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Today’s topic may seem a little silly to some of you…why would you need someone to tell you how to take time off? But if you are anything like me and you find yourself in a constant cycle of feeling like you need to do more, and you put all the pressure of being the absolute best business owner that you can be on your shoulders, I bet you understand what it’s like to hesitate to take weekends off, evenings off, or even take a vacation.
I certainly know that that’s how I was a few years ago. I really think that maybe it took the first three years of my business before I felt comfortable even taking normal evenings off. I would literally work on into the evening as my now husband would fix dinner for us and try and get me to go out and see friends. And I would almost be frantic because I just kept thinking “No, there’s things that I need to do, there’s things that I need to learn, all the stuff on my to do list for clients that I’m still figuring out…” I mean the list went on and on and there were always things that I could be working on. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to constantly deliver. and I think that this is a pretty common thing for most people when they’re starting their business simply because there is a lot of stuff that you don’t know and there is a lot of things to learn. There are things that you do have to figure out within your business when you’re just starting out and it’s not just all going to be there handled for you.
The beautiful thing about being an entrepreneur, is we do get to create our own schedules. We get to figure out what processes work best for us and our clients, and we get to do a lot of soul-searching within of what we personally want. But, then that also comes with the added pressure of “you are the only person that can handle what it is that you’re doing.” Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily true in the way that I thought when I was first starting out. I do hand off several things to my assistant and junior designer, but at the end of the day, I am still the person that makes the final call. I’m the person that decides where I want my business to go next, and that can be tricky sometimes. That can be stressful and can feel like a lot of pressure.
But I have also found, in the almost 6 years that I’ve been in business now, that if I don’t give myself time to rest and I don’t give my brain time away from thinking about constant work, then I’m never performing at my best. This goes for anything! This goes for working out, for our mind, our emotions, our stress levels – all of that also needs time to rest and reset! And sure, you can make the argument that while you’re sleeping you’re resting, so as long as you’re getting enough sleep, you’re fine. But it’s more than that. I think that you need time away in the middle of your day to think your own thoughts, to not constantly be thinking about what your clients need from you, to not constantly be thinking about your next to do list. You need time to enjoy life.
I would bet that most of us have gone into this line of work as entrepreneurs in order to live more of our life and not be so tied down to work. So it seems very counterintuitive that suddenly, when we own our own businesses, our entire life becomes about our jobs! So I’m gonna share just a few ways that I have found really helped me find true rest in my work and life balance, because it’s one thing to take time off it’s another thing to really rest and feel refreshed.
TAKE EVENINGS AND WEEKENDS OFF
The first and most basic thing is taking evenings and weekends off. Now this is something that I was not great about when I first started my business, but it was something that became very apparent very early on that if I wanted to maintain friendships, have a healthy relationship, and make time for the other things in my life that I really enjoyed, I had to take time off.
I can distinctly remember a conversation that I had with my mom when I was pretty new to my business. Both my parents are entrepreneurs, so they have a lot of experience with balancing work, family, and marriage. She asked me if when Mike came home from work, if he and I went out and did fun things. What did we do with our evenings? I said “no, a lot of times he goes out and does fun things but I stay home because I have courses that I need to take and processes to learn and I want to figure out how to do whatever thing.” And my mom was just very blunt with me, and she said “Catryn, you are not going to have a relationship if you continue like this.” It wasn’t that anything else was broken necessarily in mine and Mike’s relationship. We were new to living together and we were definitely figuring that out but the fact was that he was coming home from work, ready to spend time with me, wanting to go out with friends, do fun things, go to dinner even! And I was so wrapped up in my own little world, all consumed with this dream that I had for a career, that I was neglecting what he wanted in the evenings. I was only thinking about how I wanted my career to be and I wasn’t thinking about how I wanted my life to be.
Now that’s not to say that Mike was aggravated with me – he in fact was so proud of me and wanted me to pursue what I wanted to pursue! But it was months of me not seeing friends, not joining him for parties on the weekends, not going to people’s birthdays. And even when I would go out to people’s birthdays and hang out with friends, or go do things with him, the whole time I would be resentful because I wasn’t working on my business. When I tell you that I was obsessive about it, I was obsessive. I wanted to be great, I wanted to figure everything out, I wanted to really do my best in this venture but I was neglecting the fact that I wasn’t giving myself a life. I wasn’t taking any time off at all.
So my mom said to me, that she had told my father back in the day that he needed to work regular hours. When us kids were home from school, he needed to also come home. He needed to leave work at work and be present with the rest of us. And I think that something that we all have to learn when we are starting our businesses, that it’s OK to set the boundary of only working till 5 o’clock every day. Or having the mentality of “I’m gonna work as hard as I can from 8 to 4 and then I’m done” and taking the weekend or evening off to do something fun.
And I don’t know why that was so eye-opening to me that most most people have careers like that. Most people are working their hours, they’re coming home, and they spend their evenings how they want. I don’t know why as entrepreneurs we think that somehow we need to be different in that but I want to tell you right now you are allowed to take evenings and weekends off. You are allowed to go to that party. You are allowed to go have dinner with your significant other. You are allowed to meet up with friends and just have fun and not think about work. Just giving yourself that freedom to do what you want to do in the evenings is so nice. I promise you work will be there the next day but you can still live your life because after all like I said that’s probably why you started this career in the first place.
SCHEDULE TIME OFF (AND DON’T THINK ABOUT WORK)
Along with that, I have learned over time that I have to schedule time off for myself in order to actually make myself go on vacation. And that sounds so silly! I think I had in my head at the beginning of all of this that “oh I can work from anywhere, I can travel, I can do what I want!” but the reality of that is that if I’m still working when I’m traveling, I’m still working! I’m not actually going out and exploring or experiencing a culture. I am sitting in an apartment somewhere or in a café and I’m working and that’s what the focus of my time is. I would so much rather schedule time away from work where I can go be present with my husband we can go to art museums, we can try out cute little cafés and bistro‘s and stroll around a new city that to me! This is why I work the job that I do. I love not having to ask someone else for time off. I love being able to grant myself that but it took a really really long time for me to recognize that I needed to do that for myself.
I talked about in my yearly goals for this year that I was scheduling myself definitive vacation time this year. My assistant already has me planning projects around that time and I know I am not taking on client work during certain areas of the year. I am devoting that time to myself and to my husband and to do whatever we want to do. Whether that is travel, handle things around the house, or just exist and enjoy life outside of work! I definitely think when you take that time off it’s so important to not think about work because if the whole time if you were obsessing over work and thinking about your to do list, worried that you’re gonna be behind on timelines or whatever, you’re not actually giving your mind any chance to really rest.
I love to find things that keep my mind active so that I don’t think about work! I really love to read and do any sort of sport like tennis. Mike and I love to go long boarding and those things keep my mind active and not focused on my to do list back home. So when you give yourself these breaks when you are scheduling this time off or when you’re taking weekends off intentionally make it a habit to not think about work! Every time you think about work, I want you to remind yourself “Work will be there on Monday. I can take this time off. I can think about whatever is happening in my life right now and I don’t have to worry about my to do list.”
SCHEDULE FUN THINGS, NOT JUST TO-DOS FOR WORK
If it helps you to actually set aside some time for yourself, I also recommend actually scheduling in the fun things that you want to pursue! That may seem little silly, like why would I need to schedule something if it’s just for fun? But I promise you that putting it on your to do list or putting it in your calendar is going to make it so much more likely that you actually do that thing!
Now this can look like adding 30 minutes of reading on your daily to do list and that way you’re purposely setting aside time to do for fun. Or another thing that I’ve done is scheduled a weekly walking session with one of my best friends and we go and walk the lake and it’s so wonderful! It may sound weird to schedule friend time like that, but I’m being intentional about the fact that I want to see this best friend! I want to catch up with her and I want a chance to chat while we walk! And then I don’t feel like I haven’t seen friends in a long time or I haven’t gotten to spend quality time with any of my best friends because I’m intentionally seeking that out. You could even schedule things with your significant other just to make sure that you make time for those as well! Maybe date nights at least once a month, once a week would even be better, but making sure that you are setting aside time to do what you want to do!
I feel like we get so in this mindset of having tasks for work and those tend to take precedence when we don’t have other demanding “tasks” in our life so it almost is a switching of make those fun things “tasks” so that you make sure and prioritize them. I know it can be so easy to see that list in front of you and say “well I need to take care of all of these things before I can do something fun” but if there is something fun on that list you’re so much more likely to do that as well!
SET BOUNDARIES WITH CLIENTS AND WITH WORK
Now a big one when it comes to finding rest in your work life balance is to actually set boundaries with your clients. If you work with clients one on one like I do or are someone that is in direct contact with clients all the time, you need to lay out specific boundaries with clients from the very start of working with them! I’ll give you some examples of some of the boundaries that I set out with clients.
First of all, I let them know that they will not have my personal phone number. Usually email is the way that I prefer for them to contact me and I let them know that. On occasion there have been situations where I’ve needed to give out my phone number and those are instances I do make exceptions for if necessary but it is never something that is intended as a usual form of communication with clients. I also let them know that I will not be answering emails over the weekends and if they email me after 5pm on a Friday, it will be Monday before they hear from me! That is just something that I’ve had to do for my own peace of mind. I will not be spending my evenings or weekends answering emails.
I did run into a situation really early on in my career where I had a client who would continually email me in a panic past midnight because she was working on her website herself and wanted my immediate response. Now because I was really early on in my business and I was really trying to people please at that point, I did stay up with her a couple of times and there was a moment where I finally just had to stop and say “the things that you’re needing help with are outside of the scope of the project, I can’t help with this anymore.” But the fact of the matter is that it should’ve been taken care of during normal business hours. The client can work on their site whenever they want to but I am going to be sending things their way during a timeframe that makes sense for me, so I will always be sending things to them during regular business hours. And if they don’t get back to me until later in the evening, that’s OK but I will not be responding until the next day!
I also let clients know when I am specifically working on my own business. I set aside Mondays to work on my business to record podcasts, to post blog posts, to figure out my schedule and that sort of thing. I have decided to reserve that time for my own business and that I do not work on client projects during that time. So if a client is really needing me on a Monday, chances are that will have to wait until Tuesday just because I need time to also market my business, handle finances, have a meeting with my assistant etc.. Usually clients are very understanding about that.
Same with letting them know when you are going to take vacation! I try to be very upfront about that if a client and I are starting to work together I will tell them “Just so you know, there will be a week in here while where I am out of town, you will still have stuff to work on but I just want you to know that you won’t be receiving anything from me while I’m out of town” and again, usually people are OK with that. I also prefer that my clients tell me when they’re going on vacation so we’re very open about those things! I usually don’t take that many vacations so it’s usually not a huge issue, but this does at least set the expectation that the client cannot just get in contact with me 24/7 or expect that same response time while I’m on vacation. Allowing yourself to set those boundaries with your own work and knowing that you don’t have to be on-call all the time for your job is something that I’ve just recently done but I really really love it.
Next, I have silenced emails on my phone! So what this means is I just go into the settings and I turned off notifications for my email, because most of the work emails that I get, I’m only replying to them during working business hours. So even if I’m getting something at 10 o’clock at night, I’m not gonna respond to it right then anyway and not getting the notification keeps me from thinking about work in my dedicated rest time.
Now I just go through my emails first thing in the morning. I delete anything spam and I respond to any client needs during that time and that has just helped tremendously with me feeling the pressure to even think about work when I’m not at work! Because let’s face it, if I am out and about with Mike and we are like having an evening together at target or we’re going to dinner, if I start getting emails from clients, I’m gonna start thinking about work. I’m going to want to talk about it and process whatever it is that I need to say to the client and leave reminders for myself or whatever! It’s just so much better for me to not have that constant notification and not have that constant dinging on my phone every time I look at it!
There’s like a million notifications I’ve done this with like social media as well but most of my communication with my clients and inquries comes through email and I have just found that this helps so much with me not feeling tied to any sort of notification and that I have to respond immediately. Like I said, work will be there the next day, nothing necessarily about a graphic design business is absolutely urgent!
ONLY ANSWER WORK RELATED MESSAGES DURING BUSINESS HOURS
My next point is that I really only answer work related messages during business hours! There are a few exceptions like if my assistant is getting in touch with me after I’ve already closed up for the day, I will answer her question really quickly so that she can keep working since she is in a totally different time zone than me! But in situations where I’m getting inquiries through social media, I do not answer those immediately. I just find that if I were answering inquiries that came in at like at 10 o’clock on a Saturday, I would be spending way too much time in my DM‘s and I would much rather answer those on Monday when I can think about it and put together a professional response and point towards my website! And it just helps again with my peace of mind of knowing that I don’t have to be on all the time. I don’t have to be in business mode all the time. I don’t have to have all the answers all the time and that is just a really really wonderful thing. That way I can shut off from work (not necessarily shut off my phone) but at least shut off notifications involving work that are on my phone and I can actually be present with my husband. I can be present with my friends. I can do the things that I want to do with my evenings weekends holidays etc..
CREATE FOR YOURSELF
Another way that I would say to really find rest in your work life balance is to create for yourself. Now it may also sound odd that I’m telling you to keep creating in order to rest, but I have found in basically anything that I have pursued that if I am solely creating for work and to make money, I stop enjoying it and I get more burnt out. If I start finding ways to create for myself and explore new techniques and learn new skills just for the fun of it, it makes me fall in love with my work so much more! It helps me come back to my work refreshed with new ideas and things that I want to try for clients and that is so so important, especially if you plan for your business to be your long-term career!
If you are a photographer, I encourage you to do photo shoots just for you! Photograph yourself, test out new lighting techniques, test out new editing techniques, don’t just photograph your clients only because that is your job now! Continue to hone your craft in a way that feels exciting and natural for you and that makes you continue to fall in love with what you’re doing.
If you’re a blogger, it can be so hard to be in this mindset that you have to write about or photograph campaigns or sponsorships. Find things that you really enjoy to write about, even just a journal! I think that helps so much when you were in this kind of business of talking about yourself and making your lifestyle something that people should watch and be interested in! If you can be really self reflective and have those moments that are just for you, I think that is going to inspire you so much more and get you excited about the things that you are sharing when you’re also able to create things that really matter for you!
It’s a little harder if you’re doing something like social media or you’re an assistant of some sort, but if you can find avenues that are really exciting to you – maybe if social media is your career path, also find platforms that you hang out on just for fun! Maybe Pinterest is your area to just find things that inspire you, or maybe you love TikTok to just watch funny videos and share with your friends!
It doesn’t all have to be about work, and actually I usually separate out my work accounts from my personal accounts just so I can have a break if I want to just scroll through Instagram but not have it all be work related. Or not make me feel like I’m not being productive enough when I see all these other things that other designers are posting. Sometimes it’s nice to just have it to look at what friends are posting, see how they’re spending their vacations or what they’re doing with their spouses. So separating yourself and being able to just have fun in the areas that you typically work in can just be a really nice refresh and reset to allow you to come back to your work and be excited! To be able to actually show up in your career and not feel like all you’ve done or all you’ve thought about is your work lately. Giving yourself that rest is going to be what your mind needs in order to come back at your fullest potential!
KNOW THAT YOUR WORTH IS NOT TIED TO YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
Finally, I just want to say that if you are in the mindset that you have to constantly be working, you have to constantly be honing your skills, that somehow you are not good enough unless you are hustling nonstop – I want you to be aware that your worth is absolutely not tied to your productivity.
There is so much more to life than what we do with our jobs, I promise you. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yes, it’s important to be able to sustain yourself and your family, but you also need to enjoy your life! I have been reminded, constantly recently, that life is so short and can be taken so quickly and unexpectedly. I just know that as much as I love my job, and as much as I am proud of the community that I have built, and the ways that I get to create for you guys and the clients that I get to work with, I also know that there are so many more important things outside of my career that I want to focus on. There are passions that I want to pursue, relationships that matter to me, and just fun things that I want to experience in life! So I want to encourage you to take the time off that you need to fully rest and to figure out what that means for you to fully rest. Give yourself permission to do that because you deserve it.