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Opinion Editorials

Why work-life balance isn’t a reality for the self employed

Freelancers lose sleep over the elusive “work-life balance” conundrum, but the entire concept is bunk, and here’s why.

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work life balance

It’s confession time…

Listening to a group of fellow freelancers discuss the illusive concept of work-life balance a few weeks made me realize just how out of control my own life had become. To be honest, the thought of work-life balance was part of the problem for me until I heard someone interrupt the conversation with the word “harmony.”

The reason work-life “balance” doesn’t work for me as a freelancer is because of the definition from Webster.

Balance: a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

How on earth can any of us balance everything we have to do in equal portions? No wonder I felt like I was killing myself in order to achieve a concept that was pretty much only a dream.

Let’s rethink how this actually works

Even though we all understand subconsciously that it is impossible to distribute everything we have in our lives evenly, the word itself carries that meaning and is taken literally whether we admit it or not. In doing that I have seen a lot of guilt, depression, and oppression on ourselves to meet this unobtainable goal of balance.

Harmony, on the other hand, is exactly what we are actually striving for, based on this definition from good ol’ Webster.

Harmony: a combination of parts into a pleasing or orderly whole; congruity

Doesn’t a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity feel more realistic? Freelancers typically work a lot of hours, mostly because we enjoy what we do, but we still need human interaction, hobbies, and activities to keep us rejuvenated. Some weeks we may need more of one than another to keep ourselves in harmony – but we do not have to make sure we maintain an equal amount of everything.

Imagine harmony instead of equal balance

Imagine a week where you work only 30 hours and spend some time most days riding your bike, taking a short walk/hike in a nearby park, or having a cup of coffee (or a mimosa) with a friend to catch up on life and laugh. What would it feel like to take a couple hours and read a book once or twice a week?

Close your eyes and take a moment to envision activities to ignite your fire again each week. The beauty of this is it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking to make a dramatic difference in your overall life. It’s about integrating all the pieces of life you enjoy instead of trying to make them all balance equally. 50% fun + 50% work is not the only option, and in fact it may not be a viable option at all. You could have a week of 100% fun and the next week 100% focused work, or you could find some other combination that works even better for you.

It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking

If you need more structure to your daily work-life harmony, you can design that in as well since that is a part of harmony for you. I have a little of that myself, so I usually take my mornings to create a structured agenda for work to be done and then let my afternoons be more free-flowing to allow for a bike ride or hike.

I often forget to even look up from my computer to create harmony between work and fun; it is the curse of freelancing for many. But you must! Burnout is quite frankly one of the worst experiences freelancing has to offer – harmony is the best way to achieve your goals and enjoy being a freelancer.

If you’re a freelancer, take a more holistic approach by integrating work-life harmony and watch your happiness and productivity increase while the guilt and depression fade away.

#WorkLifeHarmony

Emily Leach is a pioneer in the world of uniquely-talented people who feel empowered to go beyond conventional jobs and create businesses from unique vantage points and perspectives. She is the founder of the Texas Freelance Association, the first statewide association of freelance workers in the country and The Freelance Conference, the only event of its kind poised to become THE conference for freelancers across the nation. Her belief that those working for themselves deserve the same respect as those working for major corporations drives her tireless fight to ensure this growing population of “genetically unemployable” solo-preneurs are represented and offered some of the same opportunities as those working for large corporations. Because of her knowledge and expertise, Emily has been a leading-edge organizer and speaker for TEDx events throughout the U.S. Southwest. Currently living in Austin, Texas, Emily’s outside interests include rowing, sailing, traveling, scuba diving, snowboarding, whitewater and cycling – basically, having adventures and living life to the fullest.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Les

    May 12, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Forage, harvest, hunt, kill, eat, laugh, love…..laugh, forage, laugh, harvest, laugh, hunt, kill, laugh, eat, laugh, love….. Repeat as necessary. And the greatest of these is love……

  2. Nando

    May 12, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    Love Emily. I remember having a conversation about this. It originated on a reply from Chris Brogan to my same use of the word “balance”. Harmony is more powerful and conduce to happiness.

  3. Pingback: What freelancers must do when it feels like competition is holding you back - AGBeat

  4. Job at home

    June 3, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    The truth is, everyone's definition of balance is different. What works for you may not work for someone else. Finding the perfect harmony is a process of trial and errors but the good thing is that once you figure out you're preferences and what works for you, you're good to go!

  5. Pingback: France could pass a "Right to Disconnect" law letting workers ignore email after work hours - The American Genius

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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