Written By Steph Auteri
When my now-husband and I first began dating about six years ago, I was unemployed. But I was still keeping myself busy. I was writing restaurant and bar reviews for one of Shecky’s nightlife guides. I was handing out samples at Dunkin’ Donuts and Acme to supplement my unemployment checks. I was interning at the Feminist Press. I was singing in my church choir. It was a dark time in my life, but I never stopped hustling. In fact, being unproductive made me uncomfortable. I told Michael: We can see each other on the weekends, but only if we’re working. We’d bring our laptops to Barnes & Noble. He’d type up music reviews while I did write-ups on the China Club and the Lakeside Lounge.
Three years later, we were on our honeymoon, and I could not relax. I was reading Naked Ambition and brainstorming how I could parlay my sex writing into something bigger. I was obsessively checking my e-mail inbox for my full-time book publishing job. I was g-chatting with colleagues. My publisher compared me to Miranda on Sex and the City, whose high-powered workaholic lawyer behaved in much the same way when she was on her own honeymoon.
Now, as a full-time freelancer, it’s even tougher to set boundaries between my work life and my personal life. When you work out of your bedroom, the lines are easily blurred. But I’ve been doing this for three years now, and I’ve learned a few simple truths:
1. An inability to place limits on your working hours can adversely affect your health. As someone who suffers from both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome, I’ve had to be especially careful with this. Exhaustion can really hit me hard.
2. On a somewhat related note, burnout can suck the fun out of a career you were once passionate about. So if you want to sustain that career, you have to give it room to breathe.
3. Your career is not life-or-death and, when it comes down to it, family is far more important.
Jesaka has been doing a really excellent job of giving her career room to breathe. She’s carved out time to do the writing she cares most about. She’s gone on a writing retreat (lucky girl!). She’s even taken a step back from her blog.
I am terrible with time management, and my husband is even worse. But my desire to strengthen that relationship has made me work even harder at finding balance. I don’t do vacations. I don’t do morning walks or afternoon yoga. Sometimes, I don’t even do lunch. But I do find time for the things that matter the most to me: my husband, my hobbies, and sweet, sweet sleep. How?
1. I prioritize my to-do list. I recently blogged about a friend who took one look at my to-do list and said: You’re doing it wrong. She then asked me: Where do you want to be in a year? After answering without hesitation, she reorganized my to-do list for me, even taking some items off my list completely. You should all do the same. You may have a ton of different interests, ideas, and master plans. And that’s okay. But if certain items on your to-do list and keeping you from achieving your ultimate goals — or not moving you closer to those goals — it’s time to consider cutting them… or at least putting them at the bottom of your list.
2. I set my work hours. Some people in my life assume that, as a freelancer, I loll about all day, watching reality television marathons and doing up the occasional blog post. Okay. You caught me. This is totally what I did when I was first starting out. But once I began to bring in more work, there was no time for America’s Next Top Model. Or meals. Or my husband. In fact, most evenings, I never stopped working. These days, I try to limit the time I spend on my work to normal business hours, so that I can make myself available to my husband in the evenings and on weekends. And even if I do have spillover, I make sure my husband takes precedence. After all, it’s my own damn fault for not finishing my work more efficiently.
3. I (try to) schedule out my day in blocks of time. I’m not always good about this but, when I am, it does wonders for my productivity levels. When I only allow myself a certain amount of time to edit that e-book or write up that blog post or work on my marketing plan, I’m less likely to waste time catching up on my Google Reader or Twitter feed. I work more quickly and efficiently. Which leaves more time for friends or family or the latest Netflix DVD.
4. I evaluate each project carefully before saying yes. Once upon a time, I was desperate for work… any work at all. Now, I know that an inability to say no can actually work against me. I take care not to burden myself with projects that take up too much time, but don’t offer enough money. Such projects only hold me back, keeping me away from the work that matters most to me. Here are some questions to ask yourself before saying yes.
5. I make time for date night. When you’re a workaholic, it’s so easy to let your relationships fall by the wayside. Which is why it’s important to schedule in your friends and family in much the same way you’d schedule in a business meeting or a project deadline. When my husband and I were going through a particularly rough patch, we instituted Date Nights. We went out once a week, and took turns planning the dates. It made a huge difference. What do you need to schedule in? Time to cook? Time to work out? Time to kick back with your friends or visit your family? Figure out what’s missing from your life, and take care to schedule it in. Seriously. Add it to your calendar. Your life will become richer for it.
Steph Auteri is a writer, editor, and career coach who happens to be juggling way too many things. But she still has time for Netflix, wine tastings, and the occasional happy hour, so I suppose she’s in pretty good shape. If you’d like to learn how you can do it all, sign up for her e-course, 5 Weeks To Freelance Awesome.