Achieving work-life balance can be difficult for many professionals. As an independent professional, this type of balance can be even more difficult to find, especially if you're balancing the demands of multiple clients or if your office is in your house. Making a small effort can reap big results for an independent worker.
The cost of working too much
Poor work-life balance can lead to significant consequences in your personal life and career, including:
Stress and fatigue. An independent worker can literally - if they choose - work around the clock. But consider carefully the impact of the decision to never close shop. When you're stressed out and exhausted, it's easier to overlook mistakes in your work. As the quality of your work suffers, so does your professional reputation.
Increasing expectations. If you work late nights and weekends on a regular basis, people will start to assume that these are your normal hours - and they'll just start expecting you to be available at all hours of the day. By not delineating work hours, you may devalue your time and market value.
Relationship deterioration. It can be easy to see your work as all-consuming and prioritize business over personal life - to the chagrin of friends and family, which may result in hurt feelings and strained relationships. Take a moment to determine your most important business and personal priorities, and schedule time for both. You'll then have the key ingredients of not just a successful practice, but also a successful life.
If you're having trouble finding work-life balance as an independent, there are a number of steps you can take to fix the blurred boundaries between work and personal time.
Learn to say no
If a potential client asks you to do a last-minute project when your slate is already completely full, it's OK to respectfully tell them that you cannot currently take on any more work. If you're actively involved in industry organizations or your child's parent-teacher organization, don't feel obligated to chair every networking event or help make cupcakes for every holiday party. This will give you more time to do things that you enjoy, rather than performing tasks just because you feel you must.
Stick to a schedule
Set a daily time by which you must be absolutely finished with work. This time may vary depending on other factors, such as how many days you work each week and if you start working earlier in the morning or later. The important part is that you set a time that works for you, and then stick to it - don't think about work, don't check work emails, don't go back to finish something small.
Make time for yourself
If you neglect your personal needs, you'll soon find yourself feeling exhausted and burned out. Perhaps this means scheduling time for exercise one morning each week, or taking a long walk after a particularly tiring day. Whatever your personal interests, don't let an overwhelming amount of work take away from the basic need to stay healthy and happy - including eating balanced meals and getting a good night's sleep.
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