As the leaders of small consulting firms, we’re entrepreneurial, ambitious and highly engaged in our work. That can easily slip into 24/7/365, always-on, workaholism. How do we establish some work/life balance?
3.5 Tips for Work/Life Balance for Consultants
For those of us who have home offices, it helps to clearly demarcate work zones and no-work zones. This is particularly important if you live with someone who participates in your consulting business. If your entire house is a work zone, you’ll start to feel like you can’t escape your consulting firm.
For those of us who work in an office every day, it still helps to have no-work zones at home. Our work is engrossing and it’s hard to mentally unplug at the end of the day. Nevertheless, your family deserves your attention when you’re at home. If you live alone, then your friends, pets and hobbies deserve your attention.
We have two, designated work zones in my house, and those are the only places work discussions are allowed.
Inviolable, Weekly Day Off
Set at least one day (24 hours) to be a no-work day and abide by that rule religiously. Even if you’re not religious. That means no exceptions ever. We’re consultants, not physicians. No one is going to lose their life or livelihood if we set our consulting firm aside for a day. Including us.
Your weekly furlough doesn’t have to be Saturday or Sunday (though those are easiest because clients tend to be off on those days too). Consistency is the key and, of course, letting your clients know about your no-work day. We’re independent consultants in solo and boutique firms. We get to set our own rules!
I close my office at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays and don’t reopen until late on Saturday at the earliest. I have never broken that rule. Not even once. Has it cost me some speaking engagements at conferences that run over weekends? Probably, but that obviously hasn’t held my business back.
Schedule your vacations well in advance and book non-refundable tickets early. Sure, it’s easy to tack a day (or five) onto a client trip and call that a vacation. As long as you treat vacation days the same as your weekly no-work days, that’s great.
For even better work/life balance, book your vacation time 3-6 months in advance and commit yourself by plunking down your cash for your flights, hotels, cruise, safari or arctic expedition.
Clients respect vacations as long as they have substantial warning. Their business isn’t going to disappear while you’re gone and, if you’re working on something truly time-sensitive, you can arrange for backup coverage.
I’ll admit to not being as good about vacations as I am about my weekly hiatus from consulting. Multiple days in a row away from work feels like multiple days without chocolate. Both absences make me twitch. Nevertheless, I’ve already booked my end-of year time away.
This is either half a tip or the master tip that rules them all. Train yourself to set your business aside when you’re not “doing” work. It’s not enough to curtail work discussions and email. You have to actually stop thinking about work.
Those of you who have practiced mindfulness meditation will recognize this. Only, as consultants our minds are always full, so mindlessness struck me as a better idea.
During a no-work day or a vacation when you notice yourself thinking about your consulting business:
- Recognize you’re thinking about work,
- Remember you’re in a no-work period,
- Remove the work thoughts, and
- Refocus your attention on something not work-related.
Initially, that process may grant only a three-second reprieve, and you may have to repeat it 100 times in a single day. With practice you’ll find that you’re able to douse the work fire faster, easier and for longer.
Those are only a few tips for establishing some work/life balance as a consultant. I bet you’ve used other approaches. Please share them below—I’ll respond when I return from vacation!
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.