Do you ever feel like you are swimming upstream, trying to keep all of the facets of your busy schedule together as a freelance photographer? There are countless articles, blogs, and books about how to separate your work and free time to improve job satisfaction and productivity, but the secret is not about improving your work-life balance, it’s about ignoring the perception of a work-life balance altogether.In my first two years as a freelance photographer and videographer, the separation of free time and work were often confused. Long days editing led to long evenings checking e-mail and immediately responding to clients, all the while attending social events during these evening hours but rarely being present in the conversation. My correspondence and marketing felt rushed, whilst my relationships were being strained due to my obsession with retaining a high response rate for all clients.
I came to freelance life off the back of a full-time 9-5 job working for an investment bank. Work was parked at the door at 5 pm, and the weekend was well lived. As my life as a freelancer began, I tried to treat every day exactly the same as before, clocking off at a reasonable hour to dedicate a solid block of time each day toward my free time in the pursuit of a happiness inducing work-life balance.
As time went on, I realized there was a problem with this approach. As my time to "clock-out" came, all those tasks that I had not completed for the day clogged my thoughts and led to distracted time spent with loved ones. Nobody was winning and something had to change.
I’ve tried it all. Using task tracking apps, writing daily task lists, using task clocks, turning off the wi-fi when editing and shooting, meditating, exercising, moving my desk… like I said, I’ve tried it all. Some of it stuck, and I certainly improved my productivity, but my work-life balance was still unhealthy. What I had realized, was that striving for an unattainable work-life balance was part of the problem, and freelance life in 2018 isn’t about the black and white of work and pleasure, but when you love your job, it’s OK to embrace all of those shades of gray.
By giving myself permission to work at any point during the day, I freed myself from the guilt of working when I shouldn't be. But the key to this is to let those loved ones you live with, or spend your time with, know that this is what you’ll be doing because deadlines are approaching. I’ve found that a shared calendar is a great way to keep my girlfriend in the loop of my movements and when I’ll have my head down.
When you’re expecting that urgent call from your biggest client and you’re a dinner party, don’t be rude checking your phone under the table, share the importance of taking a call or checking your email intermittently, step out of the room and deal with your business. Your friends and family know a freelance life is one where you’ll be engaged at random times and they will encourage you to do so, just as long as you’re not offering a half-baked version of yourself when in direct conversation.
I use lots of external spaces for photo and video shoots, so location scouting is a time-consuming part of the process. Since I changed my perception of work-life balance, I’m always keeping my eyes out for new locations during my downtime… and that’s ok! If I see something I like, I jot down the details and pinpoint the location to compliment a few reference pictures.
Turn watching TV and film into research for inspiration for future shoots. Watching the last season of Mad Men has been full of striking visuals that is full of inspiration for 60s inspired photoshoots and music videos. I note a reference of the time in the episode to help build a portfolio of inspiration which is great to use when writing treatments for new projects.
Lots of my business comes from word of mouth and building relationships with clients. This makes every interaction with new people a potential seed of a new contract, but it’s not about the hard sell. Being attentive and friendly should be a given when speaking to new people, but it’s ok to drop your profession in when the opportunity arises, and if there are needs you feel you could help with, offer solutions. If you find that you’ve been talking shop for too long for others within earshot to endure, set a lunch at a later date.
You are the storefront, the spokesperson, and the talent of your own empire. Don’t suppress your entrepreneurial spirit. Chances are this spirit is what your nearest and dearest love about you. By committing to a split between your working and downtime, you don’t free yourself from distractions, but rather pile them up till they consume your every waking thought. Release the pressure valve intermittently, it’s ok… honest.
There is an element of pride of working for yourself, it seems less distressing to pull an all-nighter to get the edit out the door the next morning, or stretching a video shoot late into the night when you are the boss. When there is a camera in my hand, there are few things that I’d rather do, so the line between work and pleasure is blurred. I’m not saying work all the time on your business, just not to get on top of yourself when your hours get stretched… it’s all for the great cause of building something that is changing your life. But remember to look after yourself with regular exercise and a good diet.
In conclusion, embrace the fact that you love your life as a freelance photographer. Soak in your surroundings all the time, introduce yourself to new people, work when you want, and keep your loved ones in the loop when time is of the essence with certain projects. Work-life balance is a myth because you’re always working… and that’s ok.