I'm a Freelancer With a Full-Time Job — Here are 5 Ways I Set Boundaries to Get It All Done

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Courtney Dercqu156
Current Social Media Manager/Former Recruiter

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was fortunate enough to transition to a remote working environment. However, it didn’t take long for me to start working longer hours and even on weekends. With little in the way of entertainment, work became my form of entertainment. I’m part of a larger statistic. According to a survey conducted by Robert Half, approximately 45% of the 2,800 workers surveyed worked 45% more hours during the pandemic than they used to. 

One anonymous Fairygodboss Community member recently posted about their struggle managing the blurred lines between work and life that are the norm in their new office. If their coworkers are working 45% more... how can they ensure they don't have to?

Several Fairygodboss Community members left their advice.

"Set boundaries early and stick to them as much as possible," one member wrote. "If nothing else, it will let others know what you are and what you are not going accept as standard operating procedure. And who knows, you make be the role model for someone else who is unsure of what they should do."
"You could start out by empathizing with whoever is working late and on weekends with you — without bad-talking the employer. Ask questions, learn and relate," another wrote. "You can gently explain that you plan to work daytime hours and ask when there's a good overlap — maybe your later afternoon is when they're starting the bulk of their workday, so that's a good time to connect. Position yourself as a newcomer who can help reset expectations, if desired, because you didn't get into those habits while trying to balance it all during the pandemic."

I understand the value of setting work boundaries. 

Like many people during the pandemic, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my interests. The natural result was picking up more freelance work. As a freelance writer, I’m usually working on several assignments at any given time. Combine this with my 40-hour week schedule, and it can be challenging to fit in having a normal life. 

Fortunately, I’ve been able to adopt several habits to help me set healthy boundaries while also accomplishing everything on my plate. Whether you are working full-time and juggling freelance like me, or are trying to juggle your child’s education and a full-time schedule, here are some tips for setting boundaries so you can get everything done. 

1. Don't bite off more than you can chew

I think many of us fall victim to the mentality that saying “no” makes us look bad, but in actuality, it demonstrates our knowledge about the task at hand. Kate Dixon of Dixon Consulting echoes this sentiment, stating that “when you’re saying ‘yes’ to everything, chances are good that you’re not paying attention to the things that matter."

The truth is that there’s always going to be something you need to dedicate your time to, but you don’t want to overlook what HAS to get done versus what you’d LIKE to get done. Since I work full-time, I have to be realistic about how long tasks are going to take me because I can only work on them after work hours and on the weekend. As a result, I have to realistically look at my week ahead and determine how much availability I’m going to have — and likewise, HOW much emphasis I want to put on it. It’s very easy to take on a bunch of projects and then work yourself to the bone on the weekend; doing this can lead to burnout, which will only make your 9-5 suffer. 

If a project doesn’t work for me, I turn it down, because I know there will be another opportunity down the line. You can make this happen in your 9-to-5, too. Ask to pass a project to a coworker who's better suited, or who can use the project as a learning opportunity. Or, let your boss know your other projects may suffer quality if you have to take on another. 

2. Set work hours

As a freelancer, one of the most important things I do is set work hours after my 9-5 finishes. Truth be told, I don’t want my work to bleed into my personal life. When it comes to freelance, many freelancers are sent messages at all hours of the day and night, and it can be tempting to quickly respond to an offer or question as soon as it comes through. Setting firm work hours allows me to enjoy my personal time and protect my creativity. 

This is great advice to heed if you’re working in a remote environment. Because everyone is working from home, the ability to call, text or email someone has become more widely practiced. However, it’s important to shut off communication when you’re not getting paid for it. Unless it’s a true emergency, designating specific times when you can be reached and/or respond to tasks is necessary. Set your work hours  in your mind, but also in your email or instant messenger away message. That lets people know when to expect a response if they find themselves reaching out to you late in the day.

3. Work smarter, not harder

Let me preface this by providing a story about how my husband and I clean the house. I tend to start from one side of the room and work my way to the other. My husband will break it down into sections; first, he’ll collect all the dirty laundry, then the dishes, then the trash before tidying up each room. In the time it takes me to clean one room, he already accomplished three. That’s when I knew it was time to re-adjust my habits. 

I used to apply this same method to my day job. However, with more on my plate, there’s no time for well, taking my time; I have to work efficiently. To do this, I break my responsibilities down into two categories: priority and what will take the least amount of time. If I don’t have anything pressing, then I tick off my responsibilities by what takes the shortest amount of time first to free up my schedule. This helps me to stay focused and keeps me motivated to continue. It also keeps my workdays from extending beyond their barriers. 

4. Make time to relax

With so much on my plate, you’d think stopping down for a few minutes here and there would be harmful to my productivity, but the opposite is true. An article published on Workfit.com talked about this, stating that “Taking breaks at work does increase productivity.” Taking short breaks gives you some relief from uncomfortable positions and helps you retain the information you’ve learned easier. 

I’ll take a short five to 10-minute break every hour or so to stretch my legs, grab a cup of coffee, or step outside for some fresh air. This, of course, may be more difficult if you’re working in an office setting, but you can get creative with it. Get up and grab a glass of water, use the bathroom or grab a snack from the break room. Taking a few moments away from your computer to stretch your legs can help you feel reinvigorated to jump back into the task at hand. Trying to push through can cause you to feel sluggish, which can make even the simplest tasks feel extremely complicated, extending the amount of time you need to work on them. 

5. Practice discipline

Last but not least, you have to be disciplined. As with a regular 9-5, you have to remain focused on what you have to get done. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting behind and then scrambling to meet your deadlines. All this does is cause stress, which can result in procrastination, making your anxiety levels even worse. It's easier to say no to a late night call when you know that your work is being done well during the day, and you don't need to feel guilty about your work product. Most things truly can wait when you know they'll be diligently managed in the morning.

I won’t lie, my day-to-day is pretty busy and I have to work hard at applying these tips for me to stay on track. But sometimes I fail — and that’s okay. Sometimes, life gets the better of you and though you might try to stay ahead, you can still burn yourself out. Remember that juggling responsibilities can be overwhelming at times. The important thing is that you try to stick to a schedule that works for you and not beat yourself up if you miss a day here and there.