How do you stay balanced in life while building projects?

I'm heading back into the freelancing market from the beginning of Feb. Job market is a bit tight right now in tech (tons of layoffs, little hiring/salary reductions), so decided to give freelancing a proper go.

I've got roughly half my time/income booked with one long-standing client, which gives me a good safety layer and makes my savings runway extend greatly.

At the same time I'm finding this transition period quite stressful. In order to try and find balance, I'm setting myself the following rule: all personal projects, freelance expansion/client acquisition, etc, must happen during my work day. Once the work day ends, so must my focus on work, and my focus must shift back to lifestyle, health, and relationships.

Do you have any rule like this?

there's no easy answer to this, I think that the balance shouldn't exist for a certain time....something has to give, either your social life or an another project. Go all in in a project, and do just the stuff that help it get off the rails, but you'll suffer probably in health, nutrition etc...but the point is that that period shouldn't be that long.

A great read on this idea is The Three Marriages by David Whyte.

I've been unbalanced with work for quite some time. Arguably I need to be so right now more than ever, but at the same time I never see this phase ending. So I need to put the brakes on manually.

Many founders get so used to grinding and hustling that they forget to stop when it’s no longer appropriate and may in fact be harmful. Tired people make awful decisions.

Ok, this really depends on your life and responsibilities for others. I'm a single mom of two kids growing multiple brands, so what "balance" looks like for me may differ from your idea.

I've also been freelancing the last 16 years, and I'm in a period of repositioning and juggling a LOT of client work right now. Honestly? Right now, there's no such thing as work/life balance, and I'm ok with that.

Because I know this is such a busy season (everyone and their mom wants to get their marketing together for the new year, which means I'm in high demand right now), I expect to work 18+ hours a day, which means I expect for things to be more work focused now. (I'm working right now at 3am, so that says everything.)

Instead of micro balance (hours/days), I like to think of macro balance (months/years).

This month and next month require intense output from me if I want to not just sustain what I've built but also grow more. But maybe April and May are slower months where I can afford to ease back and focus on more personal life things. If I look back on 2024, I'd like to see a 70/30 balance where I spent 70% of my time on focused work growing my business and 30% focused on personal life (hobbies, relationships, etc.).

You get decide your 2024 balance based on your goals.

If you desire to create a service-based business from scratch and become financially independent through your business this year, you'll have to be realistic with yourself and realize that it won't be 50/50 (and that's okay).

Only you decide that, though.

My only rules are:

  • If my kids ask me multiple days in a row to play with them, I stop what I'm doing and be present with them. (I can't drop what I'm doing every time, but if it gets to the point where they're coming to me several days in a row, that's a red flag to me.)

  • If I feel like I'm starting to burn out, I take the day (mostly) off and do only critical tasks.

  • I find a balance not just with personal and work, but also client work and my own business. (This has been THE most challenging. I have a service-based business delivering client work, but I'm also growing my brand in another niche + growing a community independent of both of those. I haven't found a good balance yet.)

  • If something feels off-balance and no longer feels good/in flow, then I need to pause and listen to see if my expectations are off or if it's something deeper. (I've been doing this long enough to know it's because I'm neglecting something to an extreme.)

And this works both ways. Sometimes I neglect work by avoiding what I know I should be doing, so I need to stop messing around and do the work.

There are different seasons in life, and only you can decide if this is more "hustle" season or "personal life" season (or maybe you're a unicorn and it's 50/50, but I'm willing to bet it's probably not right now).

Love this response, thanks. I've felt like I've had a perpetual busy season for the last few years. I still need to keep the work up for myself, but I've neglected other aspects for too long. That's why I'm leaning to be stricter with keeping the work inside the work - especially if I'm working for myself, so similarly to you with a service business + other projects. If I'm working fully for my own benefit instead of someone else, I need to be able to do so in a reasonable frame.

I like the macro balance concept, that's a good idea.

It sounds like money/uncertainty is a big source of this stress. Istrongly recommend reading Profit First and following its principles when relying on eat-what-you-kill for main income. It helped me immensely.

And yes like you said - timebox all the things.

Allow yourself to be content and hungry at the same time. Cling without clinging. Impatience with actions, patience with results.

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

Balance above everything.

Great Q! I like what you've outlined at the end there - that's healthy. I've been doing the own-thing for nearly 15 years now and always worked too much arguably but I was young and often on my own and thought of things in bubbles - sometimes the work bubble was really big, other times the family or love or relationships or grief or travel or hobbies or charity or environmentalism or community or whatnot. I was always quite strict on never having email or Slack on phone, opening inbox twice a day, no immediate responses, limiting social media significantly, always always time for making food as a method to switch off, minimalism/essentialism etc which helps a lot.

I made a major life switch a year ago after a decent management/tech-industry-as-a-woman burnout and changed my work life quite a bit. I think it's also getting a bit older that helps with perspective too. I make sure to:

  • Have nice and slow mornings, do some stretches, make a tea, read, go to the markets, have breakfast and do my own project things - before I just launch into paid work
  • Assign paid / client work to 4 days only, strictly and no more than 8 hours of real work time unless I'm on research interview sessions (I time all my client work anyway)
  • Ask myself lots of questions before I take something on (namely: does this threaten my relationship, my health, my values or my creativity? and if it's one of those - it's a no now)
  • Work with the seasons; it's winter, I'm "wintering", and I'm working much more when you add clients + my own projects, being cozy indoors and being creative, I know for the warmer season (of 6 months here really) I'll be camping, hiking, swimming, exploring significantly more so way less work
  • Don't have too long streaks here on WIP (I only use WIP for my own creative projects and admin so I shouldn't ever go too long, if I do I'm not balanced in rest of life)
  • Live in the mountains (nobody gives a shit about your work which really helps!)

Super privileged position and just a reflection of society at the moment but the harder thing for me was that it's taken me about 5 years to actively wind back productivity guilt in my head and the constant "need to be doing" and "money making activities" (I think this also comes from being from a poorer family). I still have to push it out of my mind some of the time but as a whole I can say after five years I'm now pretty clear of it. Having a partner I really want to spend time with and make sure I'm really actively present in the relationship has helped (hopefully some lessons I've learned from the past).

I also have a LONG LONG list of things I love love love to do outside of paid work and so so so so so many things I want to learn. Reminding myself constantly that these are totally valid and excellent (arguably much better - I made paper from egg cartons the other day and still can't believe I've made paper) ways to spend time has really helped me spend way more time on meaningful life stuff that has nothing to do with work and projects.

I think I mentioned on a WIP post previously but also just writing out a list of 12 things that make a good week for you (and therefore a good life), and rating how often you engaged with them that week works wonders for quick realignments when you need them :) Again - privileged because when I've had 0 money it's just all hustle and noodles and I'm facing significantly less issues than so many, but if you're able to, it really helps.

Thanks for the thorough reply! Your approach does seem very intentful and indeed informed by experience :)

Today being my first official freelance day, I'm taking it slow and deliberate after reading and reflecting on this. Bills will get paid, but life has to be lived!

So darn happy for you! I think that last sentence is worthy of sticking on a wall as a reminder - I'm going to use it too!