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Obsessed by Your Consulting Business? Join the Club!

By Greg Miliates

When I had a regular job as an employee, I found it fairly easy to have a good work-life balance.  I made it clear that my family was my priority, and after I left the office, I rarely checked e-mail or worked evenings or weekends, and never traveled.  When I left the office, the work stayed there, and I didn’t think much about it.

But starting my own business changed that, and from what I’ve heard and read, most business owners constantly think about work.  Apparently, it’s a common affliction of the self-employed.

There are a few reasons, for me, at least, why this change happened.

  • When I left my salaried job, I became completely responsible for my economic livelihood, and could no longer rely on a paycheck that I received regardless of how hard I decided to work.  Now, if I don’t do the work, I don’t get paid.
  • On a related note, consulting work can be sporadic.  Sometimes I’m really busy, and other times, I fill my time following up on lukewarm leads to clients.  So, when I have a backlog of work, I try to “make hay while the sun shines” and rack up more billable hours.
  • When I realized I could pay the bills being self-employed, I realized that there was also a lot of potential for generating income in other ways.  That resulted in some “side work” which was/is directed at leveraging my time and growing my business.

All that results in thinking about work/my business pretty constantly.

How to unplug? (or at least put some limits on work time)

Everyone has their own tricks, but here are a few things I’ve tried:

  • Schedule something non-work-related into your week.  I volunteer in my daughter’s 1st-grade class every Thursday morning; it’s wonderful, and I feel energized after spending time in her classroom.  Attending a regularly-scheduled exercise class is good too.  Set up a regular lunch date with your significant other or a friend.
  • Give yourself permission to take a break.  I admit that I feel like I’m slacking off if I take a 30-minute hike during the day, but it’s a great way to clear my head.
  • This is my favorite, but I can’t afford to do it very often:  go backpacking.  In the winter, I to schedule a few camping trips for the coming spring & summer.  I’m more likely to go if the trips are on the calendar, and typically I end up going somewhere without cellphone service.  When I tell my clients I’ll be backpacking & off the grid for a few days, they’re excited for me and sound a bit envious about being unplugged.
  • Don’t work evenings.  Keep these times for yourself and your family.
  • If you need to work outside of regular business hours, do it in the early morning.  I usually wake up around 6 a.m.—earlier if I can drag myself out of bed—and get in an hour or so of work before I have to get the kids ready for school.
  • Get a real office.  I worked out of my home for a few years, and it was OK, but could be filled with distractions.  I got a small office a couple months ago, and I’ve so far been much more productive while working there.  It’s also easier to leave work at the office if you actually have an office.

Keep in mind what you really value and why you’re self-employed.  For me, being self-employed brings more freedom—economically, schedule-wise, and career-wise.  However, I find it’s still a struggle to unplug from work, and do things for myself and my family that enrich us.  But being mindful of what you find truly important can help bring better balance and quality of life.

Greg Miliates has been self-employed—and obsessed—since 2007.  He also has a blog for people interested in starting their own consulting businesses:

11 thoughts on “Obsessed by Your Consulting Business? Join the Club!

  1. Greg – I believe this is a huge issue for many self employed consultants and other freelancers – I know it is for me.

    There’s always something more you can be doing for your business – the to-do list is potentially infinite.

    It took me nearly 2 years before I found I could relax and take advantage of all the flexibility a freelance lifestyle can bring. Before then, I’d feel anxious going out for a coffee with my wife or doing some gardening or anything in “core hours”. Finally, it settled in that it was me who decided what I do and when.

    One thing that really helps, of course, is to have confidence in your pipeline. When you are sure work is coming in, there’s less pressure all the time to be “making hay” our be out chasing leads.


    • Ian – well said! and I agree – great post Greg!

      In retrospect I think it’s healthy and good that people feel a certain degree of discomfort and anxiousness at the start. It shows that the business is important to them.

      Better that they have the passion and determination and mindset to be constantly thinking about their business…and then transition to managing that better as the business gets going…than to be too flexible and unconcerned with their level of focus and time put in when they are just getting going.

  2. Trish Norton says:

    These are great tips. I have found this a real challenge in my business. Some good things to think about htere. Thank you!

  3. I’ve been consulting for 3.5 years now and while there are aspects of what I do that conform to my idealized impression of a consultant’s lifestyle (such as being able to travel, work remotely, not have a commute, etc), I definitely work harder now than I did as an employee.

    I agree re: the office comment. I absolutely need to bite the bullet and get one as trying to work in the middle of my 4 kids is an exercise in superhuman focus.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I have 2 kids (my son is 10 and my daughter will turn 7 next week), and as much as I love them, I found it to be an exercise in frustration to try to work while they’re both home. There are times I can hole up in the bedroom with the headphones on and get a little work done, but having the separation of an actual office outside the home is wonderful. It cuts down on my stress, and then when I’m home with my family, I’m not so much in work mode.

      • Last year I spent several thousand dollars at coffee shops as they were my office a lot of days, but even that’s a poor excuse for office space. Easier to focus when the noise around you has no emotional connection to you, but still not great.

        • I’ve tried coffee shops too, and they’re OK sometimes, but I find I’m generally fairly distracted there as well. And with my business, I’m on the phone a fair amount of time discussing relatively complicated things (software specs, etc.), so I find that the ambient noise at coffee shops is too distracting for me.

          It took some time to find my current office, but I really like it. It’s cheap ($199/month all inclusive–even wifi), quiet, professionally decorated, and close to my home.

          • Greg – that sounds like a good office space! Is it a coworking arrangement? Located in a major city?

          • Mid-sized city, and no, not a coworking arrangement. I looked at a couple of those, but knew that an open office layout would likely be very distracting for me. My office is ~110 square feet and has a window. It took some time to find it, and while I was looking, the lease prices for other offices were quite variable–some office spaces were around $400 for the same square footage, and then I’d have had to pay an additional $100/month for high-speed internet.

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