The number of people choosing to work as a contractor rises year on year with no sign of abating. As of May 2019, there are a record high of 4.93 million people identifying as self-employed in the UK.
Whilst there are many reasons to become a contractor, consistently there is the attraction of having autonomy as to where, with whom & when you work.
However, this boon is off-set by unique pressures and stresses. Often working alone, with the continuous challenge to find new work, managing daily workload & ‘back of house,’ it can become difficult to ‘switch off’. When the buck stops with you, and you are your own boss it is tough to step away from your desk.
Thankfully, we are now more aware than ever of the relationship between stress & our mental health. A work-life balance is no longer regarded as a privilege, but rather as a necessity. We hold those who manage this balance in higher regard than those who “sleep at their desks”.
Ultimately, if you don’t maintain a healthy work-life balance you will undermine your contracting career. Your work will suffer and you may burn out. So what are some ways we can mindfully strike this delicate balance?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for contracting, which makes forecasting your time tricky. However, being open with family & friends prior to entering a busy period alleviates the emotional stress of time-poverty. Letting them know ahead you may be more absent or tired creates an opportunity for them to step forward & support you, forewarned is forearmed.
Be honest, don’t over commit, and if in doubt say ‘no.’ It is better to manage peoples’ expectations then to let them down. This applies to your clients also. Whilst you don’t want to alienate your clients, as a contractor, putting yourself in unmanageable situations will affect the quality & efficiency of your work and damage working relationships. Communicate with yourself, stop & think, be realistic with yourself and share clearly & openly with those around you.
Being realistic is easier when you know how long things take you. An essential step towards intelligent, effective planning, with apps like Toggl & Timely you can monitor & review your time. This empowers you to predict and schedule yourself accurately. When your timings are combined with project management apps such as Asana, Trello or Wunderlist you will be looking at a schedule that shows you what you can do, rather than obscuring from you what you can’t.
With clear sight & confidence in your work timings amalgamate your time into a diary too. Rather than keeping work & personal separate it helps to see them side by side whether by overlaying calendars or using apps like Sunsama to receive updates of all your calendars and task managers in one place.
As a contractor, respect & recognise your time in the same way you respect your clients. Putting time into yourself will increase your productivity & the ingenuity of your work. In respecting your time you will not only realise the work-life balance, but surpass it. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos now teaches ‘work-life harmony’ over work-life balance. As he explains, “”It actually is a circle. It’s not a balance.” Paradoxically to out-dated models & thought, respecting your time doesn’t make you a slacker, instead it sows the seeds to make you a leader.
Neil is co-founder and CEO of ten80. With a strong background in SAP, Neil has worked as an end user, a consultant and as a contractor. He set up ten80 to allow clients to access the best SAP resources worldwide, and save money in the process.
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