‘You can put your out of office on, but somebody will ignore it’
Being online all day can quickly suck the life right out of your work-life balance, and being a freelance social media manager, I can completely relate to this.
In 2018, I was named IPSE (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) Young Freelancer of the Year 2018 – one of my career highlights so far, it was an honour to be recognised in a national competition, and, the title has brought me a wealth of opportunities. I’ve tried to take as many of those opportunities as I could, however, being online so frequently has had a significant impact on my mental health and work-life balance.
I started my business at the young age of 15 in 2013 through a regional competition for schools and colleges called the BiG Challenge in Sheffield, initially offering on-call IT support to individuals and businesses who needed it. Since then, I’ve been on a considerable journey, and, today, I specialise in social media management and influencer outreach amongst other services. Over the years, I’ve had to manage client expectations and find a way to get some control back over my work-life balance. The nature of my job means everything is instantaneous, with clients often expecting a response to any emails or notifications within an hour - I’ve experienced burnout on several occasions, and lately, I’ve realised that my mental health probably can’t take it. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I find it hard to take time off, but I think that’s just the nature of being freelance.
The thing is, you can put your out-of-office on, but there’s always someone who ignores it.
Then they call you for something that is supposedly an emergency when it’s far from it, and
they can’t cope when you’re not available immediately. I’ll receive texts like ‘I sent you an email but haven’t heard back yet.’ When the email was sent three hours ago.
We have got to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and others to reply instantly to email - it’s so unhealthy. The fear of taking time off and losing your customer base is a genuine fear for many freelancers, while clients don’t always respect boundaries or allow reasonable response rates. We’ve created a culture in the UK around instant expectations, but with much of the self-employed community experiencing pressures of freelancing on mental health and with one in seven people in the UK now freelancing, isn’t it time we encouraged others to have a digital detox?
You must consider your own work-life balance and wellbeing. Many professions, like working in social media, don’t allow for vast periods of downtime, but it’s essential to set a schedule, expectations and find an appropriate balance. Once you’ve found a balance, you’ll likely feel more productive. It’s important to remember that work-life balance doesn’t necessarily mean the line between work and play, but rather if you have the correct amount of rest, relaxation and work commitments to stay fully functional.
If you work from home, for example, it’s a good idea to find a quiet space to do so which
you can easily walk away from at the end of the day. Moreover, if your weekends are unproductive, consider ensuring that they are uninterrupted by turning off any unnecessary notifications on your phone, and, only allowing for phone calls and texts to come through – it makes a huge difference, I promise!
It’s essential to choose your battles carefully and consider what you’re willing to sacrifice for a healthier routine. Personally, it was vital for me to stop saying ‘yes’ to so many other commitments and in turn, worry less about what people thought of me when I said ‘no’. It’s always important to remember that working hard is essential, but you shouldn’t be sacrificing your relationships and social life as a result.
I knew that I wanted to make many changes to my daily routine, to create more time for myself, and, it was challenging at first. I had to look at everything I was doing and consider what was making me feel happy and fulfilled. It was so liberating to wave goodbye to anything that wasn’t, and, this allowed me to say ‘yes’ to things that I wouldn’t have typically considered before. So, if you wish for a better work-life balance, put yourself first because YOU are the priority. It might be challenging to make changes to your routine or realise what needs to change – but with the time you’ll find a way forward. We all need to back each other, so next time you’re scrolling on social media, stop and take a moment to reach out to someone you haven’t heard from in a while – make sure they’re okay.