How to Keep Working at Home from Destroying Your Life

Don't Let Working From Home Destroy Your Life
[tweetmeme]One of the main reasons I became a full-time freelancer was the freedom I thought it would give me in creating my own hours and working at home. It’s the dream, right? Sleep late, work in your pajamas, shave far less often, and decide when you are or are not going to be busy.

Anyone who has taken on this “dream” quickly realizes that it’s not that simple. Client meetings and deadlines, the seemingly eternal pursuit of a steady income and the “other sides” of the business are a few of the elements of working at home that, if not managed correctly, can quickly eat away at your desired freedom and potentially destroy the rest of your life.

In this post, I will share some ways I have learned to keep everything in its proper priority and maintain balance, enabling both the growth and success of my freelance business along with the expansion and enjoyment of the freedoms this brings to the most important elements of my life.

Is Money REALLY Your Measure of Success?

Put Money In Its Proper Place

If you answered “yes” to this question you may want to stop reading this post right here. I am a firm believer that money does not buy happiness, although it does tend to ease our minds knowing our bills are paid and we can provide for our needs (and possibly our wants, as well.) Keeping the pursuit of the almighty dollar in its rightful place should be a constant checkpoint for every freelancer who wants to keep working at home from taking over the rest of their life.

As a husband of one and father of three, money plays a significant role in how I run my freelance business. I learned a long time ago that it is actually detrimental to those I am trying to provide for if I never have any time or energy to give them. They appreciate the money I spend on them, but they appreciate the time, love, attention and just plain fun I share with them so much more.

Think about it. Did you get into freelancing so you could work more than you did at your corporate job? Probably not. For me, I had dreams of being present when my kids get up in the morning, get home from school, and throughout each day, so that I could be there with them. If I lock myself up in an office at home, what have I gained? More importantly, what am I communicating to those I love?

If your main reason for freelancing is to get rich, I wish you the best of luck. But, if your incentive is to have more time to spend with your loved ones doing the things you enjoy most, then put the money motivation in the back seat –- not to be ignored, but to sit in its rightful place. Then go ahead and invite the people and passions that mean the most to you to ride shotgun.

Live in the Moment

Live In The Moment

I have read quite a few articles suggesting that people who work from home should have rigid schedules in order to maintain the proper balance. The idea is that by sticking to a strict schedule you will keep your priorities balanced and always have time available in each day for the rest of your life. This is probably a great solution for certain types of personalities, but I would suggest an alternative approach.

I didn’t quit working a nine to five corporate job so I could be my own boss and have a rigid schedule of my own. Instead, I work a fluid schedule that fits each day as it comes. In other words, I try to live in the moment. I start each day with an understanding of what needs to get accomplished and plan the day accordingly. I may have a rush assignment that will take up the entire day to complete, or I may have a month-long project that I am spending a certain amount of hours each day on.

Rather than trying to fit everything into a tidy box, only to be frustrated by the unexpected or the random interjection, try setting your priorities on a daily basis and allowing extra time just in case something comes up. I live by a to-do list that changes daily, and I avoid setting times for things unless it is absolutely necessary, such as client meetings or conference calls. This flowing approach allows for a more relaxed reaction when something doesn’t necessarily work out the way I thought. More importantly, it enables me to drop everything for a moment whenever I want or need to without being concerned that I am messing up my “schedule”.

Don’t Let Others Become Your Boss

Who's In Charge?

Almost anything that I end up having a scheduled time for involves another person. Client meetings, conference calls, emails, Skype conversations – all of these involve a need to set a time to communicate with someone else. Because most of these people are current or potential clients, I do my best to accommodate their schedules. It could become very easy for their schedules to dictate my own.

As a strong proponent of extreme quality and personal customer service, this part can get a bit tricky. You should do always do your best to adjust to your clients’ schedules, but never to the point that they take over your lives.

One of my best and biggest clients brings me a pretty steady flow of work, but sometimes this leads to a misconception that he deserves 24/7 access to me. I have to regularly remind him of my days off, the priority of my family, the fact that I never answer phone calls during dinner, and all the other precedents he sometimes seems to forget. The differences in priorities have become a bit of a running joke between us, since he is a younger single man and I am a husband and father. But, I have found ways to balance his needs with my methodology in a way that works well for both of us. And, although he doesn’t have the 24/7 access to me that he desires, he continues to be my biggest client.

Find your balance between accommodating adjustments and allowing your schedule to be dictated. Determine your boundaries early on and stick to them, keeping your clients aware along the way. Everyone involved will be happier and your life will reap the benefits.

Drop Everything for What Matters Most

Drop Everything for What Matters Most

A couple of years ago I was attending my grandfather’s funeral and heard a story that changed my life. My uncle told of his experience growing up and how he remembered walking into his dad’s office each day after school. No matter what his dad was doing, he would stop, slide around to the front of the desk and spend a few minutes talking with his son. As a father himself now, my uncle was floored that his dad had communicated so simply and clearly that no matter what he was doing, his son was the most important person in his life at that moment. When I heard this story, I resolved that this was the message I would strive to communicate to my own wife and children from that point forward. I still have a ways to go on doing this right, but what an amazing legacy to leave with my loved ones!

Is everything else that you’re doing so drastically important that you can’t stop for a few minutes at any given point and give undivided attention to the people and things that matter most in your life? I would suggest that if your answer is “yes,” it is time to reevaluate your priorities and make the necessary changes in order to communicate the most valuable of messages to those around you. In the end, isn’t that why we’re freelancing anyway?

What Changes Can You Make?

Escape Into Life

These are just a few of the ways I am learning to make my freelance business an enhancement and encouragement to the rest of my life as opposed to the destruction of it.

Are there any adjustments you can make to your own daily approach that will keep freelancing from destroying your life? Are there other suggestions you can share that have contributed to your own success?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below so we can all learn together how to keep the freedom of freelancing in its proper place of priority.

Comments

  1. says

    Brian, thank you for articulating so wonderfully what I feel in my heart about the freedoms of freelancing. I’m going to pass this article on to my husband to read because as part of a couple where both partners freelance we really need to keep our priorities in check. We have a 2 year old daughter who runs into our home office fully expecting our undivided attention – it’s up to us to live up to her expectations of us.

  2. says

    Great article… I have to say that in addition to the “money” aspect you mentioned, the taxes are absolutely horrendous!

    Since being laid off in October, I made the decision to freelance full time. I knew that there would be taxes involved that didn’t exist in the corporate world, since they covered a lot of it… However, it’s become so extreme that I’ve actually started to doubt my decision to freelance in the first place! haha

    The time is great, but I have found myself staying up till the wee hours of the morning trying to finish a project to meet a deadline that I set myself thinking I had plenty of time to do… I guess I still have a lot to learn about the freelance world.

  3. says

    Awesome post, Brian! My partners and I just wrote a book on this very topic. Freelancing is a gift, and not taking advantage of the many benefits this career path has to offer is a crime.

    Something I wanted to point out is that most freelancers I talk with (and I felt this way myself early in my freelance career) view this money vs. time thing as a linear tradeoff. In other words, you can make tons of money, but you’ll have no life. Or you could have incredible flexibility and peace of mind, but you’ll be eating canned tuna every night.

    I disagree completely! The problem with this thinking is that it assumes that these are opposing ideas. While there is a tradeoff, I’ve met dozens of freelancers who have figured out how to increase their income while working fewer hours and having more peace of mind. They’ve broken away from this time-income curve, if you will. And they’re enjoying both — a great income and a great lifestyle. I’m not saying they’re financially rich. But they earn much more than their peers and they have almost (if not the same) amount of freedom, flexibility and balance.

    It takes some creative thinking, great ideas, good strategy, steady execution and incredible persistence. But it’s totally doable. It’s NOT luck. And it’s something all of us should strive for.

  4. says

    Thank you!
    I have noticed that many successful internet marketers implement planning on how to give people free information that can HELP in what they are doing online.If you look at this principal you can realize that they focus on building relationships not get rich quickly. Result of helping and understanding is happiness.

  5. says

    Brian,
    Thank you so much for the lovely post! It indeed reflected my very reason for freelancing. I’m earning less, though, but really spending time with my son who needs me. I really appreciate the way you’ve communicated your priorities to your bachelor client :). Lastly, I look forward to learn from you how to get more clients and work: the ways to do it.
    Solomon

  6. says

    Great article. I constantly deal with the decision of what I want to do when I graduate from my current course of study. After reading many articles on freelancing, I sit on the fence but love the ideas that the writers of such articles outline.

    I have always thought that I would end up freelancing and hoping I was good enough at it to bring in a consistent income to support my future family. I realize now it’s “not just that easy” but I knew that also. I had the idea of working in the “corporate world” for a while first to get my feet wet, expand on my experience and than figure out where my life was going and decide at that point. Both sides of pros and cons that pull me in.

    Articles like this give me insight into how other freelancers balance their life with work and social. It’s great to read articles like this! Really gets my mind moving!

  7. David Kaplan says

    I agree with much of this post. But, I do object to the whole money thing. Indeed, studies have conclusively shown that money DOES increase ones level of happiness. Greed can be used for good.

    Many people get into freelancing for the typical reasons (flexible schedule, pick and choose clients, and work from home). Others, like myself, get into it to build a business that is less about being a freelancer and more about being an entrepreneur. Along with building a business, one builds wealth, abundance, and prosperity. I see nothing wrong with this. I think this article demonizes those concepts and that’s wrong.

    Additionally, my clients are, indeed, my bosses. They are my customers and I treat them with the respect they deserve. Yes, many of them are my friends, too. But, ultimately, not submitting to some level of control is unwise, stressful, and just plain bad advice.

    Finally, after all these years of freelancing what I’VE come to realize, is that sometimes your personal life WILL be sacrificed. Like a soldier in the military, a salesperson on a corporate excursion, or researcher who spends 10 hours a day in the lab – you have to explain to your family that there are times you just aren’t going to be physically available.

    This article misses that reality and demonizes any notion of it.

  8. says

    David,

    While it is obvious you and I have a different set of priorities, I do not intend to “demonize” those differences. I have learned over the years that different does not necessarily mean wrong. My top priority in life is my loved ones, above any type of work I ever have done, and in this article I am writing from my own experience and values. I have no intention of trying to claim that my values are superior and anything else is wrong or should not be pursued.

    Most of us write and share from what we know. I would suggest that you have done the same in your comment. Please accept my apologies if you feel that I have demonized or belittled your own values and approach – my intention was merely to share mine, and I apologize if, in doing so, I made you feel like you are doing something the “wrong” way.

    As I said in the post, “If your main reason for freelancing is to get rich, I wish you the best of luck.” Go for it! And if you believe greed can be used for good, then I cheer on your pursuit of your passion. That is ultimately the bottom line of this post: do what you love for the reasons that are most important to you.

  9. David Kaplan says

    Brian,

    I appreciate the apology and it is accepted. In addition, I will offer some advice for the future.

    The title of your post is “How to Keep Working at Home from Destroying Your Life”. “Destroying” is quite a “demonizing” word. I’m sure it helps get traffic, but it’s fairly offensive to suggest that failure to follow the opinions you express here will lead to utter destruction.

    In the future, perhaps choosing your words more carefully or making them more editorial in nature (i.e., “How *I* Kept Working at Home from Destroying *My* Life”) might be more appropriate.

    Good Luck!

    David

  10. says

    Great article and very practical. I’ve been working from home for 4 years and only just started to manage my work properly. I now have a work/life balance that I am happy with and although I earn less I still earn enough and actually get time to enjoy the things that matter most.

    In this materilaistic world it is refreshing to read a well crafted article that helps to put things into perspective.

  11. says

    David,

    Point taken. I wrote this making the assumption that it would be received in a more general tone, which it appears by the comments so far this is the way the majority are embracing it. By sharing the quality of my own life – happily married to the same woman for 21 years, 3 well-rounded and amazing children who have never had any trouble or personal issues so far, and a personal satisfaction and enjoyment of my own freelancing lifestyle – I also made the assumption that others would consider it a solid example of what can be achieved. Obviously everyone has different values and things that are of the highest importance to them, as you have made clear, so my hope is that the readers can take the transferable principles and apply them to their own situation.

    But of course we all know what happens when we assume…

    Thanks again for your input and sharing your own point of view.

  12. says

    Love this post, Brian!

    The first question is very important (“Is money really the measure of your success?”). As freelancing parents, we should know how much it really takes to support our families, because often we find that it isn’t really that much.

    And then we’ll have time, energy and spirit left for the ones we love the most.

  13. says

    Making money from home makes you your own boss. However, just like a “regular” boss can tie you and give you tons of duties, obligations and tasks, so can you yourself become your worst nightmare.

    I have had a take off period last 2 weeks, because I decided it’s time for me to pay attention on something else – socializing, practice and studying for exams.

  14. says

    This is oh so true “Is everything else that you’re doing so drastically important that you can’t stop for a few minutes at any given point and give undivided attention to the people and things that matter most in your life?”

    I so whole hearedly agree that if you can’t do this, then stop working for yourself and go and get a real job (as my mum would say)

    Working for yourself means that you can choose how to manage the moments.

  15. says

    The whole work and life tradeoff is a continuous learning process we all face as freelancers. Some are happy working all hours of the day and keeping the bank account happy. Others, like you and me, learn ways we can be more productive, but efficient, so we can free up more time to do the things we want. It doesn’t necessarily have to affect your income.

    But that’s the beauty of freelancing… we can decide if we want a life or not.

  16. says

    Brian, thanks for a great article. It sums up a lot of what I’ve felt but never really put into words in the 10+ years I’ve worked freelance. I think it’s way too easy to let it destroy your life if you don’t keep things in proper balance. I was having a discussion yesterday about how most people either treat it like a permanent vacation and slack off way too much or they go to the opposite end of the spectrum and work like crazy to “make things happen” and while a balanced life certainly requires some relaxing time and some very busy time, I think if you manage yourself well and put things into the proper perspective, you’ll be in much better shape for the long haul. I’ve certainly had my share of 20+ hour work days and my family understands that at the very end of a project, sometimes I’m going to be a bit sparse, but I also make sure they understand that they’re extremely important to me and I’ll spend time with them whenever I can.

    Just last week I picked up the kids early from the sitter and met my wife at the park and we had a great time. As we were leaving, I looked at the clock and remembered that not so long ago, I would’ve been stuck in traffic, about halfway through my hour commute home and thought to myself, “yeah — *this* is why I’m doing full time freelance again”. I love the possibilities, the projects, working with new people and the flexibility. But I have to keep my priorities in check or I’d be constantly trying to work on one more thing and wouldn’t be able to enjoy a sunny day here and there when they come along.

  17. says

    Great article. Many people believe freelancers make a lot more money than 9-5ers (and many of us do) but they don’t understand we do a whole LOT more work and don’t get to just “shut off” at 5 everyday.

  18. Jason says

    It was always my dream to work at home. Since one year ago I’m doing it successfully. I just work 1 or 2 hours daily, and only If I want to. The only bad thing is, my social life sucks now! My friends now are my 60″ TV, my PS3, my DVD Player and the kitchen.

  19. says

    Great post, and thanks for pointing out that we don’t have to develop a rigid schedule to survive. My day flows depending on what is needed, while still working around a list of priorities.

    And I completely agree that we should reserve the energy and time for those who need us most – our families.

  20. says

    I loved your account, and I can relate because I am also married and we have 2 children. Your example about the grandfather who stops what he’s doing is touching, but in my case I have to set boundaries, otherwise they barge in and out constantly during the day!!
    Just a little remark about your site : maybe you should add a control for the music, and not switch it on by default?

  21. says

    Gday,

    I have just read this and a tear came down my cheek.

    Thankyou. I really mean it.

    Been working long hours and neglecting my wife and 4 kids.

    God bless mate

  22. says

    Your whole post is a list of good points and I don’t want to seem redundant by relisting any of the points listed here. I will say that everyone I know who thought working at home was glamorous and tried it…found out it was short on glamor and long on time. I believe those who work at home work harder than those who commute.

    However, what I really wanted to say was how much I enjoy finally and for once reading a blog post about working at home from a work at home dad. I’m always interested in the male perspective on these things and you delivered in spades.

  23. says

    Great article here and it can get so overwhelming as people don’t realize you are the keeper of your own business. You do have to take some time to smell the roses or take a walk. I usually set a timer on my pc to alert me to move on to another task.

  24. Chris says

    Hey there,

    i’m Chris from Germany – so excuse my english ;)
    I read this article an hour ago and now i think about the words you said. The part of “Drop Everything for What Matters Most” is really amazing and i think its very important to spend the right time with your partner or even your children. Im a freelancer (web/print design) as well and i know this talking point. I work at home and my girlfriend is staying with me. She work part-time in a big supermarket, but when shes at home am come in my “office”, i slide around and spend a few minutes talking to her or only listen to her. In this moment my work is a minor point. Your sentence “In the end, isn’t that why we’re freelancing anyway?” is the point of my thoughts. I would definitly answer “YES!”
    Thanks for your article again! Chris

  25. says

    Wow! This is a great post; just what I need. I will keep it and from time to time refer to it so I won’t lose the focus that I should have, that is, what is more important in my life. There are adjustments that I can make as a result of reading this article.

    Evelyn Guzman
    http://www.homebusinesssteps.com (If you want to visit, just click but if it doesn’t work, copy and paste it onto your browser.)

  26. says

    Brian:
    What a great article. I have just started my own e-commerce small business and was told by my mentor that the business is the number one priority above all people and even the day job I have kept for the steady income. This did not sit well with me.

    Your article reinforces my feelings that the people in my life come first. My husband, mother and sister will be there for me even if my business does not make it.

    Time to re-prioritize.

    Thank you!

  27. Archan Mehta says

    Brian:

    This is an awesome post. Thank you for your input. Your ideas are well-received.

    However, let me point out that freelancing full time from home is not for everybody. It demands a lot of self-discipline and also congruency with your near and dear ones.

    When you have a home-based business, for example, you don’t want to get too comfortable. Otherwise, it is easy to fall prey to the prospect of playing with your children, watching TV, taking a nap in your own bed, and whiling away your time.

    This has happened to so many people that it can fill volumes. Even when you are working, there are constant interruptions from the neighbors, phone-calls, and other unanticipated disturbances. Even entrepreneurs still have to pay the bills and that means you have to deliver results and get things done. For many, staying at home in the name of freelancing can become just another excuse to sit idle and do nothing. For others, staring emptily into space and twiddling your thumbs can lead to lack of productivity. By contrast, some people actually prefer the structured environment of a 9 to 5 job, a steady paycheck, and a boss who keeps them in line.

    I am merely playing the devil’s advocate here, so don’t take it personally. All I am trying to say is: one size does not fit all. There are individual differences at work.

  28. says

    Wow, what a great article! The part about stopping and paying attention to your kids really hit me. I’m always asking my kids to wait just one more minute for me to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to them, and I’ve never really thought about how that makes them feel. I will definitely be trying the stop and pay attention technique you described.

  29. says

    What a great post. It is so easy to get into working every hour, just because you can. But sometimes, you do just need to sit back and appreciate your loved ones. Let’s face it, they are the reason we do what we do!
    Thanks for sharing.

  30. says

    A post I’ve been meaning to write myself sometime – though I wouldn’t have said it as great as you did.

    My biggest problem as a freelancer is allowing others’ schedules to become mine. Overall I am too accommodating and I’m slowly getting clients weaned off of weekend emails (they can send on the weekend but I won’t respond until Monday).

    As of the first of the year I made the commitment that I would spend less time at the computer (the goal is to be off by 7 pm) so I can spend time with my son and doing other things I enjoy doing. So far it’s been going OK and I now also stop for awhile when my son first gets home from school. He’s been awesome about understanding but he should get some of my attention. :-)

    One other thing I did that has had good success so far is to set up a separate folder in Outlook to catch newsletters, RSS feeds, LinkedIn updates, etc. – those I classify as “third priority”. During the day the only things allowed into my regular inbox are client emails or other “important” ones. If at the end of the day I have some time I go through that “3rd priority” folder and respond/read as necessary. If I don’t get to them I delete them….and I’m not feeling the least bit guilty about it.

  31. says

    Brian, a very interesting article. I believe I have very similar values to yourself in regards to your family and loved ones should be put first. My partner and I are expecting our first child this may and it was one of the major reasons for me setting up brandy media and taking the first steps to becoming freelance. I wanted the opportunity to be flexible enough to be at home to enjoy all the important moments of my childs life. After all life is for living. Work and money should come second where ever possible. Once again great article.

  32. says

    The not letting others become your boss part is important for another reason too: the IRS may consider you to be an employee if your client dictates your work day. IRS Form #SS-8 should be filed if you believe that line has been crossed. Protect yourself; stay within the bounds of the law.

  33. says

    Just what I needed to read thank you! Balancing time with work and family is critical. At this stage I work fulltime, freelance a few hours 4 evenings a week and have a family of 3. It’s pretty crazy at times, but some day soon the switch to just freelancing will happen. Articles like this are definitely great reminders of what’s important in life, and it’s nice to have the perspective of other designers with families as well.

  34. says

    Well said! I’ve been self employed for just over 7 years now, and it has taken most of those years to find my boundaries and feel okay about not always working according to my client’s schedules. After all, a tired business owner isn’t going to be a very productive business owner.

    Great article!

  35. says

    I also think that money is not the determining factor of life and I think that some people who start out as freelancers for the sole purpose of getting rich are foolish as they are missing out on a lot of other things.

  36. says

    What great food for thought! I especially love the story of your uncle.

    My biggest hurdle is finding a schedule that works. I try not to be rigid but without at least a guideline for my day–a starting point and stopping point (even if they vary) I find that I spend most of my day thinking “oh I’ll get to that in a minute” and then slouching on the couch.

  37. says

    Great read, I couldn’t agree more about everything you said regarding doing what you love and what makes you happy, not just what gets you money.

    The close people in your life are almost always going to be one of the most important things in any person’s life, it’s never a good idea to push them aside.

    Thanks for the article Brian, looking forward to the next :).

  38. says

    Wow, great article! I also have wife and three kids and I too often put them behind my work. You’re right and I will follow your advice: “Drop Everything for What Matters Most” and give more attention to my family and less to the clients that wish to have me 24/7. Thanks!

  39. says

    Brian,

    Great article. You hit on some extremely important points about working at home – especially about making time for family and those important to you. I work from a home office and my 2.5 year old boy often wants to come in and ask me a question or show me something. Unless I am on a call I almost always have him come in for just the reasons you mentioned – I want him to know how important he is to me.

    After all that is one of the main reasons I wanted the flexibility to work from home and run my own business!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience.

  40. JESUS says

    GREAT AND VALUABLE EXPERIENCE BRIAN. THANKS FOR SHARE. I THINK IS VERY IMPORTANT TOO, TO NEGOCIATE THOSE PRIORITIES WITH YOUR LOVED ONES, AS THEY ARE THE MAIN REASON OF YOUR EFFORTS (IN MY CASE, OF COURSE).

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