For the last eight years I have worked from home — first as a freelancer, later as business owner. I share every square foot and minute with my partner in all crimes, Armin Vit, and our two daughters Maya, 6, and Zoe, 3. Why does this matter to you? Well, it sets the stage for my daily attempts at balancing life and work as I strive to fulfill my projected dreams and my day-to-day reality.
There is no single solution to this inner battle as we creatives struggle with the hat switching that defines us — from designer to parent to sibling to mentor to many more. But there is some comfort in realizing we don’t stand alone in the skirmish. I can go on and on about the hard knocks I’ve received, and I can tell you that I have enjoyed a good amount of rainbow-colored days, but I’d rather share my handy box of tools that aid me along the way:
photo from Shutterstock
- Priorities. I need to know what they are. I need to drink my own Kool-Aid that’s chocked full of them, as living and breathing them helps me make split decisions on the fly. There are priorities within the office and there are priorities at home. Yet they need to overlap in the same way they do within my physical space.
- Advisors. At any given time when I find that I don’t know what to do, I make phone calls, I send emails, and I make new acquaintances because I’m constantly asking friends and family how they deal with “fill in the blank.” We don’t always agree, but getting different ideas and perspectives unclogs my brain and dares me to experiment.
- Schedule. My sanity revolves around my calendar (Looking for a fabulous calendar? Check out these 14 cool calendar designs). It’s a sight to behold. The detailed schedule allows me to expect certain things — it’s not only Ashley’s birthday party, but it’s the gift-buying, the post-cake sugar rush and the late bedtime that comes with it. It’s not only the 21-hour trip to give a lecture, it’s altering my husband’s schedule as he takes over kid care, and planning the workload of our interns. If I can keep track of what the next day/week/month has to offer both at work and at home, I can be better prepared for it.
- List. I have a notebook where I keep an ongoing list of things that need to be done under all of my hats. There’s no sense or order to it from anyone’s perspective but mine: call the printer, pick up gift, cancel lesson, finish lecture, reconcile finances, etc. I can find the most efficient way in which to complete them based on how much time I have on hand. That does not mean things don’t have deadlines or priorities, but it simply frees my brain to focus on completing versus remembering. Besides, you’d be surprised at how many little things you can cross out when you find five extra minutes.
- Me. Sounds corny, and I huffed at it for many years. But me time is essential. Personally, this means running on a regular basis without music so that I can focus my thoughts on things that need to be done, things that are bothering me, those that need organizing, or new ideas I want to explore. I often return with 100 slides for a presentation fully drafted. Getting away from it all let’s me think. Just think. Make sure you add your me time to your schedule, and let those around you know it is a top priority.
- Hours. The use of each hour makes a big difference. Am I at work? That’s my focus. Am I at home? Then I shall enjoy and be enjoyed by my family. Am I stuck waiting for my kids to finish an after-school lesson? Time to figure out how to best use that time and place. This doesn’t mean that I never take a break, but becoming an efficiency master of my domain gives me the ability to accomplish more in less time, with minimum stress. It’s an acquired skill to switch gears back and forth all day, but one that anyone can master with practice.
- Freedom. I have freed myself to fail. I have made countless assumptions and mistakes along the way, and I still do. I hope that I’ll never stop because the day that I get comfortable or set in my ways, I will start to take this delicate balance for granted, and that scares me. For example, I thought I could start lecturing when my oldest turned one, but neither of us were ready. How did I realize this? By canceling one lecture when she got sick, and stressing on two more trips way more than necessary. I waited another year and all was good.
In the end, finding your own balance between life and work is up to you and your journey in finding the tools that will help you navigate both paths at the same time without losing your stability. Listed above are the things that help me stay upright as I tether on the daily seesaw ride that is my life. This list will keep evolving as my children mature and my business grows.
Resources to Help Your Design Business Grow
- Get to know the ins and outs of the freelance world by attending the Creative Freelancer Conference at HOW Design Live.
- In the November 2012 issue of HOW, Todd Henry shares tips to bring creativity to your design business.
- Looking to build your freelance business? Get three leading books for one low price. Se the Building Your Freelance Business Value Pack.