I realise that this view might not go down well with many people, but I do believe in a separation of work life from personal life, and giving my employer or my business my undivided attention when I’m working. And by definition, giving my personal life my full attention by NOT being consumed by work when I’m off duty.
This approach is obviously better suited to those working as employees, but there is something to be said to apply a similar approach for a self-employed person, at least where it comes to taking personal calls during work hours. As for business calls during off-hours … I understand from my own experience that we do not want to miss out on business, but there are limits, and personal time is important not just for yourself and your clarity of mind, but also of utmost importance to keep up friendships and family peace.
Let’s dissect this idea of separating business communications from private ones. I grew up with the understanding that calling my parents at work was a last resort that was only acceptable if all else had failed. And I believe it has taught me to be self-sufficient in many situations and able to find solutions (sometimes hilariously ridiculous ones, admittedly) to problems on my own rather than completely relying on my parents’ expertise in those matters. Of course, some choices I made were not wonderful, but I did learn from all of them and that was ultimately what made me into who I am today from an early age onward.
These days, I see my colleagues being on the phone with their kids all the time, being moral support and giving practical advice for things that are not really urgent, nor of the kind that the kids (in their teens) could have figured out on their own, or could easily have lived without until the end of the day. Some people spend hours on the phone rather than getting their work done – leading to others having to take over some tasks because they needed to be finished. I’m not going to give a speech about this being unfair to the people who take over these tasks – it’s their decision to take or leave them – but I’m adamant that nobody is being paid for spending hours each day on their private cell phone during work hours.
And that goes for self-employed people as well: we are more likely to realise that this is disruptive to our efficiency, but still this is happening a lot as far as I can assess. If you are working from home and your family is in the same space, it takes a very rigid rule of terror to ensure that during work hours your office space is not used for playtime, or that you are not dragged away for some chore that isn’t really part of your work. Of course, one could argue “I’ll just catch up with this time when the kids are in bed” or “I’ll arrange my hours in a flexible manner”, but that trick won’t work, because these things are notoriously difficult to trace.
My advice would be to officially arrange your work hours around the times when the family is not as active, and officially be off duty when the kids come home from school, or whenever you are needed in the household, but sticking to the work hours outside those rush hours of family duties. I guarantee, this is more efficient as you find yourself sticking to your own rules.
Another thing that many self-employed people state is that this way of working is better for the work/life balance. I believe that is a false conclusion. At the end of the day, working from home or being extremely flexible does not quite balance the two extremes, work and life, but they become so intertwined that there rarely is a time of complete work, nor a time that is absolutely off-duty. Simply because you have become too flexible with the interpretations.
It is better to stick to fixed times, but at the very least to have certain times (contact hours) when you will always be at work – this is particularly in the interest of continuity with your customers. A similar system might be useful for leisure time: why not fix the times when you are definitely NOT working, and allow for a transitional period between work hours and leisure time when you could make yourself available for either. This will ensure that your customers can reach you at clearly defined times, and that your friends and family know when you are off-work and can be disturbed.
The point about being self-employed is that we are masters of our own work and the time we spend doing it. It seems to me that too much flexibility takes that away from us, and we have to follow a certain level of structure to ensure we get the best out of it for ourselves…
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.