Making the most of downtime to boost wellbeing when you work on your own

Running my own business has always helped me balance my wellbeing and enabled me to pursue purposeful interests alongside my work and practice. It was one of the reasons I set it up in the first place.

There is an almost predictable cycle when I have busy times and not so busy times during the working year. When I first started my business I was reluctant to take time off, wanting to harness my emotional investment and make my enterprise work, increase my client base, accept offers of assignments. No one should under estimate the time, resilience and emotional investment starting one’s own business takes. And then to keep it going, make it successful, expand services and the client base, maintain one’s professional standing and continue with professional development. All take investment, time and perseverance. And it’s definitely not a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday occupation.

Now I am 15 years down the line (and 15 years older and wiser!) I am able to re-evaluate my work and re-direct some of my efforts. I am able to take an approach to balanced wellbeing and time away from the business based on the annual cycle of peaks and troughs of when clients are more actively seeking support, and when they are not. Granted this is a risk but when relationships are good and secure and people value what one does, it’s not such a stretch to be able to say I am taking a day or even a week off.

The industries I work with and in tend to have two annual ‘down times’ - August and December. As such I use this time for a mixture of things:

  1. Volunteering my time and skills. It’s good to give back and it is using and developing knowledge and skills. Volunteering is a natural part of my social responsibility and all business owners, big and small, should aim to find ways to do this.

  2. Planning and reviewing. As the simple rule of thumb goes: plan, do, review. Quality strategic planning time for business, development and updating. Time when I undertake courses, qualifications and professional development

  3. Holiday. Going away, travelling, severing ties to the in-box for a while.

  4. Hobbies and pass times. Doing things I enjoy (e.g managing to keep my garden looking nice enough to sit in); reading; going out with friends and seeing family members; exercise.

Practise what I preach

As I frequently work with people on stress, resilience, wellbeing and dealing with tough situations, it would be odd if I didn’t have ways and methods I genuinely have myself to role model with others. I sometimes weave in personal advice of what works for me into interventions and workshops.

Tips for newbies

If you have more recently set up a new business or gone solo/freelance here are some ideas for keeping things under control and finding some ‘you time’. I am sure it will serve as a bit of a kick for those who have been in this for a while as well.

  • Plan for breaks (after all, you plan for business) and hold yourself to them. Breaks can be half an hour in a day, an hour a week, 2 or 3 days over a month and so on. Factor them in. General thinking supports breaks for vacations every quarter.

  • Be awesome at levering your time effectively and don’t push on. Take breaks, even if for a few hours or a long weekend regularly; follow all the advice about wellbeing and stress we are told - because it works and it’s helpful and it’s true.

  • Build great client relationships so when they ask for a date and you are away, you can say you are off on a break and re-negotiate. Get over any fear they will go somewhere else. They might do, or they might not, but that doesn’t mean you have lost them forever.

  • Don’t check emails and voice messages if you are off. Instead, set up a rule or abbreviation if you can and change your voice message, telling people you are away and (if you have to check) a set time you will review your messages and when they might expect to hear from you. Set aside days when you are not available. Better still, go somewhere where there is little or no signal. They do exist.

Red dot, green dot

Remember the green dot, red dot code. If people see a green dot against your availability they will assume you are just that. Use the red dot and stick to it. It will be worth it.