Creating work/life balance in self-employment

March 26, 2008

A good friend from Ireland visited last week, so I decided in advance to take time off from work to fully enjoy her stay. It seemed like a really good idea.

The week before her arrival, I worked my tail off. It seemed like a stunningly good idea to put in 14 hour days to complete everything I’d normally do during the time she was here.

In the words of my Irish friend, “It was mad.”

Been there, too?

Maybe you’ve noticed this: you’re under a time crunch and expecting yourself to be ultra productive. But what actually happens is you fritter away time doing busywork and don’t complete the important tasks.

Personally, I got so frantic about everything I just had to do, I barely got it all done before my friend arrived.

Everything is an opportunity for transformation

The good news is that I practice what I preach: having an inspired home office is an evolution, not a revolution. When something doesn’t work or negative feelings pile up, it’s an incredible opportunity to learn.

Here’s what I realized.

You can’t manufacture yourself

Ever since industrialization, work has been defined as a linear process. Raw materials in, marketable product out. In our culture, we tend to work linearly, too.

But what happens when you are the product and your brain generates the raw material? You can’t hire three shifts, pay minimum wage, and keep the shop open 24/7.

When you’re the product, this linear thinking can do damage to your one-person show. Effort yourself into too much “productivity” and you’ll get exhausted sooner or later – even doing work you love.

The alternative: Working sustainably

It’s more sustainable and more enjoyable to think and work in terms of seasons. A particular project can show you the bountiful harvest of autumn and a contemplative winter. You plant the seeds of spring and burst into blooms of ideas in summer.

Chances are good that you’re in many places and seasons at once… and they’re all good. You might even check in right now and ask: what season are you in with your marketing? Or product development? Or your network and strategic alliances?

But what about your goals?

Does this seasonal, energetic flux mean you can’t have goals to work toward? Of course not. Goals keep you on track – but they don’t have to be shackles.

If you want to encourage sustainable productivity in your business, try these three guidelines for goals:

Things to try

1. Cultivate focus.

Ask yourself two questions to hone your focus:

    What do I want?
    When do I want it by?

These questions can be about anything: profit, marketing, projects, etc. You can write your answers longhand or make a bullet pointed list – whatever you need to take a good look at them.

2. Establish priorities.

Once your list is written and you’ve identified what you want – by when, ask one more question:

    What is most important right now?

If you have several projects running at once, one might bring you the greatest profit, another is something you promised to a client, and a third could include regular maintenance of files. All of these are important; you decide which outranks the other.

When you’re clear about what trumps what, decisions become easier. Look at your list again and determine what you’ll do first and next and next after that.

3. Set boundaries.

Last, and arguably most important, is deciding when it’s time to not produce work. The last 2 questions:

    When will I stop?
    What do I need to care for my body, mind, and spirit?

A list of goals or to-dos won’t become your master if you’re clear about what kind of rest you need. Once you’ve established boundaries for yourself, honor them. Stopping allows you to rest and recharge, so you can work again renewed.

Summing up

You can use these three steps when work is calm, but especially when your workload is overwhelming or “mad.” You’ll be able to see through the busy-ness and work more effectively on your business.

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