Calibrating that work life balance

As a business owner and a parent, I love and devote my waking hours to my ‘babies’. On weekdays, my focus is on building my business and taking care of my clients’ needs. On evenings and weekends, I put on a different hat, and spending much needed quality time with my kids. I share this arrangement with my clients upfront and a majority of them understand my needs, as most of them are parents themselves. However, I recently encountered an angry client who demanded that I work on a weekend, on a project which wasn’t even an urgent life-or-death matter.

This incident serves as a good reminder of the endless tug-of-war between work and family time. With the advent of mobile data and smart phones, the lines separating working hours and personal time are blurring; there’s a constant expectation to remain contactable, and with that, an unconscious belief that we are expected to be available and at the ready whenever the client needs us.

It seems like an uphill struggle to tackle that mentality, despite all the research showing that there is an inverse relationship between longer working hours and output. Perhaps it is a result of the explosive development industries have seen in the last several decades. After the war, when there was a focus on manufacturing, lesser hours meant lower production. That mentality could have carried over to today, even in industries where output is not measured in absolute units.

The perfect example of this conundrum at work can be found in Japan. There, the population clocks the longest working hours in the world, a fact that is well-documented publicly. But data from the OECD Compendium of Productivity Indicatorsranks Japan as having the lowest productivity among G-7 nations.

We need time off to recharge, and it’s easier to do good work when you feel well-rested and happy. The human brain just isn’t wired to sustain productive work for more than a few hours, and taking a breather creates a better environment for your brain to thrive.

Of course, as business owners, it’s not possible to block off every single weekend or avoid any overtime work. There are bound to be urgent projects that require our attention, and we’ll have to responsibly put in extra time to complete these by the given deadlines.

At times like this, our loved ones’ support and understanding is key. If you know they have your back and can cover for our absence at home, you’ll be able to throw more into your work, pushing through to meeting that tough deadline. And once that’s done, you can make up for it by taking a few days off to reward yourself for a job well done, and show appreciation to your loved ones for their patience by taking them for a nice meal or a movie date together.

Besides managing the work you take on, managing clients’ expectations is one important aspect so that those who enter an agreement with you know the boundaries of the job. Here are some points to note when managing expectations with your clients in future:

  1. Set a clear timeline

Lay everything out at the start—from the deadline by which you will need certain answers or resources from the clients—to when they can expect project milestones from you. Be clear on the fact that you will need the stipulated amount of time to complete a task, and any delays on their end will push the overall timeline back. If you don’t implement a clear-cut timeline, you can bet the client would be expecting things to happen faster than it is realistically possible.

  1. Avoid giving overly optimistic estimates

Don’t say you need only five working days, when the time needed falls between four to six working days. Giving your client the end product earlier than estimated makes for a pleasant surprise, while anything that is after the given date creates annoyance. In fact, account for possible delays on the clients’ end, so that the timeline you’ve painstakingly agreed upon will not have to shift too drastically.

  1. Be clear about your working hours

Let your client know what your unavailable days and timings are, and don’t let them get used to seeing a reply from you during these touch-me-not timings. Let them know upfront that there may be a delay in response on weekends and after office hours, and leave this information in visible places on your website or in your email signature.

  1. Set a limit on the number of revisions

We’ve all experienced that one client who always has just one small edit that they want to tweak, no matter how many revisions they have been given. Set this expectation from the start so that they will compile more substantial and detailed feedback, which helps you to implement the necessary changes more efficiently.

  1. Learn to say no

Sometimes, no matter how many tools you implement, you’ll meet a client who wants everything done by yesterday. If you’re not ready to rush the job for them, or even if it simply is not in line with the priorities you’ve set for yourself, then it might be wise to turn down the job. But make sure you don’t burn any bridges; even if you’re not the right solution for them right now, things might change in the future.

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