Work/life balance lessons

Over the course of 2018 I made a number of tweaks to how I work in order to try and obtain a better work/life balance. Most of them have been helpful, so I’m sharing the lessons I learnt and will be endeavouring to continue in 2019.

Take regular short breaks during the day

Given that most of my work involves sitting in a chair, staring at a screen and using a mouse and keyboard, it’s important to take regular breaks to protect my eyes, wrists and back. Via the helpful means of my Twitter followers, I found Workrave, which pops up a message using three different timers:

  1. Micro breaks: Looking away from the screen, stretching legs etc.
  2. Rest break: Moving away from the computer.
  3. Daily cap: The maximum time I can spend in front of a computer on any given day.

All the timers are configurable, both in terms of their frequency and how long they last. I’ve set a micro break at 60 seconds and a rest break at 5 minutes, which feels about right for now, but I may tweak them later. I sometimes have to skip the daily cap though as I use my computer for playing DVDs in the evening. Installing Workrave under Ubuntu is as simple as apt install workrave.

Leaving the house for lunch, even if it’s just wandering into town to get a sandwich, is also helpful.

Take regular time off during the year

The first year I was self-employed, I was so focused on building my business that I only took a few days off here and there. This year I’m aiming to take at least 4 weeks off, as I would if I was employed. I also need to actually book somewhere to go to, rather than just taking a week off and then lounging about at home (nothing wrong with that in principle, but I would like to get away from my place of work).

Drawing a line between personal and work email

When I started freelancing, I used my personal email address because it was already setup on all my devices. Although this worked, it meant I didn’t know for sure whether an email was personal or work, which resulted in me reading work emails outside of normal office hours. Rather than create lots of filtering rules to separate out work email, I simply setup a different address and asked all my clients to use that instead.

In a similar vein, I’m considering getting a second SIM card with a different number that I will use for work purposes as well. Although my existing clients don’t call me outside of office hours, I do occasionally get calls from people who have seen my website, and I have to answer the phone because I don’t know whether it’s personal or business.

Not working evenings or weekends

Since starting as a freelancer, I’ve always made an attempt to avoid working evenings and weekends, but last year I got much stricter about it – separating personal and work email has helped a lot with this. It’s also helped me avoid a few potential clients who expected me to be permanently on call day and night.

I still do some client work out of hours, but only when agreed in advance and for a specific purposes, e.g. a database update that has to be done at a weekend.

Co-working

I used to have a desk in Madlab, which meant that I had other people to talk to during the day. Unfortunately their landlord wanted to jack up the rent, so they had to move and could no longer offer co-working. I’ve had a look at other co-working spaces in Manchester, but so far everywhere has been either double the price I paid at Madlab or in an inconvenient (for me) or dodgy location.

If you’ve got any tips that you’ve found helpful in maintaining your work/life balance as a freelancer, please let me know in the comments!

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