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The Importance of Work-Life Balance When You Work For Yourself

We chat to experts about how to make work-life balance a priority, not an afterthought.
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Wellbeing - of the physical, mental, emotional and financial kind - is so much more than a buzzword. Getting that work-life balance right is essential for maintaining your equilibrium as an employee - and a human being. Workplaces that promote wellbeing find their staffers to be more motivated, resilient and productive, which in turn improves worker retention and company output.

“To me, work-life balance is three things: it’s work, it’s rest and it’s play,” says Annabel Zicker, mindset and resilience coach and speaker.

“There needs to be a distinction between rest and play - things that we do which nourish us and stuff that we really enjoy that depletes our energy, and we need to recognise a lot more work that goes beyond doing your job, like caring for kids or relatives.

“You need to have those three things in symbiosis, no matter how limited your time is, because the minute rest or play fall away, we’re in dangerous territory with exhaustion and burnout.”

How do you prioritise wellbeing when you work for yourself? Having to manage work, life, and everything in between, on your own - often while working, living, parenting and more - requires its own set of helpful guidelines. We got some expert tips on how to give yourself backup and a break so that you can be a good boss for you.

Young businessman riding a skateboard in the city
Westend61 via Getty Images
Young businessman riding a skateboard in the city

Start small

Not everyone finds the concept of work-life balance easy to adopt - but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Everyone, no matter how busy or overwhelmed, needs to come up for air every now and again.

For those trying to figure out how to integrate balance while running their own business, career change coach Alice Stapleton recommends starting small.

“Take little breaks, as opposed to expecting yourself to take whole mornings, afternoons, or weekends off. Maybe even just half an hour away from your desk or screen could work wonders for refreshing your mind,” she advises, suggesting short mindfulness exercises for an immediate sense of calm, easily accessible via apps such as Headspace and Calm.

In order to successfully adopt a work-life balance, some people need to reframe the idea in their minds - a simple change of wording could help you feel a lot happier.

“For some, seeing the concept as more about ‘integration’ than ‘balance’ can help. It doesn’t have to be one on, the other off, like a see-saw. It’s about ensuring that equal attention is paid to all the different areas in our life over time. You can be creative about how you go about doing that,” Stapleton says.

Man working on laptop in the living room at home
Alexander Spatari via Getty Images
Man working on laptop in the living room at home

Get one work thing done each day

The pressures that come when you’re launching your own business can feel overwhelming - it’s simply not possible to sort everything you need to every single day, especially if you’re facing other responsibilities, like chores around the house or childcare duties.

“Focus on one thing every day that will keep you moving forward, even if it’s just sending an email for five minutes. It will give you a sense that you’re making progress. Focus on individual steps rather than the end goal,” says Zicker.

For freelancers or the self-employed who are feeling uncertainty in this particular period, Zicker advises focusing on the positive, practical changes you can make during this time, rather than dwelling on clients lost.

“Think about how you can be flexible and how you can really adapt in the short term, and take advantage of opportunities presenting themselves to you. In order to take advantage you need to be looking out for those opportunities,” she says.

If you’re finding yourself with extra time on your hands, use this time to think about ways you can retrain and upskill (e.g. online marketing courses) so that you’re in a stronger position when this period of uncertainty is over.

Woman lying on blanket on meadow with dog using laptop
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Woman lying on blanket on meadow with dog using laptop

Accept that you can’t do it all

If you’re struggling to switch off, consider why - are you overwhelmed by work, or are you worried about letting people down or being seen as a failure?

“Often our inability to switch off is because we feel we’re losing control over our workload. Try to acknowledge and embrace the idea that nothing terrible will happen if you don’t tap into work for a few hours. Often, the things we consider urgent, really aren’t. If you don’t respond for a day, usually everything will still be OK,” says Stapleton.

She recommends unwinding in ways that require complete focus and keep you in the present, like reading, learning, physical activity or making something.

“These give your mind an opportunity to be present, switching off completely from work-related concerns. Try to see unwinding as much of a priority as working, sleeping, and eating. It’s an incredibly important part of self-care, which deserves proper dedication and commitment to making it happen on a daily basis. Block time out in your diary, like you would a work meeting, if you have to,” she suggests.

Woman working from home during the Covid lockdown
Alistair Berg via Getty Images
Woman working from home during the Covid lockdown

Create physical separations between work life and home life

The pros of working from home - dressing up for our top-seen-only Zoom calls, having lunch with the kids, typing from the comfort of bed - can quickly turn into cons if we don’t properly delineate between work and everything else.

“If you’re working from home, try to create a physical break at the end of your working day. This could involve shutting down your computer, walking or running round the block or going for a short drive, returning home with a clearer head before unwinding,” says Stapleton.

Zicker recommends claiming some physical “office” space - even if it’s only a shelf on which to place your laptop and headphones.

“Make that space as permanent as you can. Don’t shift from working in the kids’ room to the dining table to the bedroom. Try and create some sort of permanence in the space that you’re using, otherwise it becomes way too overwhelming and your brain is still ruminating over the next thing you have to do.”

Note: this works even if you have to work in a corner of your bedroom, just separate your bed (all about rest) from your desk space (all about work), and remember to keep it consistent and create a routine that you stick to.

“Remember to include rest and play and make that as important as you would a meeting with a potential investor or the CEO of the company you work for,” says Zicker.

Young woman sitting on couch at home meditating
Westend61 via Getty Images
Young woman sitting on couch at home meditating

Be a little bit selfish

Effectively embracing work-life balance is about recognising that if we don’t prioritise ourselves and our own mental health, we’ll be of little benefit as business owners, employees, friends, parents - you name it.

“We grow up thinking we need to put everyone else first but when we do that it’s only a fraction of our full potential. Once we accept that we can’t pour from an empty cup, we need to be able to look after ourselves. We’re able to give so much more,” says Zicker.