As a self-employed freelance writer, I don't get paid a salary. I'm paid for the work I do, and I don't get paid if I don't work, which creates an enormous pressure to always be working.
Even when I have achieved my financial goals for the day, the week, or even the month, the looming unknown makes me want to push ahead and do more. That's partly because more money is almost always better, but also because you never know when the flu, a family emergency, or another surprise event might mean missing precious working hours (and earnings).
Self-employed people don't enjoy the safety net of sick days and paid time off offered to many traditional workers. That creates a level of pressure to get ahead -- to make money when you can, because you don't know what tomorrow will bring.
Of course, that isn't always the healthiest attitude, and operating that way can cause your family to suffer. However, there are ways for self-employed folks to protect and maintain their work-life balance and here are three.
1. Work when others work
Self-employed workers like myself are not obligated to work any specific or consistent schedule. I could sleep late, work in the middle of the night, or pull 24-hour monster work sessions. Doing those things, however, does not jibe with my family obligations.
It sounds silly, but I've found the easiest way to make sure there's time to spend with my wife and son is to work traditional hours.
My wife has a typical 9-to-5 job, and my son leaves the house at 6:30 a.m. and I pick him up at the bus at 3:30. To be available, I start my day around 7:30 a.m. (while my wife gets ready for work) and usually end it after picking my son up (or work as he does homework).
I also work at night when my wife has her own work to do, and put in some weekend hours before my teenage son has even considered getting out of bed. It's not a flawless system -- sometimes there are things I need to do during what could be family time -- but I try to work mostly when my presence is not going to be missed.
2. Plan ahead
I have set income goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule. If I know I won't be able to work as much on a certain day (like a random non-holiday no-school day), I'll try to rack up some work ahead of time. Usually, that means writing an extra story each day for a few days leading up to the time I'll miss.
It's not a perfect system, as the pressure to be making money persists, and it's worse when I'm taking time off on a traditional work day. Still, by being a bit ahead, I know I'm not actually slacking off or being financially irresponsible.
3. Be reasonable with yourself
Give your priorities a reality check. There's always more money to be made, but there's not always more time to be had with loved ones.
Give yourself permission to be in the moment and enjoy your non-work time. Having fun away from work is something everyone needs and work will be there when you get back. Taking time off isn't a weakness or leaving money on the table, it's a healthy part of any existence that's important to embrace.