When working for yourself, how do you create a professional image but also strike a balance between your work and personal identities? Here are some tips and best practices to help you stay sane and boost productivity.
According to the latest government data about 10 percent of the workforce in the U.S. is self-employed. That's over 15 million people. That's a lot of people potentially struggling with the same challenges when it comes to finding a balance between their work and personal lives. The dichotomy can be seen in everything from our phone and email communications to our time and financial management. The two worlds, which were once so separate, are more intertwined than ever before.
The lines have become so blurred in our digital age that it can be hard to make yourself available to clients while also setting aside time for your loved ones.
Leadership consultant and psychologist Henry Cloud says the key is to have clear priorities, and to uphold those priorities by sticking to rules that guide our conduct. One way he suggests we can do this is to understand the difference between things that are urgent (e.g., deadlines, emails, meetings, conference calls) and things that are truly vital, that revitalize us, such as our friends and family, our hobbies and our spirituality. When we don't make the distinction, we risk choosing the urgent over the vital more often because not attending to the urgent causes us very real distress. The vital, the movie with our kids, the dinner with our spouse, can more easily be delayed. When we put off what revitalizes us, however, we can jeopardize our own happiness.
Feeling more stressed now? Don't worry, there are tactics to help right your ship. Here are some tips we gathered when researching the subject on what makes people successful when trying to strike a balance between work and home.
1. Give it a legit name: Create a professional appearance with your own email domain and website (think jane @ yourcompanyname.com instead of posting your Gmail address) by using simple online tools such as GoDaddy, HostGator or even SquareSpace if you need a website as well. By creating a separate email account it also offers the benefit of separating your personal and work inboxes. Worried you might miss something? You can also have your work alias simply forwarded or a copy sent to your personal inbox by adjusting your preferences with your email hosting provider. The main idea here is to not only give a professional appearance but also to organize your communications.
2. Don't hand out your personal digits: Give out a dedicated work phone number, not your personal cell but without having to buy a second cell phone. How you ask? There are services that quickly, easily, and affordably allow you to set up a business phone number and advanced business calling features. For example, with a virtual PBX service you can instantly set up a business phone number that routes to your existing phone(s), among many other handy business features such as professional greetings and SMS. This means you can easily use one device for all calls, but still keep your personal and business phone presence separate.
3. Keep tabs on your personal vs your business spending: One of the easiest things you can control is to keep your finances clean and divided by using a different credit card, or even bank account, just for your business expenses. This is imperative both for tracking spending but also to keep your financial life in order.
Nothing is more painful than sitting down at the end of your fiscal year to make sense of your expenses only to find you haven't a clue what was business and what was personal. Did I conduct work at that lunch meeting? Was that trip to Costco for work or business?
In addition to using a dedicated business credit or debit card, incorporate a tool such as Mint.com to keep track of everything and designate what's personal and what's for work, even by client. Even set goals for that next vacation so you have something to look forward to, but you also can tangibly see how you're doing.
4. Tame your work day: Name it to tame it. If you define when and what will be your work hours and tasks, your work day will be easier to turn "off" when you need to be available to your loved ones or yourself. The key is to keep your personal tasks and projects organized but not necessarily separate so you aren't chasing a slew of different lists. We can get better at prioritizing as we start organizing and anticipating what's coming.
Look for online tools to help you tame the variety of tasks you have such as Remember the Milk, which is a popular to-do list tool that's everywhere you are: from your phone, to the Web, to your Google apps, and more. Start for free and upgrade to Pro if you find you need more features.
5. Carve out time to find balance and replenish: Sometimes we all just need to hit the reset button so to speak when the balance between life and work is at its hardest, even just five minutes using an app for yoga or meditation on your smartphone can be the self care your busy life needs. There are a slew of apps out there, find the mindfulness app that works for you and budget even just five minutes into your daily routine. It can't hurt to just take time to breathe every day, app or no app. Deep breathing can lower stress in the body and possibly prepare you for the day's second "shift" as you open the home office door and transition from one job to the other. The other key here is to set aside time for those activities that truly revitalize us. Block your calendar off as unavailable for an afternoon to attend a kid's soccer game, set aside time to go for that hike, give yourself permission to take a day to work on your own website and business plan or next big idea. You deserve space on your calendar too.
There isn't a one-size, fits-all approach to finding balance, part of what will make you less stressed and more successful will be tailoring these approaches to fit your lifestyle. Sometimes knowing what doesn't work for you is the best place to start, by eliminating those stresses or changing those tendencies you may feel more free. The good news is that thanks to technology there are tons of apps and websites to help you streamline your communications, finances and to-do lists. Above all else stop and be present in the moment. And when all else fails? Just breathe.
About the Author
Kevin Hertz is the CTO and co-founder of
Voxox, an innovator in unified cloud communication solutions for businesses, including popular virtual business phone system,
Voxox Cloud Phone. Kevin is a talented technologist who is constantly innovating at the forefront of telecommunications and IP technology. He has designed and implemented a highly scalable, large capacity, flexible and fully redundant global communications network that perpetually maintains a 99.999% uptime. With more than a decade of experience in technology development and advanced network architectures, Kevin's expertise and accomplishments has made him a pioneer in cloud communications technology.