That elusive work-life balance goal is a tough nut to crack but author Alison Grade shares her advice below, with an extract for her book The Freelance Bible: Everything You Need To Go Solo in Any Industry, out now.
Imagine a set of scales, the old-fashioned sort with two pans. If one side is your work and one side is the rest of your life you are looking for that point of balance where, for you, the two are in kilter with each other and the system is in equilibrium. That point is different for everyone and can shift throughout your career. The key is to understand where yours is right now and to implement systems and strategies to keep it where you want it to be. It’s also important, when freelancing, to look at your longer- term work–life balance. You can’t control when the work arrives, so you might have a mountain of things to do one month and very little the next. It can be a hard regime to adjust to and it requires you to look further ahead than you might be accustomed to and find new ways to achieve your work–life balance.
I spent the early part of my career in TV production which is intensive, fast-turnaround project-based work. When I was hired for a production my first action was to book a holiday for the end of the contract. I knew that if I didn’t do it straight away, I’d never end up taking the time off. It was my self-preservation mechanism. I knew I was about to work really hard and that holiday was, for me, the light at the end of the tunnel.
These days I work on much shorter projects and tend to be booked by the day or week for a project, rather than months. This means I have to find new ways of instilling that balance away from work. It might be as simple as a day spent pottering around the house when no one else is home, or catching up with friends for a coffee. It’s the time I take to recharge my batteries and it is really important.
I can keep up the work façade relatively easily when I’m running on empty but it’s not so easy to keep it up at home. That’s when I know I need to restore balance. As a freelance working mum, I relate strongly to this quote from Annabel Crabb, an Australian political journalist:
‘The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job’.
I find that most of the time I can busk my way through and I make this work. This is primarily due to the autonomy that being a freelancer gives me. I can be working anywhere and at any time. Now that is, of course, a double-edged sword – but it’s a double-edge I’ll accept any day. I can be in the park with the kids and they can be climbing trees. I’ll sit on a bench and watch them enjoying their freedom and also be finalizing a meeting or replying to a quick email. So, yes, I’m ‘on’ all the time but I also have freedom to be working where I want to be and not chained to a desk. That’s the work–life balance choice that I’ve made. A key part of this for me is to be around for the family.
The one thing I do ensure is that I take work at a rate that I’m happy with, and always work hard for my clients to ensure I deliver high-quality results in a user-friendly and timely fashion.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO ME?
Success is about attaining what you set out to achieve. It is a completely subjective measurement. It’s not about comparing yourself with others and deeming yourself less successful because you haven’t done what they’ve done. You don’t know what they are trying to achieve and what compromises they have made along the way to get to where they are. Comparison is likely to just make you feel like a failure.
If you can define what success means to you then you can set out a plan to achieve it. For a long time I equated success with status and earnings and deemed myself inferior to those who had them. These days, when I consider what success means to me, I realize it is being with my family and doing work I enjoy and find challenging. It’s about being able to manage my work so I can be there during the special moments for my kids.
Take a minute to write down what success means to you.
Success stories abound when you look at them through the correct lens. Now that you’ve thought about this, remember to refer back to what you’ve written and congratulate yourself when you achieve one of your goals.
Empowering stuff, thank you Alison!
The Freelance Bible is out now.
Read more inspiring guest posts here.