Being self-employed is challenging, but can be easier when you identify the habits that keep you productive and healthy. From scheduling your time efficiently to managing your workspace, here are the top five strategies to succeed at balancing your professional and personal life.
1. WORK DURING YOUR PEAK CREATIVE HOURS
You probably know your most productive creative hour. By working during your magic hours, you are setting yourself up for success. For example, if you aren’t a morning person and your best work comes between 3 pm – 6 pm, don’t expect to get up early and go to the gym before sitting down to work at 9 am. Sure, one of the best things about being self-employed is your ability to step away from your work at will. However, if you are unlikely to get right back to it, then accept that it’s not likely to happen, adjust your weekly and daily schedule so that you can sleep in, putter around the house and be ready for work by noon so that your 6-hour workday encompasses your magic creative hours, and you still have the evenings to see friends and family.
2. GO TO YOUR STUDIO OR WORKSPACE REGULARLY
Putting money into a studio or workspace every month is an extremely effective investment for independent artists and the self-employed. Working only from home can cause strain on relationships and tends to leave people socially isolated. You’ll want to find a space that puts you in contact with other independent artists from a similar discipline.
In a studio or co-working space, you can still do your own thing and have some privacy, but you’ll get social and professional benefits by building relationships with other self-employed creatives. For example, sometimes a short conversation with your studio neighbor can help you break through a creative block, give you a new perspective, or open your eyes to new resources. Or maybe you’ll get to chat with a group of self-employed artists who have an idea for a new collective or initiative that would love to be part of. You’ll also find yourself more motivated by witnessing others hard at work.
Of course, it’s totally okay to work from home some days. Just be sure you have doubles of computer chargers and other basic supplies at both spaces so you have less stuff to ferry back and forth. Don’t underestimate the importance of having your own space to create.
3. PLAN YOUR GOALS AND WORK
Shortly before your prime creative hours begin, take a moment to sit down and decide what you’re going to work on. Set your phone and computer aside, and grab a pen and paper. Jot down what you plan to work on, and write out a list of the things you’ll need to have handy to complete the tasks. For example, if your plan is to finish a painting, you’ll need to set up an easel, fill a jar with water, and track down the appropriate brushes and paints before you begin.
Taking time to consider how you’re going to approach a workday is an approach that works for many artists, who often wonder how they’re going to organize so much work into so little time. By segmenting your workday into parts, you’ll feel far better prepared to tackle the day and be productive. For maximum productivity, set out your calendar at the start of the week, and loosely plan what you’ll work on each day. Whatever you don’t finish can always be added to the next day’s tasks.
4. USE TOOLS AND APPS TO OPTIMIZE YOUR WORKFLOW
Having access to the best software or even a simple printer can make all the difference to your self-employed work going smoothly. Allow yourself to spend a bit of money on professional software, art equipment, and office tools as needed. As an independent artist, you can’t just rely on a trip to your local copy center and expect to be as productive!
In terms of technological tools, take advantage of organizational apps for your phone and computer. Consider using Google Calendar, so that you can set reminders for important appointments. Other great apps for the self-employed include, Wave (finance), Quickbooks (bookkeeping), Tiny Scanner (document scanner), Slack (group chat and project management), and various alarm apps out there that don’t snooze unless you solve a simple logic puzzle such as Alarmy.
5. TAKE BREAKS
These things may sound basic, but many of us, especially those who are self-employed or run their own business, neglect self-care in favor of getting more work done. Helpful daily creative habits can get quickly neglected when in the throes of deadlines, projects, and your personal life. Do some planning to make them a part of your regular daily life. A well-fed independent artist who’s had some time to move and stretch is going to work more effectively and efficiently than a restless artist who’s easily frustrated because they’re hungry.
When you cook, make lots of food and use well-sealing containers so you can take leftovers for lunch. While you’re at it, throw some in the freezer for emergency dinners.
Make exercise incidental and difficult to avoid. For example, plan to walk or bike to your studio on a regular basis, instead of taking the bus or driving (if it’s really far, walk the first half of the trip and find a secondary mode of transportation to finish the trip). You could also find a gym that’s between your home and the studio, and plan ahead to meet a friend for a workout on your way home.
Don’t forget to exercise and relax your brain as well. A healthy mind is vital for creative flow. Achieve this with habits like meditation and disconnecting from social media for a portion of the day. Using apps like Headspace can help you get started with a guided meditation.
6. IF YOU BREAK YOUR CREATIVE HABITS, RESET
We’re all going to slip a little – and need time to relax and recover – when juggling multiple priorities and having the responsibility of running a business. When you’re accountable for the work you do, the work you need to get, and getting paid to earn a livelihood, there is a lot of pressure to focus on work and only work. The best way to deal with breaks or lapses in your creative habits is to accept that they’re going to happen, you will deal with it, and you will be able to reset. Everyone needs a break sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up. Get back to your routines, set new goals to fulfill your creative habits, and don’t go so far off your routine that it’s difficult to recover. Just remember, when you hit the reset button, you power back up again.
What keeps you focused? How do you keep yourself on track? Let us know!
Tess Vikander is a multi-media freelance reporter and writer who was raised by several courageous artists in an old house. She covers arts, social movements, urban stuff, LGBTQ politics, and indigenous resurgence. Follow her on twitter @tessavikander.