“You’re so lucky!”
That’s the response I get when I tell people that I work as a freelance designer and writer. Most people think I live the life of a college student taking a few online summer classes – roll out of bed around 9 a.m., eat some cereal while I check Facebook, design some logos as I watch television, jot out a blog post and then head out for the evening.
No amount of describing my workload will convince people that I don’t spend my days watching “The Price is Right” while still in my bathrobe and cute, comfy bunny slippers.
You know better. You get it because you’re a freelancer, too. The workload can be tremendous. On top of being a designer or a writer, or both, you’re also a salesman, accountant, secretary and boss.
There have been a lot of articles about making sure to include enough time for a personal life. What I think many freelancers struggle with, though, is disconnecting the personal atmosphere while they are at work. While advice on this topic is nowhere near universal, here is what I’ve learned works for me.
Go to the “Office”
The struggle to separate work from a personal life is something that affects nearly all workers, not just freelancers. I think we’re more susceptible to it because there is literally no separation between our work address and our home address. So set up your work station, go to your office to do your work and then leave. Don’t return until you’re back on the clock.
When I’m working, I make the separation clear to myself: I sit at my desk and use external monitors. When I need to use my computer in my downtime, I disconnect my laptop and take it somewhere else.
That doesn’t mean you need to punch 9 to 5 at your desk; set up the hours that work for you. Maybe it’s a straight nine-hour shift. Maybe it’s four hours in the morning and four hours at night.
The most important thing, though, is that physical barrier. When you work, you’re at your desk. When you’re at your desk, you work. Keep that visible separation, even if it’s simply a line of tape around the desk in your guest bedroom, so that there is a clear delineation between when you’re at work and when you’re on personal time.
Block Your Distractions
I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on the struggles of keeping focused on work when your Facebook is literally one tab away. There’s no boss looking over your shoulder; it’ll only take a minute.
Yeah, sure it will.
Use a blocking tool to block access to certain time-wasting sites. You can customize the browser to only block the site for a specified amount of time, so when your workday is up, you’re back to normal.
Now, I know that many freelancers need to use social media for communication and outreach. If you’re serious about cutting out the distractions and limiting your personal access to social media, use an automated service like If This, Then That to help disseminate information. You can designate a specific part of your workday to log in and check out any new comments.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
You need to get out for a little bit. Most freelance work requires a degree of creativity and inspiration, and working by yourself at a computer isn’t helping. Like any strong workplace, you need to find ways to socialize. Personally, a friend and I schedule a Swedish coffee break at a nearby café on my freelance days. This may seem like I’m actually mixing my personal and business life, but the truth is that taking a moment out of my day to re-enter the real world helps keep me focused when I return to my desk.
Another inventive possibility is to take advantage of coworking. In a coworking setup, you get the benefits of office socialization and camaraderie while maintaining the independence of freelancing.
Above all, you’ve got to do what’s best for you. If you can honestly tell yourself that you work best in pajamas, then don’t feel the need to dress up just because other freelancers tell you to do it. However, don’t lie to yourself simply because you want to wear those cute bunny slippers. As long as you’re honest about what’s truly working for you, you’ll be able to establish your own routines.
How do you achieve work-life balance as a freelancer? I want to hear your stories! Leave a comment below.