Staying Sane While Running Your Business
Balancing work and life can get hard when you work from home, or when it’s your business and the lights need to stay on more hours than you're comfortable with. Hopefully, I can share some ideas of how I stay sane while working from home and on the road, how I unplug, and what I call ‘life admin’ tips.
For most freelancers, I’d say your office exists at your kitchen table or in front of a laptop, wherever you may be. You may be fortunate enough to have a home office with a dedicated workspace and powerful desktop. Either way, my first tip comes in the form of treating your work ‘space’ as an office. Keep it clutter-free, clean, and smelling fresh and most importantly, comfortable. I have always said that taking care of the little things, like cleaning and organization, makes the big things easier. This keeps me sane by reducing the extra stress that comes when I go to ‘the office’. So it may be as small as cleaning your computer’s desktop or adding some real plants to your desk, but anything you can do to make ‘going in’ easier, the less you feel like it’s work.
A Case of The Mondays is a real thing. It often comes to weekend warriors in the form of anxiety on Sunday mornings, anticipating the impending chaos and depression that comes with the workweek. As a small business owner who works whenever I need to, including weekends, I mostly avoid this, but I find it trickles in after I have a late-night gig that I didn’t organize my gear or unload memory cards after. The trick here is that I’ve minimized that stress to controllable items like unloading a memory card, and recharging gear – instead of a total overhaul of the office in the morning as a result of feeling guilty about the one small thing. So staying sane starts with staying clean, organized, and creating good habits around ‘going in’ to the office (again, wherever or whatever that may look like).
Hours of Operation
I find the most helpful tool I’ve built in to being a freelancer is setting a schedule around when I need to get going the next day, and when I can have lunch and be done for the day. And you don’t need to map this out the week before, but even just the day or two before. It gives me something to look forward to, and it keeps me productive. But to keep me truly sane, I need to know that my workday is starting at a certain time and ends either when I finish a part of a project and send it, or when it’s a certain time. I need structure. And I would advise anyone that is starting up their own business, even on the side of their full-time thing, that they set parameters around when they work. I find throwing off my sleep has, historically, not treated me well. I do recognize this model doesn’t fit every scenario. The lesson is the same – just know when to pull the plug.
The trick to staying sane when considering your hours of work though doesn’t really lie in sticking to a schedule – it’s actually fully unplugging (or mostly unplugging) when you need to. If you’re outside of those hours you set yourself, are you prepared to start saying “I will deal with that tomorrow”? Then, what are you doing to ensure that you fully unplug and power down? For me, it means taking the dog out, spending time with her. It means maybe firing up some mindless youtube videos or video games. Just for a while.
You might be asking yourself “well gee, this is what I would do if I was working a 9-5”. And that’d be true, except in reality it is not this easy. People email when they’re done their 9-5, people call at early hours, clients request stuff late at night when they’ve reviewed what you sent and it’s fresh. You have to be able to tell yourself “it can wait until tomorrow”. It’s a powerful tool, that when followed, can really improve your work/life balance. Just don’t let tomorrow become next week.
It can be hard to keep your head down when working alone, from home, with so many distractions. Even at a coffee shop with your laptop, it can be easy to start watching youtube videos. The secret to staying sane is by staying productive – but sometimes that is hard. My trick is to take mini breaks frequently. For me this means starting laundry right before I settle into some work, setting a timer, and flipping it when I need to. This means pausing to step outside and take a stretch break/play with the dog. Because there isn’t necessarily anyone telling me to take a break, I tend to skip them if I don’t make a point of spreading them out. So for those who work from home, this can be easy. For those on the road, this may be harder – but the lesson, again, is the same. Do something outside of your project that takes your brain off it for a minute.
Maximizing your productivity actually comes most naturally when you stick to the previous tip, though. When you’ve shut off work properly, and unplugged for a full 10+ hours is when you’ll feel most energized to jump back into it. In fact, I find that if I unplug properly, my brain will stew on a problem and I’ll have a solution in the morning, and that will continue to fuel my productivity.
The last productivity hack comes from planning. Plan to finish that version of that video, a certain amount of photo editing, etc., by a certain time, or by the end of the day. I often will email my clients or contact them the day before saying “I should have that cut to you by the end of tomorrow for review the following day” or “I think I can have this wrapped up by the weekend for review on Monday morning”.
The second scenario gives an insight into how I personally avoid a case of the Mondays and also carve out a weekend to look at managing other things, including life admin stuff.
All The Other Stuff
My final tip is to work on systems for things like accounting, invoices, expenses, prepping for gigs, etc..
What has helped me manage chaos in my business has been just having habits built around the annoying stuff, because as I mentioned, looking after the little things makes the big things easier. Here are a few examples:
When an invoice goes out to a client, print it, and pin it to a corkboard. When it gets paid, file it in a cabinet.
When you have an expense, circle the total and put a note in sharpie beside it. (Office materials)
The day before a gig, pull out all your batteries, charge them all, then put them in a convenient spot. Repeat every time.
Totally empty your bags after every gig. Repack your bag differently for every gig.
Tips like these help me stress less at gigs, stress less about being audited, stress less about forgetting stuff. And they’re super easy systems that I stick to. They keep me sane because I worry less, and as a result, often feel more comfortable at gigs, and in talking about how my business works and contributes to me feeling like a more confident business person in the field.
Finally, in keeping with the systems theme, I think it’s important to work in a reward system. Too often I feel like a hard day’s work just feels normal – and you can’t really go out for wings with the crew after a hard day. So work in your own system – maybe it’s ordering in pho (this is what I do), or baking for yourself. Maybe it’s just getting out and exercising. But reward yourself for working hard – because your client often can’t see what went into that project, and nor did many others, but when you reward yourself, you’ve built in a positive feedback system that says “when I do good, I get a reward” – it’s a small system, but it keeps me sane.
And that’s it! A few tips for keeping freelancers, creatives, stay-at-home parents, etc. sane when working alone/from home as I see it Through My Lens.