Creative Freelancers: Are You an Accidental Workaholic?

There are many joys of being a thriving freelancer, like choosing your projects and deciding when and where you work. But there are perpetual challenges, too, like managing client requests when you’re swamped or simply need time to decompress. Often, you may find yourself attending to everyone’s needs but your own—a road that, when taken too far, can lead to burnout. What’s a successful consultant to do?

It’s useful to set boundaries between your work and home—the sort that will still bring in business but also convince your friends and family you have a life. This type of transition doesn’t happen overnight—you’ll have to take baby steps, especially if you often hear your name and “workaholic” together in the same sentence. Here are some tips to help:

Learn about work-life balance, client relationships, finances,project management and other essential skills at the Creative Freelancer Conference, June 22–24 in San Francisco. CFC 2013 logo

Reset your attitude. The first step for many creatives may be the most difficult: You need to get over yourself. You may be the “wonderman” or “wonderwoman” of your particular trade, but if you pass over a project or refuse to take a 10 p.m. call, no one’s business is going to go under, including your own. Always put your role in perspective to the big picture when working on projects.

Establish regular working hours—and stick to them. The latter part of this equation may be the most difficult. After all, it’s one thing to tell clients you’re available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but quite another to actually turn down a client when she calls at 6:05 Friday night with an urgent project.But if other agencies and firms can keep regular hours and stay in business, so can you. You’ll likely find that clients are more respectful of your time once you establish boundaries because they know when you are—and aren’t—available.

Put some parameters in place. Once you’ve set your hours, start planning your projects accordingly. If one of your clients is always handing you tasks at the last minute, let him know that you require at least a few days’ warning to give his campaign proper care and attention. You might even have to refuse a few last-minute assignments before he understands your new way of working. If you don’t, it won’t be long before he expects you to be accessible 24/7 like before. Remember, no one will respect your schedule until you respect it yourself.

Rally the troops. To help keep you honest in your new life, elicit the support of friends and family. If they see you slipping back into old patterns, such as taking late-night calls from clients or working during family functions, ask them to point it out to you. Be clear about the instructions you’ve given clients and your own expectations of your behavior. This way, friends and family know when it’s appropriate to say something and when you’re doing an emergency favor for a longtime client.

Put aside your tech toys. Last, but certainly not least, break away from your laptop, tablet and smartphone when you’re with friends and family. If you need to have these devices with you, keep them in silent mode or turned off so you’re not tempted to answer “important” emails or calls every five minutes. Once you’ve established your hours and planned in advance, no client should be surprised by the fact that you’re unavailable. Leave a message on both your email and phone with your hours of availability as a reminder to those who may not be aware of your schedule.

Once you’ve set your boundaries, adhere to them. If you don’t, you’ll be back to old habits. Balancing work and personal obligations is no easy feat—for you or your clients. However, with clear communication, a little planning and the support of friends and family, you’ll have more time to focus on you and your loved ones while getting all your work done.