Chapter 1: Intro
Work/life balance is an issue I feel very strongly about and something I have personal experience with and learned the hard way.
I have been running my own photography business for 10 years now, and for the first 5 of them my business became my third child (in some phases it even took priority over my actual children), I worked on it day and night. I drowned myself in my passion and my dreams.
I swear to you, I did not get to where I am today any faster than I would have anyway. Well maybe 10% faster, but those 10% do not make up for what I lost in the process. I am quite sure I shaved off at least a decade of my life. I barely got any sleep. I lost hours and hours of time to connect with my children and my husband and my friends. I gained weight, I had head-aches daily, my back and shoulders and right arm were in constant pain, I had vision distortions. And all of this ended up in a 6 month partial sick-leave in the winter/spring of 2014 because of stress and a following depression.
Some thought leaders and influencers argue there is not such thing as work-life balance. That everything is a question of priorities. I agree to a certain extent. I agree that you cannot build a succesful business if you do not make it a priority in your life. But I also think that unless you are superhuman, ”crushing it”, hustling, and being a ”rockstar” into the long hours of the night day after day will break you in the long run. There are other things that need to be a priority as well. Like your mental and physical health. Your children (if you have any), and other essential relationships in your life.
If you are constantly putting out fires, constantly on overload, you will never find the time or massive energy it requires to work ON your business, taking courses, meeting up with colleagues, refining the service you offer your clients, think of ways to improve or expand your business, learning new software or social media platforms. Things will constantly be changing from under you, and if you don't have the time and energy to shift with it you will eventually be left behind and your business will die. My greatest struggle has been and still is accepting the fact that there will always be constant change in my business. I used to think, “I can’t wait to get to the place where my business doesn’t feel like it’s in transition and everything is just smooth sailing.” However, I’ve now come to realise that’s never going to happen.
In the following chapters I'm going to share with you what I've learned and it is something I hope you will seriously consider in your own life as you move forward with your creative business. I want for you to be a whole human being, not just a stressed-out worker bee. So as inspiration, here are my daily priorities (I may not be able to follow all of them to the letter every single day of the year, but they are my base and foundation that I must and do return to as soon as possible after a high-intensity period)
Running a sustainable business means taking care of you! If you are a solo entrepreneur then your business depends on you entirely to function properly. This is the point where you really need to think about the commitment you sign up for when you take responsibility for a couple's memories and commit to showing up on on of the most significant days of their lives. You can only function on willpower for so long. You have to make an effort to be the strongest, most positive, most energised version of yourself.
Hydrate: Drink 2 l. of water throughout the day, and start your morning with a big glass of water so you have fuel to get started on the day.
Bedtime: My first child was born within a month of me starting the business. So for years it seemed like the only time I could do concentrated work was from around 8 at night and until around 2 or 3 in the morning, sometimes even later. I believe sleep-deprivation was one of my biggest mistakes and one of the main reasons I got so ill later on. So now, on most days I go to bed no later than 10, and preferably at 9. Have a bedtime ritual and stop screentime (tv, phone, computer, ipad all included) at least one hour before bed. Use a meditation app or similar if you have trouble falling asleep, it will help to quiet your mind before bedtime. I use a free yoga app that has a 12 minute guided meditation session
Ideally you should set two specific times a day to check and respond to emails, for example in the morning before you get started on the tasks at hand, and again in the afternoon before you finish for the day (but don’t check emails right before you go to bed. If there is any kind of bad news or dilemmas you will just lie awake thinking about it all night).
Now, I'm going to be frank here, and tell you that 90% of the time my email is open all day. So on this specific point I'm not actually following my own advice, but that is only because I am highly disciplined and like to keep my inbox tight and clear and respond to everything right away if it is something that doesn't require alot of thinking or research.
Not responding to emails at all hours of the day, especially very late at night, also helps create boundaries for your clients. If you respond to emails at 2 in the morning it is a signal that you have no boundaries and no personal space. And especially in the beginning you will most likely meet clients who will take advantage of that.
A Room of One’s Own:
For the longest time I worked from a desk in our livingroom so I could watch the kids and dinner and laundry and a thousand other things while working. Obviously that is not a very productive way to work, but on top of this I also had a very hard time stepping away from my computer. I had become a work-aholic, and the only way to ween myself was to join an office collective in town and move everything work related completely out of the house for almost a year. It also made me feel far more professional to have an actual office instead of just working in our livingroom + it meant I had to shower and dress properly every single day instead of just working in my pj’s. Over time though it became too inconvenient for me as now and then I had to work at night or skype with a client in the evening and I also lost the positive aspects of being able to work from home, and the independence it gives me to schedule my day around the weather, my kids' needs and my own.
The optimal solution for me personally was that we created a room in the house just for me. Once I had a room to myself where I could shut the door, it was much easier to distance myself from my work, yet I was still able to transition effortlessly from work to home life several times as day. Try to figure out what suits your personality best. Are you a very social person or someone who likes her alone time like me?
Connect with others:
One of the things that has helped me tremedously, especially when I face problems, client issues or just feeling down, is to have photographer girlfriends. There are so many things my husband just doesn’t get and that friends who don’t run their own business, nomatter how dear they are to me, just won’t be able to relate to.
I often felt very very alone in the beginning (and also later in my career). But by reaching out and growing my network I slowly became part of what ended up as a group of 5 female photographers who could openly share EVERYTHING, the good the bad and the ugly in both business and personal life (which is often related when you are a small business owner.) I have no idea what I would have done or even if I would still be a photographer had i not had them to both give advice to and take advice from. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and to be able to bounce off eachother is the greatest gift. It also gave me the foundation and courage to reach out to so many other likeminded people and it has led to some amazing collaborations over the years.
If you have a partner make sure to have a date night at least once a month. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or fancy. Just staying home talking or cuddle up in the sofa together watching a great movie. The important part is that you take some quality relaxing time reconnecting. For a few years I felt like my husband and I were miles apart. I was so wrapped up in driving this business forward, and my husband didn’t get it so I kind of cut him out emotionally to avoid conflicts and avoid feeling unsupported. It took a long time to get "back" to eachother and getting to know eachother again as the people we had slowly developed into seperately.
I keep an ongoing physical list/notepad of stuff I need to do or things to give my attention to. Some stuff gets ticked off same day others stay on the list longer, and some of the stuff doesn’t get done until after wedding season ends (like update my website with pricing and text etc and portfolio, re-examine goals and success terms. Brainstorm topics for blogposts, planning creative projects and shoots and collaborations. Get client testimonials and send thankyou gifts to old clients who have referred bookings).
When I approach the list, I personally always do the small but annoying stuff first. That way I get motivated and gain momentum by checking off alot of stuff quickly and feeling productive which gives me energy to get started on the bigger tasks for the day.
Some people feel most motivated by getting the big hard stuff out of the way first. You have to find out what works best for you.
The great thing about to-do lists, actually putting stuff down on paper, is that all the stuff isn’t in my head when I try to fall asleep at night and by doing it this way I never spend my whole day in front of the computer, feeling busy without being able to remember or say exactly what I've actually accomplished. As Marie Forleo says, "if it's not scheduled, then it's not real."
Schedule less, and say "no" to more! If you're constantly scheduling more than you can actually get done or handle, then you're always going to feel like you're behind. Also, learn to say "no." If you're not setting boundaries, then eventually your sanity will go out the window! It took some time but learned to say "no" to opportunities that don't align with my goals and/or if I don't have time.
I have all notifications from email and social media turned OFF on my phone. That way I decide when I have time and energy to deal with whatever is there. Random things online should not be the master of your schedule, you should. Notifications are created deceptively to be a service to you but in reality they are just a way to constantly drag you into using their platforms.
The best way to make sure you celebrate what you have accomplished instead of always looking forward towards the things you still lack/want is to write a letter right now and imagine you are writing it to yourself one year from now. Write about what you hope and think your life and business will look like in a year. Feel free to include drawings or a vision board. Keep it somewhere safe and don't open it again until one year from now.