I’ve spent the past few years working a full-time job, treating this blog and my other projects as a side hustle. My side hustle was most often fulfilled on nights, weekends, and the odd day off. Now that I’m a full-time freelancer, my working hours have shifted; they’ve somehow simultaneously been reduced and expanded at the same time due to a lack of the clear cut boundaries I’ve been used to in the past. Gone are the days when my Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm hours were spoken for, necessitating that my after and side hours be crammed chock-full of anything and everything I could managed to squeeze in. Now, nights are equal to mornings, weekday afternoons carry as much potential as weekends - with so many moments available for productivity, it feels like I could work around the clock, 24/7 and still find myself with more to do.
But working myself to death is not why I chose to be self-employed, quite the opposite in fact. Part of the allure of a freelance, entrepreneurial lifestyle is that I get to choose what to do with my time, when to put my nose to the grindstone and when to say “fuck it, I deserve a break,” but it’s hard to tear myself away from the never ending tide of creative ideas and exciting projects. In order to properly explore those ideas and opportunities, however, this business needs to be able to exist and succeed in the long term, and in order to do that, I need to keep sustainability in mind. I don’t mean sustainability in the eco-friendly sense here, but in the sense that I must be able to sustain my work and my life on an ongoing basis, without getting burnt out.
Striking a sustainable balance between work, life, and play is much easier said than done, however, especially with the allure of a mile-long to-do list containing all of my hopes and dreams. Yet ignoring said to-do list and spending time seeking balance is key to surviving as an entrepreneur. It’s probably going to take some time to find that rhythm - striking a work-life balance that makes sense for me will involve trial and error, and it may always be a work in progress. Not being one to sit back and wait for the mystery to unfold, I naturally had to hear from those who have gone this route before. To inspire my own quest for work-life balance I turned to some of the self-employed badass lady entrepreneurs whom I admire. Below are their answers to the million dollar question; As an entrepreneur how do you prevent burnout and strike a balance between work, life and play?
MANDY KORDAL OF KORDAL KNITWEAR:
I think first of all it's really important to create a good environment for yourself at your office or studio. I'm in a calmer more peaceful state of mind when I'm in Brooklyn versus Manhattan. So when I looked for work spaces I kept that in mind, as well as my commute time. Having an easy, quick commute if you can manage it is really key. Last year I moved into a studio space in my neighborhood and it's been life changing to be able to walk to work every day. In the same year I also adopted a dog and for me, having some sweet animal love and energy in the workspace has been really amazing. It's really nice to cuddle with a pup for a few minutes if you're feeling stressed or burned out!
I also think setting realistic timelines for yourself is important. The times when I've been overworked or stressed have consistently been a result of not giving myself the proper amount of time to complete a project. And of course things come up, there are problems that are out of your control and you have to deal with them, but trying to avoid those situations as much as you can can offer a better work-life balance. Also, learning how to say no, setting boundaries for yourself so you don't become overwhelmed.
I also try and leave work at work. When I get home I try to lose myself in something else, like cooking, listening to a record, or hanging out with friends. It's good to think about your business and let yourself be consumed with making it great, but you also need time to reset. It's also super important to take yourself on artist dates. I've been loving the book "The Artists Way" and in it she emphasizes the importance of "refilling" your creative well by taking yourself to exhibits, concerts, or even just taking a different walk home. Anything to spark your creativity and inspire you!
WEN-JAY YING OF LOCAL ROOTS:
Having a balance as an entrepreneur is incredibly hard especially when you are deeply connected to your work's mission. A business is like a child that you care for, nurture, worry about, and get excited every day witnessing its growth. It's also an extension of who you are, a way to share your values with the world, and a creative outlet. It makes you feel good when it's doing well, and to see your efforts and dreams become a reality is an incredible feeling. But for all these reasons, it also can break you down a bit. For me, my social circle is also my industry and we all love geeking out about local food and cooking so it can be difficult to remind myself that there are other things I'm passionate about. When I spend time with friends who aren't in the food industry, I try not to talk about work. I go upstate for hikes, though I'm always tempted to also stop by a farm to say hi. I travel, integrate Muay Thai into my schedule as if it's a work appointment that I can't break, and I'm starting to get back into playing music. I encourage myself to spend time on other interests so I remember that I'm more than just my work.
KRYSTAL VAQUERANO OF SHEA BRAND:
As a entrepreneur, I think this is critical to keep a healthy balance between work and life. For me this is especially difficult because we at Shea Brand live and breath our business 24/7, but I try to strike a balance by ensuring I schedule days during the week to have drinks or dinner with friends and get out of my work environment. I also try to make sure that I visit my family and remove myself from the hustle and bustle of New York City frequently.
Another thing I believe is critical is going on vacation. It is so important to separate yourself from your business and get re-inspired by different kinds of people, food, products and culture. I am amazed at how much you learn from different cultures and it is the root of inspiration whether it be in design or product innovation. I remember last year going to Tokyo, and feeling so reenergized and inspired by the amazing innovative things Japan had to offer. I think it is important to watch your business 24/7 and be actively pushing it to be the best it can be, but as humans it is healthy to have breaks or time off and not feel guilty about it.
KESTREL JENKINS OF CONSCIOUS CHATTER:
This is a fantastic question - it's a never ending process for me, and a balance I continue to adjust over time. While working for yourself can often mean "always working," I've been developing ways to build my own schedule to find moments to disconnect and above all, to gain perspective. Especially when working in the creative field, I have discovered that I struggle to get innovative or to draw clear connections between ideas when I constantly "work". When I step back for a day or 2, I instantly start seeing the bigger picture. For me, I do my best to take at least 1 full day off a weekend, and that means getting far away from my computer. Lately, it's meant getting outside, digging in the dirt, and playing in my garden. For me, stepping back is generally when I get the most inspired and re-energized to get back to the grind.
ANDREA REYES OF NYC FAIR TRADE COALITION:
The first thing that popped into my head is that I don't. I get burnout. I overbook myself. I say yes to everything. However, the more I thought about this question and the lifestyle I've set up for myself I realized there are times in my life where things are very busy - now seems to be one of them - and there are times in my life when I put everything on pause to process all that has occurred. Usually, this is on a semester basis. As a professor, I know that January - May will be very busy with conferences, classes, events, and whatever opportunity comes my way but summers I am able to get out of the city by visiting family in NJ or even Alaska. Hiking, biking, camping, berry picking, anything that is away from the computer or phone where I can let my brain rest. These times I often come up with my most creative ideas.
One piece of advice I do have is whichever state you are in to embrace it fully and reject the FOMO. Wherever I am is exactly where I should be. We all have a lot of life ahead of us and there is no sense in rushing through it thinking something better is ahead. It is possible that today is the best it will ever be and we must stop and be grateful we are lucky to have that.
Just reading these tidbits of advice has me inspired and ready for a vacation (heh)! Clearly work-life balance comes in many different shapes and forms, depending on who we are as humans and how we operate at our individual best. I've already made it my mission to find a routine in 2018 and now I'm adding balance to that mission. The inspiration never ends around here, so please tell me in the comments; how do you maintain your work-life balance and avoid burnout?