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Tag Archives: home working

Freelancing: Is work-life balance the great freelancing lie?

As I head into my second year of freelancing, I am belatedly realising just how foolish any attempt at creating a work-life balance is. The work I do is highly cyclical in nature, and the deadlines almost entirely not dictated by me (or generally even by my clients); take, for example, the last few months, which have included Chambers UK deadlines (mid-December and mid-February), Legal 500 UK deadlines (mid-February, mid-March, with the deadline for paid profiles the week after the submission deadline), Chambers Europe/Global (first deadline late February), Middle East (start of March) and Asia (start of March/start of April). If all this sounds confusing, trust me it is: I have spent the last few weeks working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week across time zones to try and accommodate all my clients.

But of course when you have a portfolio career, just because one part of your business gets busy, it doesn’t mean the rest of it slows down. I can’t tell my other, non-legal clients that I am putting their work on hold because I have other deadlines – the fact that I have a weekly quota of web copy to get through for one client, and a batch of magazine articles due in the same day as the Legal 500 is, frankly, my tough luck. Likewise, your personal life doesn’t stop: I’m currently in the middle of moving house, and am dealing with family health crises that consume a lot of my time and energy. You’ll understand, then, if I give people short shrift when they keep telling me how relaxing it is to work from home.

I’m not in any way claiming that I actually work any harder than office-based employees – I have plenty of friends working insane, full on hours in office jobs – just that the perception tends to be that, if you work from home, you spend great swathes of your time swanning around drinking coffee and reading magazines (this seems particularly to be true if you’re a woman working from home – I blame Sex and the City for perpetuating the myth that freelancing for women means a few minutes at your laptop, the rest of the time in cocktail bars).  I’m also not complaining about my workload. I feel remarkably blessed to be in such demand.  I spent much of last year fretting about building up my business, and it’s rewarding in the extreme to see it starting to grow, and to get repeat work from satisfied clients. More than that, I genuinly enjoy what I do – even at its most frustrating, it’s something I feel passionately about, and I want to keep doing. If I have to work my socks off to make it a success, I’m happy to do that. Working for myself still gives me a flexibility I enjoy and can use to my benefit – if I want to get up at 4am and work I can, likewise if I feel I need an extra hour in bed one day, there’s no boss to shout at me for not being at my desk at 9am sharp. But I’m realising that, at least in my chosen career, work-life balance is not a day-to-day thing: it’s a long-term haul. There simply will be weeks and months when I do nothing, nothing at all, but work, times when every other thing in my life has to be fitted in around deadlines and demands. There will, similarly, be weeks when the workload is light and if I want to I can skive off and spend the afternoon wandering around the shops or a gallery. This also of course has financial implications – I need to keep reminding myself that this is my lucrative time of year, so the money I earn now needs to be banked as a buffer against future lean times (and to pay the tax man – something which came as a bit of a jolt last year!).

It’s not a way of working that suits everyone, and it’s certainly not the fantasy of self-employment that many people dream of. Personally, I love it – I find it liberating beyond measure to be able to set my own hours and to work to my own, often eccentric, internal clock. But it has made me recognise that the one thing you need, more than anything, when you start freelancing, is realistic expectations: if you go into it thinking it’s an easier way of working, it might come as a bit of a shock. I think that, whatever your chosen field, the first year of doing it freelance is likely to be the steepest learning curve of your life – so, like all great adventures, you need to embark on it well-prepared for the journey.

[And, because I really like making things difficult for myself, I put my new book out this week… Wolf Night is available now from Amazon.]

WN KINDLE final

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Working from home during the Olympics: tips for newbies

With the Olympics now looming, Londoners will hopefully have their continuity plans already in place to deal with the increased commuter traffic. For many people, that will mean working at home – which always sounds great, but can be tricky for those more used to an office. So, how to make the best of working from home if you’re unaccustomed to it? Follow these tips:

Do a trial run: if your office has remote log in, try it before ‘D-Day’ – you don’t want to find out at crunch time that your broadband can’t cope, or your system is incompatible (this can be a problem especially if you have a Mac at home, and your office is Windows-based – check with your IT department now to see if there are compatibility issues). Your IT team will no doubt be run off their feet on the first day of the Olympics: identify your issues now and you can get them dealt with ahead of time.

Remind people that homeworking is still work: it can be tempting for your family or partner to assume that if you’re working from home, you are suddenly available to do all of those chores that they don’t have time to do at the weekend. Remind them firmly that working from home does not mean ‘running to the bank/dry cleaners/supermarket/ looking after the kids’.

Do be flexible: conversely, if your job is more about what you get done than when you do it – ie, there is no expectation to be constantly available in office hours – then it may be easier for you to work in the morning and evening and set aside some time in the afternoon for domestic duties.

Take a break: if you’re not used to homeworking it can feel, no matter how much you are working, like you are somehow getting away with skiving, and to imagine that, if you don’t answer emails the minute you get them, your boss will assume you are sitting in the garden with a G&T. But you can’t stare at a screen all day any more than you can in an office: take regular screen breaks, allow yourself a cup of coffee or a proper break for lunch – you’ll be more productive for it!

Set boundaries: anyone who regularly works from home will tell you that one of the most difficult things to do is to keep the boundaries between work and home life separate. It’s easy when you’re busy to simply think, ‘well, I’ve started so I might as well keep going’ – and find yourself working till 10pm! That’s fine occasionally, but a recipe for burn out and frustration in the long-term. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time based at home over the Olympics, you need to be strict with yourself: set a reasonable time to switch off the laptop and stick to it.

Stay off Facebook/Twitter: even if you usually update your status throughout the day, it’s wise to use caution in doing so when you’re working at home. You may know you’ve been flat out all day, but if you’re posting photos of your garden or joking that you’ve got lots of washing done, it looks unprofessional, and can breed resentment amongst colleagues who are still stuck in the office.

How to cope when you both work at home

With the rise in homeworking – and the downturn in the economy – it’s no longer uncommon for more than one person in the house to be working from home (or, more stressfully, for one person to be working from home while the other looks for work). While this can have positive side effects – companionship, mutual support – it can also be disruptive. So how do you cope if your partner or housemate also works from home? Here are some tips that can help keep the peace!

Have separate spaces:  unless you are actually working together (and sometimes even then!) try to have different workspaces. This may not always be possible, of course, but even allocating separate shelves for your work materials or deciding who works in the kitchen and who works in the living room, can be beneficial, so that you aren’t tripping over one another, or getting your work mixed up.

Respect one another’s working style: you may be the kind of person who thrives on clutter and distraction, happy to take frequent breaks and work with the radio blaring in the background – your partner may not. Treat one another with the same respect you would treat a fellow office worker: if they need to focus single-mindedly on one task, leave them to it. Don’t sulk if they won’t take a break and don’t inflict your distractions on them.

Don’t judge! Equally, if you’re the kind of person who likes to get up early and work for eight straight hours, it’s easy to think your partner is skiving if they don’t seem as dedicated. Remember that different people have different rhythms, and different jobs have differing demands. Providing they are getting their job done and handling their share of the household responsibilities, it’s not your business how they spend their time. Unless they ask for your advice, leave them to it!

Agree on who ‘owns’ the house landline: if more than one person is working from home, it’s important to agree who has priority over the landline (or simply agree that the home phone is for personal calls, and that you will use your mobiles for work, or vice versa). It’s a fast track to frustration and disagreement if one of you is desperately waiting for a call but the other is ‘hogging’ the line.

Timetable breaks: taking formally scheduled breaks can reduce the temptation to waste time chatting through the rest of the day. (I know one couple where the husband worked upstairs all day and ‘pretended’ to come home for lunch and to be out the rest of the time: sounds corny, but it meant both worked undisturbed but still had the pleasure of a sociable lunch). Again, though, respect the fact that while for some people a lunch break is an essential part of the day, others prefer to work straight through – don’t try and impose your schedule on anyone else!

Be disciplined: when both of you work from home, the temptation to skive is enormous – that extra hour in bed, the extended lunch, finishing early for a glass of wine… Remember that if you encourage one another with this sort of thing, soon the only thing you’ll be doing together is signing on!