On the delicate balance of work and life

Feb 16 2016

by Tabitha Ong Tune

Working from home and working for yourself can be great – flexible hours, staying in your pyjamas all day if you want to, getting comfy and working on the couch or the dining table or the porch… It’s all so awesome!

I enjoyed this looseness for a good couple of years and split time working at home and from coffee shops to keep things fresh. The fun wore off and soon I realized a fatigue was taking over and it started to feel like I was always working, always responding to emails, always going. Nights, weekends, holidays, it never seemed to end and it was starting to wear on me (though it took me a little too long to realize).

When I finally did, I noticed that I would dream about work and have anxiety about Facebook page insights and Instagram. I became really disorganized and it always felt like even though I worked all day long there wasn’t much to show for it, then the crankiness set in and I was frazzled almost all the time.

See, one of the nice things about an office job was that if I wanted to clock out when the day was over, I could. If I didn’t respond to an email about work after hours, it was fine. Running my own thing? I felt a pressure to be on-call all the time, to be on-the-ball and just, well, ON.

Until I made the conscious decision to change, I learned that I was no good to the people I was trying to help; when we’re running on empty, it has adverse effects on our productivity so if you find you’re at that point in your entrepreneurial career where you can’t quite be at 100%, it’s time to switch off as regularly as you are switched on so you’re completely present when you need to be.

Here are three ways I’ve created a more conducive environment for myself.

1) Designate a room or area specific for your office space.

Basically create an office for yourself that you can go to and then leave. It doesn’t even have to be in a whole different building or a place you need to drive to, it could be a space in your home. Ideally it’s a separate room where you do not engage in any activities of leisure so no bedrooms, no living rooms. Stop working from your couch or your dining area or your bed. Those areas are meant for rest and unless it’s an absolute emergency none of them should be your office space.

The best part about having a separate area for work is that I get to decorate it with things that motivate and inspire me and unlike the rest of my home where my husband and I collaborate to find a style we both like, my office space is 100% me.

create a designated office space

So make it your own so you love being in it and use colors that inspire you or calm your mind, put up art or pictures that bring you joy. The visual change can make all the difference and gives your brain the ability to separate.

You can also join a co-working space if you have the budget for it and those are great because most provide printers, coffee, and it’s nice to be around other entrepreneurs and people once in a while. The point is for you to have a clearly marked space that you can’t directly see when you’re not in it (so you’re not tempted to go back in after hours) and most importantly, it’s a space that you can physically leave.

2) Take a lunch break away from your desk.

Set an alarm to take a mid-workday break or a lunch break that’s not at your desk. If you can leave your office to eat at another table, try to do this as much as possible. This, like leaving the office at the end of the day, is a great way for your mind to refresh while you’re eating so you can return to your work with clarity.

Maximize the lunch hour by reading a chapter of that book you’ve been dying to finish! Do something that’s not fiddling with your smart phone or work. Grab a magazine, grab a book, journal or doodle; just do something that inspires you while you eat and you’ll start to notice how effective you become at your work after lunch!

3) Stop checking your email first thing in the morning or right before going to sleep.

Before you think I’m crazy, before you start thinking this is completely irresponsible, hear me out. On an episode of the podcast Back To Work (which I recommend) the host Merlin Mann said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “checking your email first thing in the morning is you allowing the world to tell you what is expected of you that day.”  When I first heard that I felt like someone shook me awake from a haze! I realized that I checked my email so instinctively and I suddenly became aware of how I felt when I tapped on the mail icon. It was a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, like, “What It hit me because it means I’ve lost control of what is about to happen that day and as a freelancer, while I am paid to provide services to clients, if I relinquish control of my routine and schedule to others, then I won’t actually have control of my day anymore.

Ever since I stopped making my email the first and last thing I did everyday (trust me it was a challenge at first) I’ve become so much more productive and in control of my day.


 

Be focused on your work and your business but remember to focus on yourself too. In the grand scheme of things, unless you’re in the business of saving lives, you can step away and you can take a break (and even a vacation!!) and things will be ok. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of your team or your clients so you owe it to yourself to find your balance by figuring out what works whether it’s doing what I’ve done, or finding your own groove. You will be so glad you did.

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