Blurring boundaries between job and free time is an issue for most people. But for freelancers who choose their own working hours and projects, this is often especially true. It's a big challenge to take on too much and be permanently available. We show you how to find the right balance.
Work-life balance is particularly challenging for freelancers
Employees receive their salary for a fixed number of hours. For freelancers, on the other hand, it’s the more you work, the more you earn. Therefore, it's always tempting to take on another project. Maybe you think to yourself, "I can do this too. And who knows, maybe there won’t be any offers after that for a while." However, in the case of unexpected additional tasks, it can quickly become stressful for you.
The numbers show: To achieve a good work-life balance is tough for many freelancers. According to the Freelancer Compass by Freelancermap, the separation of work and private life is the second most frequent challenge, after project acquisition.
In addition to the perceived need to provide additional income and greater security through more work, other aspects make it difficult for freelancers to switch off their laptop and set boundaries:
- Lack of physical boundaries: Many freelancers work at home or while traveling. However, even those who go to a coworking space may quickly look at their laptop in the evening.
- No fixed working hours: Flexibility has many advantages, but the downside is often the lack of a fixed time to call it a day.
- Enjoying work: Of course, this is not a bad thing, but it can lead to you not setting boundaries and working longer and longer hours.
Work-life balance helps you - and your clients
A good work-life balance means that work and private life are in balance and that there is enough time for recreation. This can look different for every person. Some people need more sleep and rest than others, or have time-intensive hobbies that they need to relax. When it comes to this topic, it's best to pay attention to your needs and not compare yourself to others.
Too much stress on a permanent basis is unhealthy. You burn out and may eventually only be able to work significantly less or even not at all for a certain period of time. Your clients don't benefit either if you take on too much. Sooner or later your output will suffer, you will make careless mistakes, or you will simply be less motivated. Even if it doesn't seem like it at first glance, you're not necessarily doing your clients a favor by overworking. So it's better to take on fewer projects and say no when you can't manage to do more.
Focus and planning at work
Unstructured work creates stress and unnecessary effort. That's why good time and project management is the basis for the right work-life balance as a freelancer. These tips can help you:
- Schedule fixed slots for tasks: Be specific about how long you want to work on a task. You might even put blocks directly into your calendar. This will give your day structure and increase the likelihood that you'll finish faster.
- Focus on one thing: Refrain from multitasking and instead do things one at a time. This makes you more efficient and also reduces stress.
- Set fixed times for communication: Rather than constantly checking your email inbox and getting distracted from your tasks, check it twice a day at set times. Most things can wait for a few hours.
- Do unpleasant tasks first: The "eat the frog" model lets you tackle the most annoying task of the day first. After that, you'll be more relaxed and have already accomplished a lot.
Define working hours for a better work-life balance
Even though you can arrange your own hours, and it's nice to start later or finish earlier sometimes, having fixed working hours is better for you. These don't have to be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but can fit your preferences. And of course, exceptions are no problem. But the hours make it easier for you to work in a focused way and to get off work on time. If your clients know these times, you'll also have less pressure to respond to messages outside of your hours.
Set up a fixed workplace
When you're not working at your living room table, it's easier for you to call it a day and enjoy your evening. Your own office would be ideal, but you should at least have a corner where you can work. You'll only be there to work and won't be distracted by housework tasks. Make sure you have an ergonomic set-up.
If your apartment doesn't have a workspace, or you simply prefer to work away from home, coworking could be for you. You'll also get to know other people with whom you can exchange ideas.
Taking small and large breaks
Breaks provide the necessary "life" as opposed to "work". This is true in everyday life as well as on a higher level in terms of vacations. For example, you should not spend your lunch break at your desk, but take time for lunch and maybe go for a walk or even do some exercise. This will give you a more balanced start to the second half of the day. Small breaks during the workday are also important. Just take a few minutes in between for a coffee or tea or to look out the window.
You also need days off during the week. This can be the weekend, but also other days that suit you better. The main thing is to stick to it and rest. If you are not available on fixed days during the work week, your clients should know that, so they can adjust.
When you're taking a vacation, communicate that ahead of time and don't plan on working or "popping in" in between. Even if you enjoy what you do, you need this time to relax. It's different when you travel and work at the same time. Then you have a normal everyday life. You should always be aware of the difference and decide for yourself before a trip if and when you will work.
Prioritize your health
Even during stressful times, you should always take care of yourself to stay healthy. If you take this time, you will be more efficient and balanced. This includes, for example:
- Getting enough sleep
- A healthy diet
- Ergonomic workplace
Maintain contacts - professional and private
Interaction with other self-employed people helps you to be more relaxed with your business and to gain new ideas and impulses. You can support each other and maybe even cover for each other in projects. That's why networking can pay off as a freelancer.
A good relationship with your clients increases happiness on both sides and can have a positive impact on your work-life balance. So sometimes take time for small talk during meetings and get to know them better.
But don't neglect your private contacts either if you're busy at times. Make fixed appointments with them to maintain friendships and meet your family. Such appointments will also help you to get off work on time. On the other hand, don't take on too much, so you don't feel stress outside of work too. Time for yourself is valuable as well.
Learning to say no
If there's one word that's key to a good work-life balance as a freelancer, it's the word "no." Learning to say no to something at the right moments will save you a lot of stress. This can mean, for example:
- No to spontaneous requests
- No to unsuitable projects
- No to poorly paid assignments
- No to potential or existing problem clients
In the webinar recording, Sabina Lohr gives many more tips for your work-life balance:
By the way, 9am takes a lot of stress off you by letting you find exciting jobs and manage all your clients and projects in one place. Learn more about 9am.