I started working as freelancer about 2 years ago, while on extended maternity leave with my second daughter. I felt stuck in my position as Marketing Manager for a fast-growing London-based retail company. My job was not giving me enough challenges. I was bored and I felt I needed some fresh air and a new perspective.
I decided to set up my own Virtual Assistant company after researching the market and identifying a gap – I realised that out there, there were thousands of professionals, small companies and start-ups that simply didn’t have the time or the budget to employ somebody full time to manage their day to day non-fee tasks. Plus, nowadays having a stellar social media presence is key for any online business but managing profiles, producing engaging content and building communities requires expertise and it is an extremely time-consuming activity. That’s why I decided to concentrate on 2 areas:
- Digital marketing and social media management
- Back-office support
I faced many challenges along my journey of becoming my own boss but probably the most difficult one is still reaching a good work-life balance. Being a perfectionist and a ‘pre-crastinator’ by nature (somebody who rather do today what can be easily done tomorrow), resist the impulse of working around the clock to run my business and beat my clients’ deadlines has proven really challenging and it still requires a lot of work and self-control. Here are some principles I try to follow every day.
1. Understand what “balance” really means.
Stand straight up with your feet a little ways apart. Now, lean over significantly to the right. Are you still standing? I hope so! You haven’t lost your balance -- even though your right foot is taking significantly more weight. This just goes to show that “balance” doesn’t mean “equal.” Sometimes, either work or your personal life takes more weight, depending on what’s going on at the moment -- and that’s OK.
2. Set boundaries.
If clients think it’s OK to call you at 11 p.m. when they need something, they will. Set firm boundaries around when you are, and aren’t, available. Doing so will help you relax when you’re off the clock and avoid burnout, while also helping others avoid unmet expectations.
3. Turn off technology.
As Virtual Assistants, we all know that technology is what keeps us going, what makes our work possible and it is obviously a massive part of our everyday working and private life. However, remember that you have power over your devices. Be intentional about turning them off (not just on silent) and taking technology breaks. It will help you tremendously by keeping you more focused during your productive periods.
4. Fight the guilt.
Superwoman--and Superman--are fictional characters. Real people can't devote 100% to everything they do. Stop feeling guilty if you miss an opportunity. To remove guilt, shift the focus. Celebrate your achievements, even the small ones. Take the time to look back at the journey you’ve done to get where you are and the many goals you’ve achieved along the way.
4. Manage your energy, not your time.
Every human being has natural energy cycles throughout the day. If you think carefully about your own cycles, you’ll probably be able to pinpoint times when you usually feel more focused and productive, as well as times where you’d rather crawl into bed than spend another minute at the computer. Instead of trying to schedule every minute of your time and push through your low-energy cycles, schedule your tasks according to your energy. Do lower-energy administrative tasks when you’re in a lull, and more important work when you’re energized.
6. Rethink your idea of "house chores"
As many of us work from home, we feel it’s our duty to keep our house clean and tidy, do the grocery shopping, make sure there’s a warm dinner on the table, help our children with their homework, do the laundry, etc. etc. All this on top of running our business and mostly with very little support or appreciation by the rest of the family. Unmade beds or dusty furniture are not signs of failure, reaching out for help is perfectly acceptable. Try to get used to a little messiness and spend more time enjoying your life. If you can afford to outsource help, pay someone else to clean your house and prioritize what is really important for you.
7. Learn to say no.
Think carefully about how many clients you can actually handle, maintaining the highest level of service and quality of work. Think about building a small team of fellow assistants to outsource the tasks you can’t do yourself (the ones you don’t have the right expertise for or the ones it would take too long to do yourself). Don’t take on work you know you can’t squeeze in your schedule just because you feel you are missing out on the opportunity. Block out some time in your diary to dedicate to YOUR back office activities. Work never ends, and if you’re not setting boundaries, you’ll never stop. Working long hours isn’t good for anyone – you, your family, not even your clients. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, spent years leaving work at 5:30 to have dinner with her children. If she can do it, why can't we?
8. Protect your private time.
Allow yourself to daydream while sipping a cup of coffee or appreciate good weather on your walk to the grocery store. If you don't allow yourself pockets of personal time, you'll become too burned out to fully appreciate any part of your life.
Are you struggling to achieve a better work-life balance?