I never said I wanted to work 350+ days a year but somehow it just... happened.
When I started freelance writing in 2006, at first I worked around my two-year old's schedule so weekends were a necessity but now that he's been in kindergarten for a while and attending school full days alternate weekdays, I expected to be able to work fewer nights and weekends. But it hasn't changed. So...I need to do something about it.
Family and friends who try to make plans often don't understand my "having to work" having the same meaning as non-freelancers "having to work" on weekends. Most who work for someone else just don't get what it's like to run your own business from home and be unable to shut it off at 5:pm, especially 5:pm Friday nights. I have no one to cover me and time equals money. No sick days; no paid vacation days.
Part of it is the freelancer's fault, though. It's true. Sure, there are times when I HAVE TO work but at times it's more like I am addicted to work or maybe just habitual. I don't shut it off because I do love what I do. Having your own freelance writing business becomes something you want to grow and nurture. It often doesn't feel like work. Besides, there are times when I get a heckuva lot done by working on a Sunday afternoon or when I have a second wind after midnight (such as when this post was written @ around 12:30 AM after two post-6:pm coffees) (and I must admit to occasionally having to "work" on a weekend when there's an event I'd just rather not attend. But Shhh about that.) All in all, a flexible schedule can be good thing --- so long as your business doesn't become a barrier to rest and relaxation... and your health.
I've become flexible with clients to a fault. I really don't want to continue to work most every weekend forever so I've decided on the following game plan to help me scale back.These tips could help you, too. A lot of business owners are in the same boat. If you want to work weekends, that's great but if you don't you don't want to be perceived by your clients as suddenly unreasonably unavailable. Set expectations so that if you do work on weekends, it's going to be most often because you've chosen to, not because you're expected to. Before long, your existing clients will adjust and you'll set expectations up front for new clients you bring on.
Here's my game plan:
- Stop initiating weekend emails. Clients who think they can expect a one hour response time on the weekend or for you to pick up the phone on a Sunday probably never got the push back when they started that behaviour. And there's a good chance that you started the cycle by being the first one to e-mail on a Sunday. Just like Rebecca said in comments on my post 7 Signs You Need to Break Up with That Client, you need to set clear boundaries. If I have to work on a Sunday, I'm trying to see that as my own time so different rules apply, such as turning off IM and not responding to e-mails unless necessary. I've started to try to save communications and finished assignments for sending on Monday morning. If people don't think I work on weekends, they probably won't, as a rule, expect me to.
This doesn't mean I won't ever answer an e-mail on a Saturday night, though. Showing people that you are willing to respond, particularly in an emergency, can be a good but the more often you initiate the email on a weekend or agree to a weekend deadline, the more you're setting the expectation that you are open for business all the time and the fewer weekends you'll be able to take off because you'll have to plan for it. If clients email me on a Sunday night and I read the message, I'm going to start deciding whether to answer immediately or save it until business hours. If I'm working on the weekends, it's going to start being on my terms.
- Stop setting weekend deadlines. I've made it a point to try being more careful about agreeing to weekend deadlines. I'm also starting to answer in terms of business days rather than calendar days. By telling a client "5 business days" as a project delivery ETA you are essentially setting an expectation that you work business hours, Monday to Friday.
- Stop emailing clients and talking on IM at night. I have clients all over the globe. I have clients in
Australia, in the US, UK, in , and elsewhere but that doesn't mean that I'm always working at 1:am when it's their business hours. If I am, I'm now getting in the habit of turning off Skype / MSN/ Yahoo so that I can work and not get into conversations that should wait. I do set late or early appointments to talk to clients in other time zones on Skype or on the phone on occasion but am going to try to stick to my own time zones in terms of setting deadlines in order to try to maintain work / life balance. I also ask clients to set appointments to call, rather than just picking up the phone when they feel like it. And, if I'm working after 10:pm, I am going to be more productive if I'm working on finishing something rather than doing ten things at once. Mauritius
- Stop working weekends. It's a simple concept … do something fun instead. Too often, freelancers roll out of bed, put the coffee on, turn on the computer and start working out of habit. I’d like to begin to choose whether or not to work weekends so I need to keep that in mind when setting my schedule, accepting work, managing my time, and making plans. Too often, I'm catching up on weekends because I've gotten sidetracked with my Writer's ADD syndrome and had a snafu in time management so have to play catch-up on the weekend.
Above all, let us all try to remember this one very important thing: Your business...Your rules.