The Freelance Files: ‘Work-life balance, where are you?’
Over a year ago, I decided to cut the cord and fly full-time freelance as a content writer and PR consultant.
‘I’m doing it for the work-life balance,’ I told my colleagues, friends and family back then. And it was true, one of the main reasons why I decided to go it alone was because I wanted to get some sort of work-life balance into my life, once and for all.
You see, after spending 18 years working for lots of great employers, work-life balance was an area that I still hadn’t managed to get sussed in my life. This was mainly because the jobs I had were all fantastic jobs with fabulous people, but they always came with a commute.
Unfortunately, the one box I never managed to tick was the ‘close to home’ box. I used to dream of having a job that I could walk to, but it never happened. Yes, I could have turned the jobs down that weren’t closer to home, but it would have been limiting for my career progression (and those of you who know me, will know that I’m an extremely ambitious individual!)
I needed to stop grumbling
There were times when I accepted that leaving the house before everybody in my household and neighbourhood woke up and getting back after everybody else, was what people do and that I needed to stop grumbling because my jobs were great in so many other ways. Plus, other people had it worse than me.
But then one day, after spending over three hours trying to battle my way home after the motorway had ground to a halt for the fourth day in a row and having no option, but to sit in traffic, as the back routes were just as clogged, something in my brain snapped. I felt miserable. And I’d had enough.
All I wanted to do that day was to go home, on time, get changed, and go straight back out to my exercise class. Admittedly, exercise class isn’t exciting, but at least it made a change from me going home pretty much every night, having my tea and then literally going straight to bed, so I could get my eight hours sleep and be up early enough to try and beat the traffic the next morning.
‘Can I really see myself doing this for the next 15+ years?’ I asked myself, as I limped into the house, as the bottom half of my body had gone dead, having spent so long sat down in my car (I was late for my class by the way). The answer wasn’t ‘maybe’ or ‘think about it some other time, Sanina’, it was ‘no.’
So, that was then, and here I am now, living the freelance dream. Well, sort of.
Yes, there’s more balance to my life now that I no longer have to set out at silly o’clock to get to work and come back at an hour that’s too late for me to do much after work. And there’s no more hateful traffic and commuting – I never thought I’d ever say that and I’m so pleased that I can finally can.
My work-life balance is a lot better, but I’ll be honest with you, it’s not great
When you decide to go freelance, your work-life balance doesn’t just suddenly miraculously sort itself out. You have to really work at finding the right balance, as you’re the master of your own hours. If you want to work half a day every Friday, you can, and if you want to put in a 10-hour day, then there’s nothing stopping you from doing so, but you do need to be realistic about what’s achievable.
If you’ve worked hard at building a client base and you’re busy, it can be really easy to work all of the time. Evenings, weekends, early mornings, because the work keeps coming in, you want to build your business and you don’t want to say ‘no’ to people.
But it can also mean your work-life balance goes straight out of the window, especially when you’ve got business-related admin and tasks, such as chasing and logging invoices, completing VAT returns, doing quotations, networking and your own marketing activities, to stay on top of in addition to your workload. Plus, being your own boss, you’re less inclined to take days off, as opposed to when you’re allocated 25 or so days from your employer.
I’m getting there
Right now, I’d say I’m about 75% there in getting the balance right. I’m learning to be more disciplined with myself and put more ‘me’ time in my schedule (and not feel guilty about it). And I’m even managing to make it to my exercise classes these days too!
It’s been a real learning curve, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My advice to others who are planning to go freelance? Don’t think work-life balance is just going to happen, plan your hours, so that you’re working and still living. Make sure you include breaks and don’t forget to take some annual leave every now and again. Be kind to yourself, no matter how much you want to succeed.