The Line Between Life and Work

As a freelancer, I find it difficult to draw a line between my life and my work. It costs me something that I’ve been finding it hard to put into words. And then the other day I ran into a blog post on this very subject by one Rob Zacny, a freelance writer. See his post Rat at Rest; it puts very well into words what I’ve been feeling as a freelance artist, to quote:

“If I were running the rat race, I’d have a respectable reason for feeling burned out or overwhelmed. I could blame my boss or my coworkers. I could resent the drudgery of office work, the early mornings and the late nights. … I could sympathize and forgive myself, because the fault could reside somewhere outside of me.”

“Most of my friends have jobs, and they have lives. The two don’t perfectly overlap. But if you work for yourself, chasing a passion? You enjoy no such existential escape.  You chose to do something, you and your loved ones have made sacrifices so that you can do it, and now you’re tired? You need a day off? Too fucking bad. Get out of bed and get over to your desk and be creative. … The answer to every problems is always mercilessly simple: work harder.”

Add to this the chaos, the uncertainty of income that comes when one doesn’t have a stable paycheck coming in every two weeks (But are any jobs stable anymore? Heh, oh well.): The only way I can find some peace of mind and security is that work harder. Perhaps there’s some event this evening, friends want to hang out, want to just watch a movie and relax? It’s too bad: I need to work. And if I don’t I’ll feel guilty the whole time I’m off doing something else, so I won’t even really enjoy myself or relax, the whole thing is ruined anyway.

There is a solution, however. (Yes, this is getting awfully negative, so let’s turn it around.) Consider that a “normal” job imposes a hard line between life and work on you, there are hours when you’re on the job and then there’s life. There’s a place of work and a place of rest. As a freelancer, you must impose a hard line between life and work on yourself. You define for yourself some office hours and you stick to them – say, “I’ll work 10-6” and if there’s a distraction you tell them “Sorry, those are my office hours”. (Though let’s be honest, the person you really need to tell this to is yourself.)

A major factor is the problem of working from home as a freelancer – then there’s really no physical separation between life and work. That monitor is always staring at you, saying you could be doing something useful with your time, you lazy bum. A solution? Impose that separation on yourself: Set up an office in a distinct and separate room, though I found that impossible in a small apartment, so take up with a shared office in a co-working setup. When you’re at the office, you’re in work mode, when you’re at home, you’re in home mode. You are allowed peace of mind.

Plus, the presumably businesslike atmosphere of the shared office helps one stay focused. I’m much more self-conscious about hitting refresh on Facebook if there’s someone who might catch me slacking off. In some soft sense, by involving other people in your work environment you are held accountable to them. What with being the social animals we are, this actually works.

You’ve just got to draw these lines for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.

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