There is nothing more satisfying than clocking out after a long day at work. It's a fairly routine thing for offices to encourage everyone to leave between 5pm and 7pm, depending on the type of office. Watching the clock count down to the end of the day seems to take hours longer than it did yesterday. The simple satisfaction of getting your things and heading to the exit is a thrill I don't often have anymore. Many freelancers don't end their days at 5pm. Though maybe we should.
As a freelancer, I often work from home. My goal is to one day rent a small office space where I can go and use it for nothing but work. Until that day comes, my home office does the job just fine. What happens is there is no clear definition of when I'm working or when I'm not. I always track my hours but when I'm taking a break, I look around and I'm at home. Mentally, I'm in home time. Are there dishes that need to be done? Is the laundry put away? Does the dog need to go for a walk? It's taken some discipline, but I've managed to avoid getting swallowed up by house-hold chores while stepping away from the computer. Projects that allow me more flex time to complete can be put on hold until I have the right wave of inspiration. That wave often comes either in the early morning or the early evening. The middle of the day is the slump time, and often I'm not making my most creative work then. Setting hours of what time is work time vs. not work time were slowly forgotten over the last few months. I catch myself checking emails at 10pm or later on nights I have to get up early the next day. Or making that one last tweak to a logo before sending it off after midnight. At my home office, it's near chaos to how I operate my projects. Everything gets done, but it's like a winding back country road, going up a mountain, in the snow, and you're low on gas.
Some freelancers work best working within the normal 9-5 time range of weekdays. That's great if you can stick with it. I've conceded that I have broken my own rules and worked on projects well after I should have stopped for the day. Emails and other forms of contact with clients happen during the normal work hours of typical businesses. I have to consider what my clients' time schedule and when they're most likely to respond to my messages or calls. Most of them have offices but they have access to their business email all the time. Unless it's an emergency, I wait till 8am to send emails. As we're still in January and resolutions are still pretty fresh for 2016, I'm setting my clock out time to 9pm. Any emails that come after then will still be in my inbox in the morning. I might check it one last time before bed, especially if a project just left for the printers. There's no way of knowing what might go wrong there.
This might be a complete failure. In fact, I'm writing this blog at 10pm. I would have to count blogging as a violation to the clock out rule as it relates to work. But then again, when inspiration strikes you cannot let is pass you by.
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Working for yourself comes with positives and negatives. Setting boundaries is essential to keep your personal life separate from your work life. I've touched on the quickly vanishing line between the two aspects of one's life before, and the rules apply to the freelance worker as well as the non-freelancer. But how do you tell your client they are infringing on your off-time without coming across as nothing but annoyed and frustrated?
If you have specific times you're actively working, let them know. On what days and times you're reachable is when it's OK for them to call you directly. You get the responsibility of telling them that and sticking to it. If you don't tell your clients you don't answer your phone related to work after 5pm, they might call you whenever it's convenient for them. Like when you're about to hit the gym for a workout, or when you're at a movie, or out with friends and you've had one too many at the bar. You can't get annoyed with clients if they don't know your off-duty time.
If you don't work on weekends, it's best you don't send work related emails those days. If you do work weekends, but would rather not be bothered by clients, same suggestion. Each client and situation is unique, but sending files on weekends, responding to emails, or even taking phone calls gives your client the wrong impression. If you want weekends for yourself, you have to hold back on making contact with them. If it's not an emergency, it can wait till Monday. Want to have days off other than weekends? Completely up to you. But if your client works the usual Monday through Friday schedule that many people do, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage by removing one of those days from your own work rotation. Whatever you pick, stick with those days no matter what.
So you sent your client an email around 9am and they replied back within ten minutes. You're not obligated to email them back just as quickly. Unless the situation calls for quick dialogue, such as they ask a question or want confirmation you got the message, it's OK to wait. Responding too quickly gives the impression that you're always at your computer and always reachable. If they don't need a quick reply, don't. If your client later calls you to make sure you got that email, you need to draw a line in the sand. Clients calling you directly to ensure you got their email is a red flag. Be careful how to approach this scenario.
When I was faced with this type of client, they often called me when I wasn't at home, more often while driving. I never answer my phone while driving (and you shouldn't either). I let it go to voice mail and listen to it when I park or when I get where I needed to go. The time gives distance between you and the client, and sometimes that's a good thing. My phone doesn't have the best connection on my end so I prefer to communicate via email. When possible, I'll respond within an hour after I get the confirmation phone call. Your client needs to be aware that they might not be the only person you're doing work for. The entire point of freelancing is to not work for just one person (unless you want to).
No matter what, stay professional when telling your clients your availability and hold yourself accountable for that time-on and time-off. If you don't stick with your own rules, why should anyone else?
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