Do you know what makes Scandinavian countries the happiest in the world? It isn’t those drool worthy interiors we’re all obsessed with or their seemingly effortless natural style. It’s their appreciation of balance. Life there isn’t a game of who can earn the most, work the hardest, is busiest or has the biggest house. Working past 5pm is considered worrying because it means you’re struggling to do your job. Striving for a healthy balance between work and a fulfilling personal life is engrained in society. There’s a lot to be learned from this approach.
Learning to switch off from my creative business has been a great struggle throughout my self-employed journey. For a long time I’d feel guilty for not working 24/7 convinced that I was lazy, missing out on opportunities and sabotaging my finances as a result of time off. I guess that’s what happens when you love what you do for a living and can’t get enough of it.
Too many periods of burnout later though, I came to terms with the fact my pace of working wasn’t sustainable and that this approach isn’t healthy either. This business that was supposed to give me freedom and make me happy was having the opposite effect.
I’ve realised I only have so much to give and living in a constant state of being ‘on’ business-wise depletes my productivity and the quality of work I’m able to produce. That ‘I don’t have time to take a break’ mentality was actually harming not just my creative business but also my mental health.
Finding balance between my business and real life is an ongoing endeavour but I’m no longer blind to the importance of this. To my surprise, the more balance I create, the more my business thrives and the happier I feel as a result. Living with a mindset of having to be present at work 24/7 only leads to burnout, frustration and spells of chronic anxiety.
These are the biggest changes I’ve made to help me achieve balance:
Creating boundaries and maintaining them
Getting comfortable with setting boundaries and learning how to do this effectively has been a steep learning curve for me but one of the most rewarding. We’re so used to others setting boundaries for us as we grow up. School timetables and workload are dictated to us from a young age and when we start work we’re given set start and finish times, job descriptions and expectations. All this structure goes out of the window when we work for ourselves and we find ourselves having to create our own.
For me, boundaries often means returning to basics to ensure I’m taking good care of myself. This can look like meal planning my lunches so I eat well, setting a no work at weekends rule, allocating days for replying to emails or scheduling adequate time off throughout the year. The more I take care of myself, the more able I am to take care of my business.
Leaning into phone free time
This is an unthinkable task for many and technology addiction is not to be taken lightly, but I promise you, it’s liberating. For some of us, using screen time restriction apps like Forest work well, but there’s something oh so powerful in turning it off altogether. It’s easy to forget that we’re in control of our phones and not the other way around. We have the power to choose when we’re accessible, how we’re accessible and when we’re not. That fear of missing something vital feeds from our lack of experience without our phones.
Start small if necessary and then gradually build up. An hour at the weekend or evening is a great start. You’ll soon realise that those who need to can still manage to get hold of you in an emergency, you don’t miss that much and everything is still waiting for you when you get back. Giving myself permission to switch my phone off is the single biggest act I’ve experimented with in my search for balance. I’ve recently extended these periods to entire weekends and this is when I truly feel switched off. I read more, I’m more present with those around me and I always return to the digital world refreshed and full of inspiration.
Defining what is and isn’t work
Getting clear on what is and isn’t work can help us catch ourselves when we’re tempted to, reply to those messages that have piled up or dive into a social media hole for hours on end. Writing a list is a simple and useful way to get clear on what constitutes work for you. When you have a solid understanding of everything that makes up your work (you might be surprised how much there is) it’s a lot easier to adopt a bird’s eye view and create some structure.
If your passion is your job it can be helpful to examine intention here. Creating pottery for a client for example would be classed as work whereas creating pottery purely for yourself without the stress of having to share it wouldn’t be classed as work. It can be tricky but we can keep parts of our passions for ourselves by removing expectations and remembering not everything we create has to be shared.
Finding joy outside of work
Reflecting on why you’re running a creative business in the first place can throw up some interesting realisations. Most of us want more freedom to do what we love like spend time with our families or friends, travel, indulge in our hobbies or even simply watching a Poirot episode mid-afternoon when we feel like it. Joy outside of work will look different for all of us and it isn’t always necessary to have a hobby but it is essential to lean into joy outside of our businesses. This is how we relax, refuel and experience life to the full.
Growing our social media, booking more clients and increasing our earnings brings quick hits of pleasure and can get addictive, but the purpose of our business is supposed to be so we can live a fulfilling life, not so it can be our life.
Read Jessica’s recent post about having a hobby purely for enjoyment here.