Article by Gemma Hartley
As a freelancer, you get to be fully on charge of your time. It is both freeing and daunting.
On the one hand, you can cultivate a life that reflects your priorities and has tremendous flexibility and opportunity. On the other hand, you could wind up wasting your time, falling short of your expectations, and having no one but yourself to blame.
How do you build the type of fulfilling life you desire while chasing the career you want? How do you make every minute count, whether you’re hustling with your startup or trying to fit a workout routine into your busy day?
There exists a pervasive myth that you cannot have it all. You can’t succeed at work and have a full personal life. If you want a wildly successful career, you need to give up other things. Entrepreneur Randi Zuckerberg describes the dilemma of entrepreneurial life as such:
The entrepreneur’s dilemma:
Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep.
— Randi Zuckerberg (@randizuckerberg) December 9, 2011
Even for those who aren’t building their careers from the ground up, finding the elusive balance between work and life can seem impossible. There is a finite amount of time in each day. Trying to cram all the things you want into a 24-hour timeframe often means running yourself ragged.
However, working long or odd hours doesn’t mean you can’t have balance. You simply need to look at how you actually spend your time versus how you want to spend your time.
I say the impossibility of having it all is a myth, but for a long time, it was one I wholeheartedly believed. In fact, it caused me to hold back in my writing career. I was afraid that leaning in would ruin my family relationships and cost me so much sleep I wouldn’t be able to function. There was surely no way I could build a strong freelancing career, maintain a healthy lifestyle, sleep eight hours a night, and enjoy leisure time with family and friends!
When I decided to ramp up my freelancing efforts, the myth still seemed true enough. I noticed I would only find time to shower twice a week. My house was a mess and my diet was atrocious. Success in one area of my life spelled failure in multiple others.
Yet I saw other freelancers who seemed to be doing it all and doing it a lot better. They were pulling in six-figure incomes, raising families, posting photos of themselves at the gym and out with friends. These were’t extraordinary people. They didn’t have more time or advantages than I did. They simply took control of their time in a way I hadn’t.
It felt like my life was full to the brim and overflowing with more priorities than I could reasonably handle. To find out if this were true, I started tracking my time in great detail. I set up a weeklong spreadsheet that broke my days down into half-hour chunks. I recorded exactly what I was doing in each chunk.
The first day was impressive. The fact that I had to write down everything I did helped bolster my productivity. I didn’t want to input “spent an hour scrolling Instagram on the couch” or “ate a whole bag of potato chips while overthinking a single email.” I found that I worked without distraction; I used my generally aimless afternoon hours to prep a decent dinner; my morning chores took far less time when I moved down my to-do list with determination.
As the week went on, though, the workouts still weren’t happening. Some nights, dinner was still a mad scramble ending in takeout. When I went out with friends or upset my routine in any way, I fell behind on work.
“See?” I told myself. “I really don’t have time to do it all.”
At the end of the week, as I looked over my 168 hours, I had to face the facts: I had plenty of time to do everything I wanted and needed to do. Perhaps not in the narrow frame of 24 hours, but across the week there was ample time to balance out my career and my personal life. The problem was I hadn’t been using my time wisely, as evidenced by how often I took out my phone to check email or social media, the hours I spent watching TV to unwind, and the way I would pepper chores throughout the day to fill gaps. Now that I could see my patterns laid out in front of my eyes, changing them didn’t seem like such a daunting task.
I didn’t consider myself a TV addict, but I was averaging two hours a night, which I could easily scale back or eliminate. I tried to dock my phone and check it less often, but I still mindlessly picked it up at 10 times a day, usually for 15-20 minutes each time. On nights when I worked without distraction, I could get done in three hours what would normally take me five or six when I was impulsively distracting myself with email and social media.
Overall, I had about 25-30 waking hours I could repurpose into any area of my life I wanted.
When the week was over, I started a fresh spreadsheet, ready to take control of my time. Now, I keep track of my time every week. By tracking my time hour by hour, I am able to refine my schedule to fit my priorities. It is easier to cut out things that aren’t serving me in my career or personal life because I can see them in front of me. Each tile in my spreadsheet is an opportunity to make the most of my time.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Gemma Hartley is a full-time freelance writer living in Reno, Nevada. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, CNBC, Glamour, Women’s Health, Redbook Magazine, and other publications. You can find her online here.