Balancing Act

Balancing Act

After 9 months of working from home, the one question I get repeatedly from friends and customers alike is: So how do you like working from home? In some cases, the inquiry comes from genuine curiosity; in others, it sounds like a loaded question–as if they’re daring me to say I’m sitting around eating bon-bons and watching Days of Our Lives. The answer is anything but simple. (And no, it usually doesn’t involve bon-bons or soap operas, but I admittedly did binge watch the Twilight saga yesterday while working on my website).

On one hand, how could I NOT enjoy the freedom that comes from setting my own schedule, and let’s be honest– some days sitting at the computer in my pj’s, drinking coffee and intermittently petting the cat that likes to sneak onto my desk, all while not dealing with moody coworkers or anyone else’s Spotify playlists other than my own is pretty bombastic. There are obvious bonuses in those things alone. But there is also a flip side.

While rolling out of bed and settling in at the computer without worrying about brushing my hair might sound enticing, there are also obvious drawbacks. Some days I realize I’ve been so engrossed in my work that I haven’t showered or even left the house by mid-afternoon. Other days I wonder what will happen to my business if the phone doesn’t keep ringing, or emails don’t keep coming in. How will I pay my bills? What will I do for work instead? Could I get a job somewhere else after being my own boss for 12 years?

When you work for yourself, simply put, you have to hustle. If I want business, I have to actively seek it out. I no longer have a storefront where people can wander in at their leisure, maybe buying something, maybe just striking up a conversation about “what all it is that I do here” and filing it away for later use. When you work for yourself, particularly at home, you have to be constantly hungry for potential business. You have to be open-minded. You have to be accommodating and flexible. And, last but not least, you have to remember to find balance amidst the hustle.

The first few months of working from my new home studio were challenging for the sheer reason that I struggled to find that critical balance between how much I was working and how much time I allotted to everything else. If you talk to other people who have experienced the “joys of working from home,” many of them say the same thing: I actually worked more when I worked from home.

The thing is, you have to learn when to turn it off. I had a hard time NOT working constantly in those first few months; if there was something that needed to be done, I felt like I should be doing it, regardless of what else I needed to do (cleaning, grocery shopping, interacting with my family, or even just reading a book because I felt like it). I felt guilty for doing anything other than work, or for not answering my phone or emails after 5 p.m.–I felt like I was supposed to be available to my customers. All. The. Time.

What I didn’t realize was that without those natural boundaries in place that are created by physically leaving the house and going to a job outside of the home, I had to be willing to set them for myself. And it wasn’t just OK to do that, I had to do it or I would never be able to sustain that pace–and other important aspects of my life would begin to suffer.

At first, I tried setting a schedule for myself every day, much like a “normal” job. It helped in some ways, but it also wasn’t realistic because let’s face it–not every day is the same. Some days there is more to do, others less. After a lot of trial and error (and finally giving myself permission to not feel guilty if it was 1 p.m. on a Tuesday and I was mowing the grass), I finally figured out a few keys to successfully working from home and being happy doing so. {Disclaimer: just because these strategies work for me doesn’t mean they will for everyone–you have to find your own groove.} Humbly, here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Schedule smartly. Schedule appointments in clusters. This helped me create more structured blocks of studio time, which freed up other days for meetings outside the studio, proofing/printing orders, website work, or running personal errands. In short, I am learning to work smarter, not harder.
  • Be focused. Focus first on what needs done today and do it. When the critical tasks are done for the day, I then reward myself by doing something I want to do (like mow the grass or troll Pinterest for a new recipe to try for dinner).
  • Don’t neglect my website. Block aside entire days here and there for mind-numbing web stuff. It’s tedious work, but once I get into my WordPress groove, hours fly by. I’ve learned it’s not a good idea for me to have anything else on my plate on those days.
  • Email doesn’t own me. Don’t check email a dozen times a day. A couple times a day is perfectly reasonable. Any more than that and it becomes obsessive. Not to mention it’s hugely distracting and unfair to my family if my time with them is interrupted by constantly checking in with customers.
  • Be flexible. Not everything goes according to plan, but that is very rarely the end of the world. Whether it’s a customer who cancels or shows up late, or a project that goes awry, take a deep breath and remember to adapt. Things will get done. Life will move on. We are all doing the best we can on any given day.
  • Be open to new work. I’ve faced the hard fact that stationery isn’t what it once was, and that to sustain my business I need to be willing to grow and evolve, which means taking on new types of work, including copy writing and editing, web-based work, and a lot more business-based marketing. I’m looking at it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become more diverse in my skill set.
  • Balance is 100% vital to happiness and success.

Learning to work from home is an ongoing process, and it’s not for everyone. But, as the months roll by, I’ve finally started to exhale. Customers keep coming back and new work is steadily appearing. I’m getting into a groove that works for me, and I’m finding real harmony in all aspects of my life for the first time since I started this business in 2005– and that balance is its own best reward.