I know. It is absolutely an incredible privilege that I get to work from home and enjoy this so-called “dot com lifestyle” as a freelance writer, editor and blogger. It affords me a lot of flexibility, both in terms of time and location, but this also brings with it a great deal of responsibility and the need for a lot of self-discipline.
While you might suspect that convincing yourself to stay on task and actually work is one of the greatest challenges you’ll face — avoiding distractions is a constant battle — another big challenge that you’ll face is giving yourself enough room to breathe. In other words, you have to know when to stop working and give yourself the space to enjoy some non-work related life things.
Life-work balance can feel like a myth, and life-work integration may sound much more appealing, but the truth is that you can’t and you shouldn’t be working all the time. Some of your best creative inspiration will strike when you allow your mind to rest and activate the “default state.” Speaking for myself, I’ve endeavored to implement at least these five changes into my regular day-to-day routine.
1. No Email or Social Media Before Breakfast
It wasn’t all that long ago that I’d habitually charge my smartphone at my bedside. This is a very common practice, especially since so many people use their phones as their alarm clocks. However, I found that this led to some rather detrimental habits. Namely, the first thing I’d do in the morning is roll over and start scrolling around on my phone, all without even getting out of bed. You’re lying to yourself if you say that you’re being extra productive when you do this. You’re not.
Nowadays, not only do I typically charge my phone in another room, but I also avoid looking at it for at least the first half hour or so of my day if I can help it. I’m human, so I fail frequently, but that’s the goal. I’ll brush my teeth, make and drink my coffee, and do other regular morning routine things before I see what I missed overnight in email and social media land.
2. The Two-Day Rule of Daily Step Goals
Realistically, the “10,000 steps” benchmark is really arbitrary. It’s completely meaningless, because everyone’s health situation and exercise needs are different. What we can learn from all this step-tracking, though, is that especially for sedentary computer-bound people like bloggers, we need to get up and move more often. We also need to cut ourselves some slack now and then.
To this end, I’ve employed the two-day rule. Ideally, I’d like to meet my daily step goal each and every day. Of course I would. The two-day rule states that I can miss one day here and there. However, I can never miss two days in a row. This forces me to get up off my bed and walk around, even if I don’t have a more traditional exercise or gym routine to speak of. (I really should, but one step — or 10,000 steps — at a time.)
3. Focus on Family on the Weekend
We all understand that a big part of the appeal of running your own business and being your own boss is that you also get to set your own hours. We must also understand that this allows for a lot of room where work can creep into your non-work life too, guilting you into being productive at all hours of the day.
I’ve oftentimes said that because I can work at any time, I feel like I should be working all the time. That’s just not healthy.
Up until recently, my schedule has indeed been remarkably flexible. The days of the week really didn’t matter to me, aside from avoiding the Sunday crowd at Costco. That being said, ever since my daughter started kindergarten, my days and weeks have become more structured. I can be more productive while she’s at school; conversely, I make myself more available on the weekend for family bonding time. That’s called balance.
4. Death to the Living To-Do List
Being productive means being organized. I’ve written about building a better to-do list on this blog before. For my part, I tend to keep a bigger to-do list for the week or month, plus a smaller one for each day. That’s how I can keep track of what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.
In the past, I’ve fallen into the trap of adding to my to-do list as the day went on. If I worked more quickly than I had anticipated, I may allow some of tomorrow’s tasks to creep into today’s list. The net result is that I’d always end up with an unfinished to-do list at the end of every day, because I just kept adding to it. No more.
Instead, I always set up my daily to-do list the night before, putting no more than about five items on there. I know how much I can reasonably accomplish. If things go very well and I actually knock all five items out faster than expected, then by golly, I’m taking the rest of the day off.
5. Eliminate Screens Before Bedtime
We end where we begin. Again, I’m human, so I fail at this one frequently too. It’s still a goal of mine. Broadly speaking, I’m trying to avoid working in particular and screens in general for at least an hour before I try to go to sleep. I’ve long since struggled with falling asleep, and I know that looking at a screen — computer, smartphone, TV, etc. — before bedtime can be detrimental in that regard. Easier said than done, of course. There’s always Netflix and YouTube.
What about you? Do you have any specific actionable tips for better life-work balance? Let’s hear them in the comments below.