Where’s the fine line?

Welcome to Week 42 of my adventure as a member of the Marketing Plan Group. In my posts, I talk about my voyage down the road of self-employment as a website copywriter, my achievements and roadblocks along the way, and what I’m learning from my group experience.

You’ve heard me talk about finding balance before. These days I’ve been quite busy (which is great), but I’ve noticed some curious behaviors popping up in my normally routine-ish workday (which I’ve worked pretty hard to establish). This has left me wondering, at what point does our usage of “freelancer flexibility” begin to infringe on our work-life balance?

I see the freedom I have as an absolute luxury. I’m so grateful for it. Self-employed people have the freedom to do lots of cool things, like:

  • Meet a client, prospect, or friend for lunch or coffee
  • Exercise when we want – skip the crowd at the gym or take a midday bike ride
  • See the doctor in the middle of the day if necessary
  • Take time off, a few hours or even days when we choose to
  • Schedule summer work hours around vacations/children who are home from school
  • Be home to meet the cable guy/electrician/UPS guy
  • Be home to walk the dog
  • Work from Starbucks/Central Park/Australia/etc. I live in Ireland and visit home (New York) often. I work from both places.
  • Bake a midday banana bread!

What other freedoms do you treasure?

On the flipside, I can also see that our freedom is a slippery slope. For example, how often do you:

  • Work late at night (and forego dinner or time spent with loved ones)? My fiancé has been coming home from work lately, and while we usually have dinner together, I’ve been locked in my office until 10pm. Not a habit I want to get into.
  • Take daytime phone calls from friends who don’t work and have the gift of gab? Yes, I’ve got some of them. It’s amazing how much of my workday can get wasted if I answer phone calls from friends who aren’t working.
  • Answer client calls at crazy hours?
  • Work weekends? 16-hour days? I have been lately, and it’s been taking away from the other things I enjoy, which makes me sad. It’s also been making me resent my work a little, which I normally love!
  • Waste time on Facebook or online shopping? With an upcoming wedding, it’s tempting to look for shoes or hairstyles online! But I need to remind myself, not during the workday!
  • Take a sick day (even when you’re really sick)? Just because we can work when we have the flu, doesn’t mean we should.
  • Take time off (and actually put a vacation message on your email)?
  • Clean the house/do laundry/chores? I like doing a load of laundry every now and then, but sometimes I find myself cleaning the kitchen or vacuuming, all while I should be working, and it adds up!
  • Run errands during work time? Stopping by the post office and the supermarket adds up too. Plus, these things can be done later, after working hours.  
  • Watch TV during the day? I used to watch Ellen during my lunch break, but I had to cut the cord.  Back in corporate land, I got an hour for lunch. I need to give myself a reality check. If I’m spending more than an hour NOT working during my workday, I’ve got to taper.
  • Skip exercise/cancel plans/not pursue hobbies or interests because of work?

I guess the real answer here is – all of these things are okay to some extent – if they work for us. If we choose them. But that’s why we need to know what we choose. We need to create guidelines for ourselves about what we want out of work, and life. What our rules are. Not only for working with clients, but for working with ourselves! How do we want our days, our businesses, and our lives, to be?

Without some sort of baseline, bad habits can develop, and we might not even realize what’s happening. At least with some guidelines – in writing – when we choose to deviate from our rules, at least we know it.

It’s also why our financial goals are so important. Because we can gauge our best practices for work with our financial goals — and if the two aren’t meeting up, we can decide what gives. If we are breaking our “rules” but still not reaching out monetary goal, we can reassess. Change our goal, change our rules, charge more, get higher-paying clients, etc.

Some of my best practices include:
• Finish working by 6PM.
• Don’t work on weekends.
• Take only 1-hour during the day to eat/exercise/run errands.
• Tell people who call and feel like chatting, “I’m working now, I’ll call you back,” or, “I only have five minutes,” and stick to it.
• Put on my “out of office” when I’m not working. It gets rid of that always half-working feeling.

Yes, I have made exceptions to these rules, but I need to make sure they are exceptions, and not the norm.

Have you created best practices for yourself? So, where is that fine line? Or is it ever-changing? Please share your thoughts.