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: www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com.