How to juggle private, professional and social life – and avoid burnout
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When you start your own business, creating a healthy work-life balance is the last thing on your mind. Burnout is for people who work a corporate, nine-to-five job; not for people who turn their dream into reality – and who love what they were doing.
That thought is far from the truth; taking on so much work that you stop doing anything else, is the perfect recipe for burning out. Burnout is usually caused by excessive and prolonged stress; where stress by itself is usually a temporary condition (you feel things will get better as soon as you get everything under control), burnout kicks in when there’s no light to be seen at the end of the tunnel.
People who work from home (whether they have their own business, or are in the employment of someone else) have a high risk of prolonged stress. The main reason for that is often the absence of clear boundaries; when your home environment is the same as your work environment, lines get blurred. Many entrepreneurs work long hours – often interrupted by all kinds of distractions.
However, working from home can also be a blessing; you have the unique opportunity to set your own boundaries. I have been self-employed for about six years now, and I was lucky to get some great advice from others in my field when I just started out. However, most of the “golden rules” I now (try to) apply to my working time, I’ve learned through trial and error.
Establish office hours – and communicate them to the people around you
One reasons why many freelancers fail to establish clear work-life boundaries, is the existence of unrealistic expectations from their entourage. That you’re home all day, doesn’t mean you can keep an eye on the children, do the housework, drive your mother to the dentist and entertain a neighbor who drops by for coffee. Your workload is no different from if you’d leave the house in the morning to go to the office; that you happen to be home, is besides the question.
Before you start working from home, decide on your office hours. Work can start after school drop-off and finish in time for a weekly lunch with your sister; in between those, you need to be able to concentrate one hundred percent.
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Schedule time for other activities
Establishing office hours is one thing, but there needs to be time for rest and relaxation as well. I work best with blocks; I’ll alternate an “office block” with a “household block” – time for groceries, gardening, or meetings with clients.
Schedule time for family, for household work and other chores, but don’t forget to also count in some social time – meet up with a friend, call your parents (or your children), spend time with people who keep you grounded and make you feel good. It might take up some of your time, but it will also give you more energy to tackle the rest of your week.
You have limited time, energy and resources. Be realistic when you’re planning your day; schedule some time for a breather in between office work… you can’t stay concentrated for hours on end (or at least, you shouldn’t). Go for a short walk, meditate or do some breathing exercises… get up from your computer and move around for a bit.
Getting exercise and / or fresh air can do wonders for the mood – and it will help you concentrate better when you get back to work.
Moms: help each other out
If you’re a mom with young children, or if you’re homeschooling your kids, they will be around all day – even (especially) when you’re trying to get some work done. Being on the phone with a client while you’re trying to entertain a one year old just doesn’t work…
Other people living near you might be in the same situation; explore possibilities of working together – maybe you can watch each others’ children for half a day every week, so the other gets at least a few hours of uninterrupted office time?
This should probably be rule number one – don’t multitask. It’s not worth the hassle.
With multitasking, I mean checking e-mail during family time – or chatting with a friend during work time. Once you start letting small things encroach on your schedule, there’s no way to know where it will end…
Don’t let a bad day at work contaminate your private or social life
When you talk about work in a family or social situation, try to focus on what’s going well at work, and what you enjoy doing. It creates a more positive environment than complaining about annoying clients, talking about everything that went wrong or plain taking out your frustration on others.
Research shows that taking your work home with you has a serious impact on family and social life. Try venting about things that happened at work to your coworkers or a friend who’s in a similar business – they will understand what you’re going through better, and you could keep the story to your spouse or mother to the essentials – and give it a positive twist.
Have separate e-mail addresses for business and private e-mails.
When you just started your own business, keeping all e-mails in one inbox might seem sensible and simple; on the long run, it isn’t.
You’ll be tempted to answer business e-mails when relaxing on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee; it could also become complicated to share your e-mails with an assistant. Besides, having a professional e-mail address with your domain name in it just looks and sounds more professional.
At the first signs of burnout, turn to your friends and family
Burnout is not actually a professional problem; it’s a sign that business took over your whole life. In order to re-mediate that, the other aspects of your life (family, friends, your social circle and other interests) are what can turn the tables.
When you feel the stress at work is just not subsiding, or when you notice you just don’t stop working and it’s taking over your life, talk to others. Hopefully they can help restore the balance in your life. Get a hobby, go to the gym, just make your work a little less all-compassing. If it’s gone too far, you might need professional help – but that, as well, will have the best effect if you get full support from people around you.
Sandrine Ferwerda Coosemans was born in Belgium. She worked as a personal assistant in Amsterdam when she and her husband decided to make a change; she became a virtual assistant and social media manager so she could work from their off-grid olive and almond farm. When she’s not organizing other people’s (online) business, Sandrine can be found in the garden, with her chickens and alpacas.
With the help of other experts in the field, Sandrine recently created Blogging Apprentice, where starting entrepreneurs and small business owners can learn all about online marketing for their business.