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There’s a lot of information out there on achieving work-life balance, and a common productivity suggestion is that you structure your workday. I’ve found that one invaluable tool for getting these two things dealt with effectively is knowing not just how much work you have to do of what kind each day, but how long to work for.

This article is most relevant to freelancers and entrepreneurs since employers often dictate how many hours you should work for regardless of what you think — so the suggestions in this article will accommodate that group of people.

Determining the Factors

How long a person needs to work is going to be different for everyone. Everyone’s situation is different to some degree or another; if you’re a successful freelancer or entrepreneur you can outsource your admin work or even some or all of the work you do to deliver the service that you actually provide. If you’re starting your own freelance business, then you will probably be working grueling hours doing all the admin, heaps of marketing, and as much work as you can possibly find.

I’m not going to be a work-life balance nancy and tell you that you should never work long, grueling hours. It’s a necessary part of building a bootstrapped business for many of us. Depending on how things are set up, maintaining a business may be a long and grueling effort each day.

What’s important is that you accept the state of affairs and make a plan that’ll change that unfortunate situation when you’ve got things going.

Let’s take a look at the first set of factors: the tasks you need to complete.

Admin

Admin work can be the most dull and time-consuming work ever, but unfortunately, it’s very much a necessity if you want to get paid or keep those nasty tax auditors away. Each day you need to deal with email from clients and other people who have something to do with your work. You need to track expenses and income in your books and all those unpleasant bookkeeping and accounting tasks.

Make sure you give yourself time to handle these things each day or they may end up getting swept aside until the last minute — which may turn into an all-nighter.

Review

Review is the tool we use to keep ourselves productive each day — the review of tasks and projects — and to keep our businesses growing — the review of the business’s direction and overarching goals.

Often lumped in with admin, I think reviewing your tasks and your business goals should be treated as its own priority and given its own time on both a daily and weekly basis.

Marketing

The work without which there’d be no work. Keeping your name out there and potential clients in the pipeline doesn’t put food on the table — it ensures that when you finish the projects that are currently putting food on the table, there’ll be others to take their place! In other words, it ensures you stay in business (and fed).

Never neglect marketing, even if you swamp yourself with clients. This is why many freelancers claim to experience the “drought or flood” syndrome where there are either plenty of clients or none. In tough times you market like crazy and as a result, eventually get a whole bunch of clients. Then you’re so swamped that you don’t market — and when those projects are done, you’re left with very little work.

The Work

I like to think that at least 60% of the workday should consist of performing the actual work you are in business to perform. If you’re a writer, you should spend 60% of the day writing, designers should spend 60% of the day designing, and so on. More than that is better. Through the proper use of systems and automation I was spending 90-95% of my workday on “The Work” as a freelancer.

If you’re in a creative field, remember that “The Work” time may include sitting on a couch creating ideas. It may not look like work, but it sure as hell is.

Life Factors

Work and life are like armies at war — they’re always fighting for ground, pushing one another book. So, after looking at the demands work puts on your time, let’s flip the coin and see what life might demand. Never factor just your work tasks into the equation — consider what you need to do outside of work as well.

Family & Home

It’s terribly easy to forget and neglect family matters when you’re working hard, especially when you don’t have anyone but yourself to depend on to keep the money coming in.

The end result is never, ever pretty. It’s no joke that not budgeting time for family time can destroy the relationships you have and it may mean you end up seeing your kids once every second weekend on visitation. Drop clients if you have to make room for this one.

On a lighter note, it’s only fair that you do the dishes once in a while, and maybe even put something in the washing machine!

Social Life

It’s a bit sad but there have been times in my life as a freelancer where the only people I saw for a week where the people I lived with. I had so much work I could barely find the time to talk to those people, let alone leave the house and socialize! It’s important to do so, though. There are a whole bunch of longwinded studies that basically boil down to this: not socializing makes you crazy. Nobody hires crazy people anymore.

Relaxation & Downtime

Relaxation and downtime is not the same as socializing. Often, you need time to yourself, to do things you enjoy whether that’s reading a book, knitting, watching Seinfeld re-runs or fighting something in an MMORPG. Take the time to immerse yourself in activities you enjoy to relax and entertain yourself.

Hobbies & Commitments

If you are in some sort of community organization, or have a hobby like martial arts, you probably need to consider the regular events you need to attend when working out your daily working hours. If you can’t keep up your commitments, it might be best to relieve yourself of them rather than become known as “the unreliable one.”

The Lifestyle You Want to Create

The most important factor above all is that there’s a certain lifestyle everyone wants to create and it has a big influence on how long you work each day and what you do in order to make that happen. If you want to work short hours or you want to work normal hours but on a strange schedule when everyone else is asleep, that’s great. You just need to decide on how many hours you want to work each day and make a plan to achieve that.

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