Working for yourself can be incredibly rewarding - even if everybody else seems to think you sit around in your PJ's drinking tea and watching daytime TV. In fact, fellow freelance copywriters will know that you're more likely to put in extra hours if you work for yourself, particularly if your office is at home. Finding the right work-life balance can be difficult; sometimes I'll be working late into the night and other times I'll have a lazy morning. Today I started thinking about ways to find the right balance and came up with a few ideas that will hopefully help other writers and freelancers (or anyone considering working for themselves) to balance their work and social life more easily.
1. Organise your schedule
Every Sunday afternoon I take half an hour out to look at my work for the coming week. I usually make a list of any projects due and their deadlines, then figure out how I'm going to schedule my hours. This isn't set in stone and normally changes as the week goes on, but it helps me to see where I have space to take on more work and where I'm likely to be able to organise time off. It also helps to do this so that if I'm contacted by a client during the week I can see at a glance where my free time is. Whether you use a spreadsheet, notepad or Filofax to organise your working week, it definitely helps to take some time out and make sure you know what you need to achieve.
2. Set yourself goals
I'm sure its not just me who's guilty of sitting down at the PC to work and becoming distracted by a million and one different things. Facebook, Twitter and my website are the usual suspects, but sometimes I'll find myself wasting time looking at invoices and accounts too. I try to set myself a goal every morning; work out which projects I would like to complete by lunchtime and how I will spend my afternoon. This helps me to stay focused, and whilst I don't always get through as much work as I aim to, I know I'm on track towards meeting my goal. I use the 30/30 app on iPhone (it's free!) to schedule work into 1 hour segments, which helps to give me something to work towards.
3. Schedule time off
Everyone needs time off and you shouldn't really be working 7 days a week unless you have a major deadline to meet. Communicating your plans with clients works well, particularly if you're working with another copywriting agency. This means they're not likely to send a large brief your way on the morning you'd planned to have a lie in! I usually try to take the weekend off, as I find that's when things are most quiet. Sometimes though, Sunday will inevitably be spent planning and invoicing or working on my website and that's fine by me, it gives me an excuse to laze around the house and relax. Make sure you plan your days off - if it makes it easier you can schedule half days to fit around your work commitments.
4. Put down your smartphone
I'm guilty of constantly checking my email - if an email comes in from a client late at night, I've usually read it within half an hour of it arriving. Sometimes I think my iPhone should be surgically attached to my hand. This can make life a bit stressful as I often find myself responding to important emails in the evening and on my days off. Whilst there's nothing wrong with maintaining communication with your clients (in fact, this is essential!), you do need to know when to step away from the computer and put your phone down in order to relax. As a general rule I try to stop checking work email after 7pm and anything that comes in after this usually gets a response the next morning.
5. Let friends and family know your schedule
If you live alone, you're pretty much the boss of your own schedule, which makes life a bit easier. If you have kids or a partner living with you, it's a good idea to keep them aware of your schedule. I have freelance writer friends who are always complaining their husband disturbs them when they're working on an important project, or has organised a social event in the evening without checking what their work plans are. It's a good idea to print off or type up your work schedule and give a copy to family members - or pin it on the fridge. This way they know when you're working and when you're free to go out and have some fun! It's also important to communicate with friends about your working day. I'm lucky enough to have a few friends in London who don't work or work flexible hours, so a midday coffee or afternoon shopping trip isn't always out of the question. Sometimes it's easier for me to take a break like this one afternoon than taking a full day off.
Maintaining a work-life balance is all about being organised and not letting your workload take over your life! I find working for myself a challenge and at times it's hard knowing when to switch off my work brain and focus on other areas of life, but it's something that I'm passionate about and love doing. With a bit of organisation and planning (as well as a lot of communication), anyone can strike the right balance between growing your copywriting business and having enough free time to do the things you love.