and designate their evenings as work-free periods during which they don’t check email or think about work. Two boundaries I’ve set are deleting my work email from my phone and setting my Slack notifications to ping within working hours only.
This tip is for work-life harmony adherents — and people with a myriad of life responsibilities that don’t always fit neatly into work and life buckets. In busy seasons, I find myself in this category, torn between life responsibilities and pressing errands that fracture my workday into hours working from multiple locations and devices. I like to remind myself that losing balance occasionally is part of living a balanced life. Give yourself grace and allow yourself to fit work in wherever you can. The catch? Be present when you’re not working. Try not to fret about work while you’re fixing quick dinners or running errands. Then when you’re at your desk for one or two hours, focus on your work.
Work-life balance is challenging to attain, but it is possible. A key fact to remember is that you can’t fulfill all your responsibilities equally every single day, but you can maintain harmony over periods. Build time into your schedule for adequate physical and mental rest, reduce distractions while you work, use a to-do list, and be flexible on days when things go off the rails. You’re doing your best.