Work/life balance: a really juicy carrot hanging just out of our reach. We tell ourselves it’s right after we finish x project or get out of y job or make a process for z.
Our culture has started to idealize people who don’t sleep because wow they are just so driven and wow look at their drive and wow I am stressed out just thinking about all the things they do.
But question: Does anyone want more work than life?
I mean, I guess some people do. And that’s cool. Most don’t though.
At June’s Rise & Design we dove into the elusive Work/Life Balance. Your fearless writer, Anna (that’s me) wasn’t there, but Yao took awesome notes. Here goes attempting to write a recap without actually having been in the room.
A definition for balance
Your work and your life should be more of a symbiotic relationship, where each part helps to inform the other. They should be enabling rather than disabling. This is all pretty and stuff, but we all know that we’re not very good enablers when it comes to work and life.
Really it comes down to what your definition of ‘balance’ is. We love what we do and so work and life don’t get a straight 50/50 split. That’s totally ok if it is how you wish to define yourself.
The real question is why are you bleeding work into your life? Examine how you balance closely as it will help you figure out what’s going on. Are you unsatisfied with the way work is going? Are you wanting to grab more projects than you have now? Do you want a new job?
Take stock of what’s happening before you even begin to try to solve the problem of work/life balance.
Setting expectations...and maybe keeping them
The cool thing about working in an office is that expectations for work are set for you by your team and boss. The biggest bonus is when you’re done with work for the day you can (generally) set it and forget for the rest of the night.
The bad thing about working in a 4,000 employee company is that it can be really toxic (beyond the really bad burnt coffee in the breakroom). As a creative it’s hard to put a time limit on your creativity.
You can only be brilliant from 9-5. You have to be brilliant from 9-5. That’s a ton of pressure.
When you do the crazy shift to working for yourself the world is totally flipped. Your work processes change. The way you work, how productive you are, how you communicate: it all changes. You become more organized and recognize the importance of time management and putting boundaries on when you work and when you don’t.
But this is all clearly theoretical because if we all were super organized and had firm boundaries, we wouldn’t have needed to even touch upon this topic in Rise & Design.
Starting out as a solopreneur/freelance creative your hours tend to be, well, insane. You are trying out new systems and processes and figuring out what does and doesn’t work. On top of all that you have the added pressure of mundane things like rent and eating.
This creates the toxic need to constantly be working even though you might not have a clear idea of what you are working on or towards.
It’s rough. We’ve been there. Or we are still stuck here.
Set yourself goals and expectations and dang it, give yourself a night off! It will be ok! I promise!
Get out of (email) jail
You know we had to talk about emails.
It ’s a love/hate relationship.
Love: Quick responses, easy style of communication, can read them over and over and over again, can file them away for future reference.
Hate: Literally everything else.
Like all that pressure to respond immediately, like having an inbox with 355 unread messages, like having hundreds of unorganized emails, like getting spam but not wanting to take the 2 seconds to unsubscribe yourself.
And once you check your email you are stuck there for hours.
So how do we manage this total time suck?
A big question that came up was whether or not to answer emails every day of the week or only on a certain number of days.
Mandi put this question perfectly: “It's like shoveling snow during a blizzard. If you only shovel once a week, it ends up being a huge pile of snow that takes forever to put aside. But, if you do it every day, it takes over your whole day."
One day a week
Emails are generally put into the admin bucket of time management, and admin tasks always take longer than they should. Put aside one day a week for admin work so you can just get it done in one fell swoop and not get distracted by it during the rest of the week.
No, you will not be always able to answer an email at 1 am, and you probably should never do that. Set yourself office hours and only answer then. This will not only help you balance email time but also set realistic expectations with your clients.
Esther has only certain days where she answers emails. She set the expectation with her vendors that there are the only certain days she will be available. The other days they have to speak with her employees. The key here? Set clear boundaries.
Emails on our phone
We all have email on our phones AND on our laptops. Why in the world do we do that to ourselves? When it's on our phones, it is so easy to get pulled back into work. Take your work emails completely off your personal phones so that when you’re are at your computer, you are focused on work and not elsewhere.
And also so you can eat your tacos in peace without seeing an email pop up from a client.
Put the phone away, ok?
Speaking of phones...let’s talk about social media for a second.
There is this constant anxiety, especially for visual creatives, that if you’re not posting on Instagram a bazillion times a day you might lose a job opportunity. It’s way too easy to get trapped in that vice of social media because everyone’s doing it.
“Creative endeavors should be refreshing rather than depleting.” - Sean Gorant. Yup.
Here’s some mad awesome advice from Yao: get a work phone and put that work phone on do not disturb outside of work hours. Make it super de duper clear to your employees and your clients that hours outside of work are to be protected. Respect your employees and yourself enough to recharge!
I need to make money though
Taking time off and relaxing is cool and all but rent is a real thing. And so is groceries. And insurance. And a beer every now and then.
Yes, it’s true that in the beginning you might have to put in crazy hours to make enough to pay the rent. Not only are you figuring out your processes but your rates probably aren’t high enough to allow you take on fewer clients.
It’s unfortunately an almost necessary part of the process of growing a business.
But hey please please please recognize that crazy work schedules should only be a foundation and not a long term expectation. Burnout is real, yo.
Vacation sometimes would be nice
When you work for yourself your time becomes 100 times more valuable. If you take a day off that could be hundreds of dollars you’re not making. It’s no wonder entrepreneurs feel guilty for taking days off.
To counteract the guilt try setting a budget of how much you need to make that month (awesome advice from Grace). This way you can have a better grasp on how much you actually need to work and how hard you have to push.
And hey, treat yourself! Self care is super important. You’ll do so much better work for your clients when you’re well rested and recharged.
Jumping back to emails for a hot second- when you do go on a vacation turn off your email. Or go extreme and put it in safe so you can’t even get to it. Ryan did that and it let him fully enjoy his vacay on the beach in Mexico.
But what about my kids or family?
When you are a parent and entrepreneur burnouts can sneak up on you pretty easily. Start asking for help early.
A good idea would be to try and figure out how to be only part-time while your kids are really young. If you work until midnight and have young kids burnout is almost guaranteed.
Try and work during nap times so you can be more fully present when they are awake and so dang cute.
There is a lot of guilt wrapped in parenting and owning a business. You love them both but are forced to choose. Outsourcing a few key tasks could make all the difference in the world.
Daycare is crazy expensive so grappling with the choice between working hours or paying for daycare is a daily question. Instead of shelling out half your life savings for daycare, someone suggested to look into cleaning services.
Let’s face it: kids are gross and they make a ton of mess. Taking one thing off your to-do list could free up more time for you to work and be the cool parent you want to be.
You could also sign up for a grocery delivery service. Going to buy groceries takes, on average, 30.5 minutes longer than you expect it to (I totally made this stat up but boy does it just feel right). Save yourself that time.
Utilize technology where you can and where you can actually afford it to simplify your life while juggling parenting a kid and parenting a business.
Chat with Ben and Beth Stafford of Foxmeadow Creative on balancing work with kids.
“On Self-Employment, Workaholism and Getting My Life Back” by Lisa Congdon - The title pretty much speaks for itself.
Photo Credits // Sean Gorant