From the outside looking in, working for oneself as an independent contractor is a dream come true. You get to set your own hours, you have no boss, you only work on what you enjoy... ha! Experienced IT contractors know that for all of the benefits of being in business on your own, there are a number of extra stressors. A common struggle felt by independent contractors is work-life balance. For sure, employees feel pressure from their managers to work extra hours and get work done, but independent contractors feel a different kind of pressure, and it isn't as easy to manage. Employees have the benefits of set workdays, guaranteed salaries, and paid time-off. Contractors face a reality that if a job isn't done, and isn't done with quality, they may not get a paid. With that narrative always pestering you, it's no wonder work-life balance doesn't come as easily in the gig economy. Lack of work-life balance hurts relationships, takes a toll on your health, and will compromise the quality of work you deliver to clients. If you have a goal to improve your wellbeing, here are a few tips to consider:
The first step to work/life balance is to consciously plan for it by setting specific boundaries between the two. Physical boundaries are easier to set if all of your work is done at the client site, but if you work from a home office, this becomes more difficult. Your home office should be only for work with no distractions. If possible, have a completely different space and computer for personal tasks and gaming. Time boundaries are also important. Just as a company employee has set office hours, do the same for yourself so you know when to call it a day. This includes turning off notifications on your phone after a certain time and eliminating all distractions.
Manage Your Time
Being organized and making the best use of your time is another strategy to ensure work isn't creeping into your personal life. Use a calendar to plan out your days, weeks and months, as well as to organize to-do lists. You'll gain an understanding of your hard deadlines, scheduled meetings, and personal events, making it easier to juggle more flexible tasks and ensure everything fits.
Control the Work You Take On
Remain in control of the work you take on to prevent it from getting out of hand and remember that just because work is available, you do not have to take it. If you already have a lot on your plate, tell your client thanks but no thanks, or offer to do it at a later date. When you know a prospective client has a tendency of letting projects get out of control and demanding more than you'd like to give, pass on that work as well. And if your existing client is a headache and is already hindering your work/life balance, think twice before renewing that contract.
Build a Support Network of Like-Minded Independent Contractors
More than just a group of professionals to bounce ideas off of and to provide moral support, a group of professionals in your field will help you manage your workload. Further to the previous point, nobody likes giving up work and letting a client down. If you keep a trustworthy network of IT contractors with similar skillsets, you can hand them contract opportunities that you don't have time to handle yourself. In return, you may get extra work from them when your well is running dry.
Plan to Take Vacation
Vacation and time away are mandatory for everyone to maintain their sanity, but it's easy to get stuck in a loop of contracts and never make time for yourself. Plan to take time off, either between contracts or at a specific time of year. Then purchase tickets so you're financially committed to the plan, making it harder for "Future You" to back-out of that planned vacation. Independent contractors are also known to avoid vacation because, contrary to employees, time-off means not getting paid. Budget time-off when planning your year and set money aside so you still get a "paid" vacation. Without a solid plan for work/life balance, any IT contractor is doomed to overwork themselves, burn out, and cause damage to their business and personal relationships. If you're prioritizing this, we strongly recommend you come up with a plan that works for you today. If you are happy with your existing work/life balance, please share your strategies in the comments below.