3 Ways to Find Work/Life Balance
Ah, work/life balance.
We can all agree that it's a great dream, but how many of us really find it or live it?
This time last year, I was inundated with new brand clients and four weddings happening in June. My weekends were non-existent and my business felt like my whole life. It felt like every time I turned around, there was something new to do on my list and I rarely felt okay taking a break to spend time with family or just have fun with my husband.
It wasn't fun and it wasn't sustainable. If I was going to have a life, I was going to have to fight for it - and fight by thinking outside of the box.
After trying a lot of things, I've found 3 strategies that have transformed my business and personal life. Here they are in case they might help you too.
1. Setting Office Hours
One day, I made a very simple change - I picked office hours (Monday-Friday 10am-5pm EST) and I just cut and pasted them into my email signature.
This quick idea was a huge step in getting me better work/life balance. Here's why.
Do you have clients call you late at night asking for things? How about early in the morning?
I bet you've wondered why other people think it's okay to do that - especially when you have a family/life outside of work.
Well, I wonder if they'd call you that late or early if you had stated your office hours from the get-go, like I do indirectly in my email signature.
So much of what you do when you work with clients is about setting expectations. If you haven't communicated to your clients that you have a set time your office is open and closed, then they may assume they can call you and reach you at any time.
What's even better is that if you have hours, even if your clients call or email late, they are more likely not to expect you to respond right away or before your office hours begin.
I was a little nervous to do this for myself, but it's worked tremendously well for me. I try to only set meetings for myself within these hours. It helps me have better boundaries for knowing/feeling like I can take off for the evening and not work every night, into the night.
Of course, I often do work outside of M-F, 10am-5pm, but having set office hours allows me to set very clear expectations for everyone, including myself.
2. Scheduling Emails
Something that's helped me reinforce the effectiveness of office hours and find more balance has been writing emails in advance and scheduling them to go out later.
If you reply to a client's email at 12am when you are up late while you're knocking stuff out one night... guess what they might expect when they email you at 12am another day? .. They might expect you're always up then. Eek.
Writing your emails in advance and scheduling them to go out is awesome! Write them whenever you do have the time, then make sure to schedule them to send during your office hours. You're still being productive but maintaining good expectations from everyone.
I use Boomerang for Gmail for this - I'd highly recommend it. It's a free plug-in that includes several free credits for scheduling messages.
You can also use Boomerang to return messages to your email inbox if no one replies to notes. That's amazing when you're trying to get up with someone and you forget they haven't replied to you!
3. Creating Project Timelines
I did not want to do this at all.
I was so reluctant to commit to dates with my clients for my projects in advance. I worried doing that would mean relinquishing the freedom I so enjoyed as an entrepreneur.
However, I was kidding myself.
Without clear project milestone dates, here's what would happen to me. The minute I'd finish one milestone for a client, I'd roll right on to the next. There was never a break. Some projects took weeks, some took months to do the same scope, because I would schedule it willy nilly as we went.
While we got things done, this wasn't a strategy that gave me any freedom. In reality, it kept me working constantly, with no end in sight!
I took a deep breath and started scheduling out each project, including the timeline of dates in every contract going forward. What happened was transformational! Suddenly I knew what time I had booked for the next several months and I also knew, when I finished a milestone - I could enjoy the time inbetween for my personal life or to catch up on other projects. I wouldn't just work non-stop because I didn't need to - we had a plan in place.
Moreover, I've truly loved being able to tell my clients when they'll receive everything. It's empowering to know when you'll have your logo or tagline ready and it allows you to better plan.
I had no idea that all of this good would come from giving up my safety blanket of scheduling-as-I-went. It's helped me and it's really helped my clients too. When we can all have a better balance, that's a huge win.
Grace, Not Perfection
Accomplished entrepreneur and business owner Emily Ley is known for stressing the importance of "grace, not perfection."
That's the perfect sentiment for work/life balance to me.
These three ideas have really helped me find more balance. They've helped me have real weekends, take vacations, and spend good time with friends and family without feeling guilty about it.
But they aren't perfect and neither is my balance. It's important to have tools that help make things more sustainable, but balance is a process.
Whether you try these specific things or not, allow me to encourage you to grasp the most important word here - try. Many of these things felt counter-productive to my goal, but ended up being huge blessings.
What could you do differently? How might trying something outside the box improve your personal and business life? That's the way to find work/life balance - to try and find more of it.