The Work/Life Balance

It’s been two months since I started working for myself, and it’s been great. The fair warnings from friends were fair, though outcomes aren’t as terrible as some have feared. Client work is amazing when one knows how to set boundaries, and this concept of boundaries is, as I am coming to learn, almost foreign to the self- and home-employed.

When I gave a talk at WordCamp Raleigh about some very useful career tips (admittedly, a little light on technical info), one of the things I shared was how I have a laptop dedicated to work. At the end of the day, I not only shut the lid, I shut the thing down completely. I do. And my life is the better for it.

Inspired by a conversation on Twitter about boundaries and how a friend doesn’t even have internet access at home save for what’s on his smartphone, I took a few minutes to take stock of my day, what I do, and The Important Things, as they say:

  • Three and a half hours of fitness: weights and cardio, from 5am through 830.
  • Home at 9 and banging out code or graphics. One hour lunch break, which breaks the extended daily fasts that I take as part of my fitness goals.
  • Finish at 6.
  • Hang out with friends or significant other. Read a book, watch TV, go for a walk, go people watching, or just relaxing in perfect quiet at home.
  • Go to bed between 830 and 10.
  • Rinse, repeat next day.

I have neither spouse nor child and the demands of life outside of work are strictly between that of my Important Person and my own personal trifles. In this I may be considered lucky, although I must warn: ennui is a dangerous thing, and when Friday 6pm rolls around and I shut the laptop down, and have little to do outside the home, it can get… crazyfying.

But for anyone who might ask: how do I do it? How do I compartmentalize? How do I shut off? I give one bit of advice: find a hobby or passion that demands your perfect attention. You see: I cannot think about CSS while balancing 135 pounds of weight across my delts and chest to do front squats. I would hurt myself. I cannot think about a WordPress theme I’m working on when I am also concentrating on the perfect form for cleans. When I am at the gym, I have to concentrate or else I waste my time there and open myself to greater risks for injury.

I cannot afford that.

The same goes for Professional Time. I give myself eight hours a day. If I cannot do what I need to do in those eight hours, it is not a failure of the expansive to-do list. It is my failure to manage my time. (Factor in the fact that I also tweet, answer emails, take phone calls (scheduled ones) and instant message with colleagues during Professional Time.)

Because I have made a deal with myself that my time is strictly my responsibility, it is easy for me to get what I need done, done in the time I need it to be done. Try it some time, and you’ll see that boundaries will fall into place naturally.