I have an ebook out called Lose That Stress that’s selling pretty well. And it should: it gives you a lot of reasons why we’re stressed and what we can do about it.
But like most people who prescribe something for others, I don’t always follow my own advice. And recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the work/life balance, since it’s seemed that work is swallowing a lot of … well, of me.
So it’s time to revisit the question. Anyone who thinks for a living is prone to overwork, simply because there’s no timeframe for creativity. Your best ideas may not come when you’re sitting at your desk, or even when you’re on your employer’s timeclock; so even if you don’t work for yourself, it’s easy to have work creep into non-work time. And if you are a freelancer, it’s that times about 100.
The reality is that becoming a workaholic does not improve your productivity.Tired people don’t work well. People who never experience life outside of their prescribed routines don’t produce great creative thoughts. And it’s not healthy, or fun, or physically good for you to always be working.
So what can you do about it?
One way I’ve read about safeguarding your time is thinking in terms of firewalls. I’m not really fond of that notion—I don’t like the thought of dividing my life up so that total disaster doesn’t overtake all of it, just part of it!—but the concept of making partitions is an interesting one. Here are some ways you might want to visualize it:
- Day and Time Dividers. This one is tough, because it makes you really look at your personal productivity and manage it efficiently. Essentially this is about saying, “I’m working Monday from 8am to 4pm. If there’s something that I don’t finish, or that comes in after 4pm, I’ll look at it tomorrow.”
That’s easy to say. We’ve all said it, and we’ve all ignored it. And it gets harder, because it also involves managing your clients’ expectations, setting boundaries with them and being consistent in sticking to those boundaries. Or there’s the “emergency,” which often really isn’t an emergency at all, but an example of you not managing your time and productivity correctly.
- Location Dividers. People who work at home often find their professional and personal lives bleeding all over each other. Don’t let your whole apartment or house whisper “work!” in your ear! People who have trouble sleeping are generally given this advice: reserve your bedroom for sleep (and possibly sex); don’t do anything else there, and your body will start to respond. The same thing works for—well, for work. Choose a place where work happens. Perhaps you have a study; great. Don’t take your laptop into the kitchen—stay in the study. When you go into the kitchen, you’re on “your” time. Even if you don’t have a room put aside for work, you can find a corner of a room that’s reserved.
- Communication Dividers. If you’re not working, don’t work. Don’t answer the business line, or if you only have one line, then screen your calls. Don’t read business-related emails; remember, if this isn’t work time, it will keep until tomorrow.
My own personal “work life” is divided between client work (clients who pay me to write for them, be it articles, press releases, ghostwriting books, etc.) and my own creative output (novels, plays, etc.). I’ve reached a compromise: I’ll follow the directions above for the client side, but I leave myself open—and give myself permission!—to doing the creative work when it feels right to do it.
How do you manage to balance your work and your life? Share your secrets, and then you’ll be … beyond the elements of style!