Whether you’re a freelancer, remote staff member, or entrepreneur, you likely work from home part of the time if not full-time. Studies show that people who work remotely are more productive per day, clocking a full 6–9 productive hours. That means they’re twice as productive as the office workers who are productive an average of 2–3 hours per day. Remote workers also tend to log 6–7 more hours per week than office workers.
However, this boost to productivity comes at a cost, and its true source has a dark side: Remote workers and freelancers might be more productive because they unplug from work much less .
The reason that office workers have fewer productive hours per day is because they spend a lot of time in meetings or around the water cooler. While that’s time away from getting things done, it’s also a valuable opportunity to socialize or at least take a mental break from work. (Who hasn’t tuned out during a staff meeting?)
Without such distractions, remote workers might feel like they’ve been handed a golden ticket to productivity. The time span can feel endless, and if you’re like me, you’ll gleefully stuff it with a combination of work and personal projects.
We all know that taking breaks is crucial to both being productive and avoiding burnout, but breaks only scratch the surface of a deeper issue that faces a lot of remote workers: a glaring lack of work-life balance.
Have you ever:
- skipped a meal or workout because you were in creative flow?
- accepted calls or answered emails from bosses or clients while you were out on errands?
- turned down invites from friends so that you could work on a personal project?
If you’ve done any of these things, you might have a low work–life balance. And even if you’re super-productive and take enough breaks to avoid burnout, a low WLB can cause other problems.
It can damage your professional reputation
It’s never a good idea to work without boundaries, especially when you’re a freelancer. Clients who learn that you will accept their calls at any time will call at any time. Moreover, sly clients will take this as a sign that you are inexperienced and unprofessional, and therefore easily taken advantage of.
Seeming like you’re always available for work can backfire, too: Some clients may wonder if anyone else has actually hired you if you seem like you’re constantly available. Always wait at least half an hour before responding to a potential client’s inquiry (or clients’ communications in general, unless it really is urgent).
It’s totally okay to have odd hours, but be sure that you stick to them rather than turning all your waking hours into working hours.
If you’re a remote staff member, you might run into trouble by opening yourself up to constant communication or working extra hours. HR departments are already panicking over remote workers because they can’t be easily monitored or tracked. And if you’re pulling those extra 6–7 hours per week, are you incurring overtime? Even if you’re exempt, you might be giving your supervisors a headache, and that can breed resentment or give you a reputation as a “problem employee.”
Plus, think of it this way: If you establish that you’re going to handle work emails at 8pm, people will begin to expect you to respond if they email you at 7:55pm. What happens when you actually take an evening off? You’ll come off as “uncommunicative” and potentially open yourself up to criticism or discipline for not abiding.
Establish boundaries and stick to them.
It can damage your social life and relationships
I think this one is pretty obvious, but take it from someone who lost a lot of friends because she couldn’t stop working: It is not worth it. Friends will forgive you for being busy once or twice, but if you’re never able to go out for drinks, eventually, you’ll stop being invited. There is a meme going around that says something to the effect of “If people care about you, they’ll make time for you.” I know you care about your friends, but when they see this meme, they’ll think of you if you always cancel because “I have to work.”
If you’re the breadwinner for your household, you likely feel a lot of pressure to provide for your family. However — assuming that your family is somewhat functional — trust me, they wouldn’t complain if you spent a little less time working and a little more time with them.
Schedule time for family and friends and don’t flake out.
It can limit your self-perception and appreciation
If you’re working constantly, you’re likely to change your perception of yourself. If someone described a person who had to work most of their waking hours, jump at every email or phone call, and sacrifice social experiences or alone time for work, you’d think that person lived a pretty sad life. We may not think of our own workaholic selves as “sad,” but when you put it into your perspective, you realize that you’re thinking of yourself as a worker and little else.
There is nothing wrong with being a passionate, goal-driven individual, and plenty of freelancers and entrepreneurs are! However, there’s a reason that it’s called “work–life balance” and not “work–errands–art–friends–marriage–hobbies balance.” Work stands out as something that requires an exceptional level of mental energy and performance in exchange for money or other goods. It’s commodified by its very nature. While there’s nothing wrong with “selling yourself,” you must also remember that there is much more to you than the “work” parts.
All right, I’m convinced! How can I have a higher work–life balance?
Schedule out your week according to blocks
I’ve written before about block scheduling and its benefits for your productivity before, but it bears repeating here, because block scheduling is a great method for forcing yourself to implement WLB.
Here’s how it works
You audit your life for a week. When do you feel most creative? Drained? In a cleaning mood? Eloquent? Log these feelings in a journal or spreadsheet.
Then, divide your calendar into four types of blocks:
Focus blocks run 90 to 120 minutes. These are the periods of time in which you feel particularly creative or able to perform high-level work.
Admin blocks run 30 to 60 minutes. These are periods of time when you feel a little lower in energy but still able to work. Admin time is good for checking emails or project management apps, running errands, or doing low-level tasks.
Social blocks run 90 to 120 minutes and, as the name suggests, are times when you feel like being around other people.
Recovery blocks run however long you need them to. This is your time for exercise, reading, socialization, and relaxation.
Tips and tricks
Be sure that you only schedule meetings and phone calls during admin blocks. (And don’t leave your email open all day!)
If you found that your social blocks run at times where your friends are not generally available, make a point to call or message your loved ones during that time. Find a funny meme to share. Be social, even if not in person.
Stick to your schedule for recovery blocks. Don’t let work creep into them. If you implement block scheduling correctly, you should have more than enough time and energy to meet your deadlines even if you take your scheduled breaks.
Only run work apps at certain times
I haven’t yet found a really good app that automates the closing and launching of apps and folders on a schedule, but I do have a couple of recommendations.
Have a dedicated work browser. I use Vivaldi for all work-related tasks because it has useful features such as advanced tab management, a notepad, and keyboard shortcuts. During my working hours, I launch it, along with Upwork, Skype, and other work-related apps with an Alfred workflow.
Make calendar events with reminders to launch or close certain apps. If you’re really savvy, you can build workflows through your preferred automator app to achieve this. Otherwise, just set yourself a reminder through your calendar app. If you’ve plugged your blocks into your calendar, this should be a snap.
Use RescueTime or something similar to block distracting apps. Also, I recommend turning off all browser notifications for any sites you find distracting. I only have notifications enabled for TomatoTimer and Harvest. Everything else is handled through the native apps, or better yet, my phone, because I can set it to Do Not Disturb when I don’t want to be bothered by notifications. (iPhone’s Screen Time feature is especially helpful.)
Unplug from work for at least 5 hours per day
You don’t have to be disconnected for a cumulative 5 hours, but you should unplug for at least an hour at least three times per day. A schedule I’ve found useful is to unplug for an admin block after my morning focus block and for a recovery block right before my first evening focus block. And of course, I unplug for lunch and dinner, then an hour before bed.
By unplug, I mean, don’t do any work and don’t check work emails or to-dos or anything vaguely work-related. Ideally, you also don’t touch your computer, tablet, or phone, although I’m okay with browsing social media or reading news during these times, as long as you’re not doing work! If you find it impossible not to check your company Instagram or Facebook page or sneak a peek at your work email while you’re on your phone, it’s better to just leave the phone in another room. Again, if you’re on an iPhone, you can implement a Screen Time limit to keep yourself off the phone.
By following these best practices, you should be able to boost your work–life balance and feel not only more productive, but happier. It’s essential to make time for enriching activities and downtime and establish clear boundaries with your clients and supervisors. Remember, it may sound counterintuitive, but achieving a higher WLB can only help you grow as a professional! You won’t lose anything by cutting down on the time you spent working; in fact, you should see a boost in productivity and drop in burnout that more than makes up for it.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and live your life!
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