Even before I started freelancing, I knew that so many of my personal habits were affecting my happiness at work. Eventually I learned that self-employment was the best route for me, but this came after a great deal of soul searching. Becoming self-employed only served to magnify some of my bad habits, and forced me to take a hard look at how I view work and it’s place in my life.
“Work” and “life” don’t really seem to be two separate silos anymore, do they? The ability to check emails and notifications at any time of day makes it so much harder for us to create space in our lives that is free of stress, deadlines, and expectations. While the ability to work remotely has certainly made us more productive, it hasn’t necessarily given us more job satisfaction.
Simplifying Your Work Life
Here are some ways to simplify your work life—no matter where you find yourself at the moment. They have helped me, and I hope they can help you:
1. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
This may seem somewhat esoteric, but when it comes down to it, we only have one life to live. We will spend the majority of our lives working, so this question matters. If you find yourself in a job that you hate, it’s important to ask yourself why. Sometimes doing what you love and earning a living simply cannot coalesce into the same vocation, but not as often as we think.
What do you value the most? What work or hobby makes the time fly by without you even noticing? What would you do no matter what, even if you didn’t earn a dime? These questions can help you clarify the “why” behind your work, and help you see how your work can better align with who you are.
2. Find your strengths.
I have a rule in my business—if it’s not something I’m really good at, I don’t do it. I give someone else the opportunity to work to their strengths while focusing on my own. This helps me execute at a much higher level than if I tried to do everything myself (and believe me, I’ve tried).
I also assign projects to my team based not only on what they are highly skilled at, but what they enjoy. Self-knowledge is something that can be applied in any role or position. I highly recommend both the Strengthsfinder and Enneagram personality tools for a first step. Both have been invaluable to me in my journey, and can give you a much deeper knowledge of “you” so that you can be sure you are doing your very best and most fulfilling work.
3. Declutter and add beauty to your workspace.
A wise person once said, “a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind,” and I must say that I agree. It’s impossible to think clearly about what the next important task in your workday if your physical space is burdened with piles of paper, sticky notes, and yesterday’s coffee mug.
There are several ways to begin implementing better systems to organize your physical workspace, but the approach that has had a major impact on me is a method from David Allen, Getting Things Done.
Also, be sure to add some items to your workspace that add beauty and joy—pictures of loved ones, a plant, or a print of your favorite artist are all good ways to bring some peace and inspiration to your home away from home.
4. Keep track of your time.
As you move throughout your work day, have you ever wondered how much time it actually took you to complete a project? Understanding where you are spending your time can be a major eye-opener.
Online time trackers are a great help, and many are available for free. I find that in my work, I often put off certain projects because of overwhelm. But when I track how long they took, it was actually much less time than I expected. I spent more time worrying about them than actually executing them. Tracking my time helps me overcome this feeling and work on the most important items first.
5. Set clear boundaries.
Boundaries often can get a bad rap—they sound so, well, unfriendly. But they are important for creating joy and satisfaction in your work and personal life. In my case of working with clients, I have found that if I do not set very clear boundaries at the beginning of a relationship, things typically do not go well.
Statements like “I am unavailable to text after 5pm” or “I don’t typically check email on weekends” are helpful. I used to worry about being upfront, but then I’d find myself resenting certain clients for overstepping. But how did they know where the line was if I never showed them? Now I make sure that I communicate all boundaries and expectations at the beginning of every client relationship.
No matter whether you are in a high-powered position that demands a great deal of your time, or are working a few hours per week, it is important that you make certain parts of your day sacred and off-limits. Once you decide what those boundaries are, make them known. If you don’t, no one else will.