What most photographers get wrong about work-life balance
I have to laugh as I write this because I’m in a Perkins restaurant and I’m working over breakfast while everyone around me is with a friend or family member and chatting and laughing as they enjoy breakfast together.
The topic of “work-life balance” is one that I visit on a regular basis. I have always put my family first and everything else comes after that. The irony in that statement comes from the fact that many times in order to properly provide for my family I must forego attending a family activity because I work so many Saturday’s throughout the year.
Balancing work and life is a constant juggling of time priorities and often many entrepreneurs will end up feeling guilty because they often feel work wins over family time. I used to be like that and tried to be more militant about my working hours, and keeping strict policies about how much time I should spend with family. The problem is that often led to guilt because as I was relaxing with family I’d often be thinking of the matters at work that needed attention.
Recently I came across an article that Arlene Dickinson (from CBC's Dragon’s Den) had written on this subject and it challenged my longtime perceptions about how I should approach my work and lifestyle balance. She suggests that being an entrepreneur is a calling and the idea of trying to limit yourself to so many hours a day or week is wrong. She maintains that as entrepreneurs we are always at work because it is essentially a part of we are.
“When you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have a job – at least not in the conventional sense of that word. You have a calling. And unlike a job, a calling defines you as a person. It’s who you are.”
– Arlene Dickinson
Initially, I had a real problem with that concept but the more I thought about it the more it made perfect sense to me. If I am too rigid in how I use my time for work or for the family I might miss opportunities to be creative in either space.
One of the replies to her article also was worth attention. They made the point that their work-life balance is not always a 50/50 ratio. They pointed out that sometimes work needs 70% of our week and family time only 30% That can be compensated by a few days off the following week and so the ratio changes again. They maintain that the key to a balance is to use a daytimer or equivalent calendar planner system and to develop a keen discipline in using it. When planning a week, or month and scheduling in times for work as well as fitness commitments, family time it often turns out that more free time becomes available.
Work-life balance may not always be a 50/50 ratio. And that's ok.
The other key hint I came across is to identify and eliminate time wasters that can eat up valuable hours of our week. Maybe less television, facebook, or even menial tasks that help us feel productive but achieve little. Some of these become habit and habits can be broken and replaced with new ones, hopefully more productive ones.
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It’s an important point then to identify whether you see yourself as an entrepreneur or not. Many become professional photographers just because they enjoy taking pictures but struggle with running the business. That can lead to an outright dread for the administration side of things if procrastination sets in. If you put things off that can get you into trouble with clients and if you constantly disappoint clients business will drop off.
The reality is once you chose to make your living from photography yourself, you became an entrepreneur. It would seem then you are at least a little comfortable with risk and if the idea of being successful in business appeals to you then you do have the “calling” as Arlene puts it.
What to do next
Here are a few actionable steps you can take to get a better handle on the “work-life” balance.
First, identify what you think is an average reasonable work week in hours. If you have a spouse or partner, would they agree with your workweek proposal? Discuss how that could be flexible.
Next, work with a day planner or calendar and if you live with someone (spouse or partner), make it accessible to them. Encourage them to mark in important family events, parties or social outings so you can plan your work around it. Schedule days and times for specific work so you don’t fall behind. Leave open pockets of time for spontaneous decisions and opportunities. Make note of times when you feel guilty about work and ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it because you wasted time and fell behind? Or did you fail to properly prioritize and manage your time? Make the necessary adjustments to avoid a repeat situation and over time you may notice that guilt is gone and you are feeling better because work and personal life are living in harmony.