Sunday Feb 05, 2023

How to Take the Headache Out of Work / Life Balance

work schedule

Most people who want to work from home have two general goals:

  1. They want to get out of the traditional workplace and have “freedom.”
  2. They want to spend more time living life.

Those are the two things I hear the most…and they both really say the same thing: they don’t want anyone making decisions for them as it relates to work or their personal lives.

Work / Life Balance Isn’t So Cut and Dry When You Work from Home

In theory, work / life balance can be perfectly achieved when you work from home. You don’t have a boss standing over your shoulder or demanding that you follow a certain process that makes a task of some sort last two hours longer than it should. If you want to wake up at 10 am, go for a run, and take a shower before you start your work day, you have the theoretical option of doing those things. If you want to stop and take a bubble bath in the middle of the day (a personal favorite of mine), get after it and don’t forget the rubber duckie. If you want to volunteer for a field trip for you child’s class, okay.

Seems like fun, huh? In theory, you get to do what you want, when you want. Except….work / life balance isn’t so cut and dry when you work from home. One of the main differences between working in a traditional environment and working from home is that most people have a clear distinction between their work life and their home life. You go home at the end of your shift and you do your best to put all that behind you. You make dinner. You help with homework. Maybe you take a kid to sports practice. Whatever.

Working from home? There is absolutely zero distinction between your work and your life…even if you have an area that you use separately as an office. Why? Because when you’re working, you’ll feel guilty that you’re not spending more time with your family or pursuing your interests…because that extra time…that freedom is what you signed up for when you took the plunge.

Okay, so what if you take extra time each day when you should be working and spend it with your family or enjoy your personal interests? More guilt. When you’re hanging out with the kids, it’s likely that you’ll have thoughts about what you could be finishing. If you’re not working, you’re not generating money. If you’re sitting on the couch in the afternoon and cross stitching (guilty!), you may beat yourself up because you have a level of freedom that others don’t have.

I am a firm believer that all of us work from home folks experience this at least for a little while. Hell, I am writing this non-paid blog post and what am I thinking about besides this? Well, the little one is sitting here by me while eating his breakfast…and my brain is on the “If you were working now, you’ll be done earlier” tangent. The catch-22 mindset becomes a giant fucking headache at times.

Why Get into the Lifestyle if You Feel Guilty about Living Life?

I am a legit class A worrier. I do the best I can to plan for the future…not just for responsibilities and super happy fun time around the house, but also with my business. Although I do a damn fine job keeping a smile on my face, I worked really hard to get here.

I’ve worked full time as a freelancer for about four years…maybe 3.5. Initially, my thought was less stress (read: I felt safer in my own home than working out of the house because I was being actively stalked), more job stability (because would you really fucking fire yourself), and extra time with my family. I had spent the previous 10+ years in a really, really bad marriage. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD. I wanted to figure out how to live the rest of my life in a way that made me content. I didn’t even focus on happy – I was alright with just being content.

I had grand ideas about public speaking, volunteering, more time with the children, going to the gym, and the likes. I didn’t have anything hardwired into my brain – I just knew that I wanted the freedom that came with the lifestyle.

And the first couple of years were hard. So hard. I dealt with the mindset I explained above. It led me to 12+ hour days, crankiness, and putting all of my self-worth into what I could accomplish. The plus side is that I’ve accomplished every professional goal I’ve ever set for myself before the age of 40. The down side? I hated myself.

I was using some very powerful business tactics that made the business successful. But…what good is a lifestyle if you have no life? I’ve always been devoted to my work. Working from home meant even more devotion. I felt guilty any time I wanted to take extra time to do anything.

So, I had to ask myself the question: can a successful home business include work / life balance?

There’s No Such Thing as Equal Balance

If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, but more so over the last few months, is that there is no such thing as equal balance. Working from home will never be truly balanced. You work where you live, eat, and sleep. Anyone who tells you how easy it is to walk away from their work or not check their email (if they work from home) is a fucking liar.

You must be able to accept that there is no such thing as equal balance. Your life will be as balanced as you want it to be. You are the only one responsible for that. It’s an extremely powerful position. I have the option to make myself miserable, schedule in down time (plus a little extra because we still have one little one and he has Autism; we have therapy and school and lots of time “life schooling” together), or don’t schedule enough work and wonder how the business will continue to exist.

All of that is on me. It’s not on my clients. It’s not on anyone other than me.

Removing the Headache of Work / Life Balance

Unless you’re a class A type (like me), you’re not going to really appreciate my approach to remove the headache of work / life balance when you’re self-employed. However, I implore you to try it for three months. It takes more than one month to develop a new habit. While you may see some positive results right away, you’ll still experience a little period where you feel like you should be getting more done. Make sure that you assess where you are and go back through and tweak your version of the following work / life balance guidelines:

Assess Your Goals

Why did you choose to work from home? Remind yourself of your goals. Was it to spend more time with your kid? Trust me, they grow up faster than you think. I have one legal adult, an almost legal adult, and one who just turned 8. Time fucking flies. It may not seem like it on some days when the kid and the dog both vomit on the couch and you have a conference call, but you’ll eventually laugh (that actually happened to me two years ago).

You should assess your goals often. Most people won’t always have a child at home. Some special need parents will. Yet, needs and goals will continue to change for everyone. So, make a plan to reassess your business and personal goals every three months.

Get a Day Planner of Some Kind

You could also use a Google calendar, Apple calendar, or whatever. Whatever method you choose, you must actually use it. My husband, when we met, would not put anything onto his phone calendar. He said he would remember and that he would ignore notifications. I’m not his mother…but after he would miss certain appointments of his own, he quickly began using a phone calendar (or he would text me and I would put it on mine). Even if you’re a fly by the seat of your pants type of person, a day planner or calendar will help you achieve balance.

First, put in any and all dates where you absolutely will not work. This could be holidays, birthdays, special interest days, religious holidays…whatever. I love taking off on pagan holidays, but it doesn’t always happen for me. This will be helpful when you’re scheduling your client load.

Second, if you have children, schedule in things that are important to them (if you know them in advance – I know how kids work…they love that night before nonsense). Could be sports games, dance recitals, school field trips, whatever…

Third, what about you? I know…if you’re a mom, you’re default response is “What about me? I don’t have time for me.” When you work at home, you better make time or you will burn out. Schedule in that morning gym trip. Schedule in that sitting in the backyard drinking coffee. Schedule in whatever. It doesn’t even need to be a lot of time.

Schedule Client Work When You Are Most Productive

I am Schroedinger’s morning person. I am and am not a morning person, at the same time. I am ridiculously fucking productive between the hours of 6 AM (provided I get up by 5:30 AM) and noon. In fact, around 2 PM every day, regardless of when I start my work, my brain is just fucking done. The circus monkeys start their show and all thoughts of productivity go out the window….but since the kid gets out of school around 3:20, that’s alright. Oh, and I hate mornings. I’ve narrowed down why I used to hate mornings: no matter when I woke up, I always felt rushed. Now, I just hate mornings like a normal person.

Find the part of the day that you are most productive and do your client work then. Write those projects down in your day planner. You don’t necessarily have to put times on them (I don’t). I write mine in the order that I plan to work on them.

Change Your Thoughts

I still have pangs of guilt when I’m sitting on my couch in the early afternoon working on a cross stitch project or when I’m crocheting or working on a dollhouse. Part of me still feels like it is too early in the day to be done. So, I remind myself: what good is a lifestyle if I have no life? People would kill to do what I do. It’s time to enjoy it. It’s time for you to enjoy it, too.

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