During the pandemic, a confluence of circumstances led to an increase in overwork. Overnight, millions of people started working and living under one roof, leaving blurry lines between work and family life. Many companies have downsized their teams, leaving those that are still standing to do more with fewer resources. Worried about keeping the jobs they had, many complied, spending more time at their desks. Today, as companies struggle to find and hire talent, some are still running out of steam, raising concerns about burnout.
But it’s a little easier to spot and find solutions for overworked employees than it is for independent contractors and freelancers. Self-employed workers who provide on-demand services to teams may have several different clients with fluctuating needs. And it’s not easy to say “no” – or even “not now” – when you’re working for yourself. It’s no wonder that half of freelancers feel the work is taking over their lives.
“It’s that kind of constant feast or famine,” says Melinda Emerson, aka the Small Biz Lady, and author of Fix Your Business: A 90 Day Plan To Take Back Your Life And Reduce The Chaos In Your Business. “It’s really unfortunate, because that’s what gets them on the workaholic bandwagon, and is constantly stressed out and not enjoying their job.”
For independent talent, drawing boundaries is essential to preserving your physical, mental and professional health. Here are seven ways to take control of your business if you feel like it’s taking over your life:
Know your vision for your business
One of the first steps in saving time is to clearly define the vision you have for your business, says Susan Hance Sykes, Business and Leadership Consultant, co-author of Yes, you can take the day off: escape the nine pitfalls of growing your small business. Are you starting a business to support a certain lifestyle or are you trying to grow your business into a bigger business? This decision will help you set reasonable expectations and decide how you are going to structure your business to give yourself more time for your personal life, she says. âBe really aware of your choice and make sure it matches the things that are important to you in your life,â she says.
Analyze your numbers
âYou need to be clear on the amount of money it takes to run your business,â says Emerson. Without clear financial goals and benchmarks, you can still find yourself chasing the next project because you don’t know if you’ve done enough to cover your salary, expenses, taxes, and other obligations.
Service professionals basically trade their work hours for dollars – and you probably only have about 1,500 of those hours to sell if you’re trying to avoid overwork. So you need to think about how you price to make sure you earn enough that you don’t have to work all the time to be comfortable and profitable, she says.
Once you have a clear picture of your finances, track them throughout the month to make sure you’re on the right track. It’s also a good idea to put some cash aside if possible, so that you don’t have to feel like you have to take care of every client and can deal with times of drought.
Be clear who you are serving
Once you’ve decided on the type of business you’re building, it’s important to know who your ideal clients are, says Emerson. Think about your favorite clients, the ones who fit your business model well, pay you well, and whom you enjoy working for the most. These are probably the types of clients that you should be looking to replicate in your business. “[Taking control of your time] starts with being really clear about your niche customer and then it comes down to clarifying what services you are really going to provide, right? You can’t do everything, âshe says.
Lock in your time for maximum efficiency
Another effective way to control your time is to use the time blocking method to plan your day, says Sykes. âIt is important to spend your time in your highest and best areas of use. And then those other things are the things you want to make sure you get the people around you to do, âshe says.
Accounting, planning, marketing, and other tasks can often be outsourced or automated, even if you are a solo practitioner. This way, you can devote your time to activities that generate income, add value, and help you strengthen your business. And time blocking gives you a visual reminder of what you can realistically do in a day.
Plus, get to know the times of the day when your energy is best suited for certain tasks and take that into account when blocking your time, she says. âPersonally, I know my most creative times are early in the morning. So for me, I block those moments, âsays Sykes that when she adapts her schedule to use the times when she has the most energy and creativity, she tends to work more efficiently.
Streamline (and delegate) your work
When running your business, always look for more efficient ways of working, advises small business expert Jill McAbe, author of It’s Time: Create the Business and Life You Really Want. Watch where you spend most of your time? Are there areas of your business that are just not performing well? These sticking points are wasting your time and need to be addressed, she says.
One area that saved McAbe a lot of time was refusing to write proposals. âI would create these custom proposals and it would kill me not to get the job,â she says. Now it has standard deliverables and prices. That way, she doesn’t waste time customizing the proposals, nor does she have to deal with tire shooters who don’t understand the value of what she’s doing.
Avoiding the shortage trap
A common refrain among freelancers is that they are afraid to turn down work, Emerson says. What if the client never hires them again? Or if the work dries up? So, they say “yes” to too much, overbooking, and the work suffers.
Along with being clear and consistent in your pricing structure, Emerson says there’s another way to combat scarcity thought – through marketing. When you’re consistent in keeping your potential work pipeline full, you won’t be as concerned about where the next job is coming from. âWhat makes people panic and stay in rush mode is because they get a project, and they start working on that project, and a week or two before this project ends, they realize that ‘They don’t have any other plans in sight, “she says. When you have new perspectives that you pursue even though you are working on current projects, you can be more selective about which projects you choose and how you spend your time.
Protect your personal time
It’s also a good idea to set boundaries for yourself and for others around you, suggests Emerson. Choose your âoffice hoursâ and stick to them. Keep family and personal time sacred by blocking it on your calendar. And make sure you take at least one day off per week. Constant overwork will only hurt the product of your labor.
McAbe also emphasizes not letting others waste your precious time. She establishes an ongoing weekly meeting with her clients to review questions, issues and next steps. If they miss this moment, they miss it, she said. This approach allows her to maintain more control over her schedule and prevents clients from seeing her time as less valuable than theirs.
When you have a clear understanding of your business’s finances, work efficiently, have your pipeline full, and put your time first, you can tame the tendency to overwork. This will help you better appreciate the very reasons why you went into business.