November 2, 2018

Nearly three weeks ago, I had an emotional breakdown. No, not a ‘give me three minutes to breathe and I’ll be fine’ episode. It was a ‘full on sniffling and boohoo session complete with an existential crisis’. If you’re wondering what triggered my spiral into the depths of philosophical contemplation, it was a stressful deadline.

Like many, I’m a freelancer. The benefits to this lifestyle are many—increased flexibility, a cheaper monthly gas expense, and a reduction in the necessity of pants.

For a large sector of the population, working from home sounds like the dream. But of course, each pro brings accompanying cons. And one of the hardest things about working from home is the feeling that you are never truly “off the clock.”

For full-time freelancers like myself, it can be difficult to deal with the workaholic nature of the gig economy. I’d always considered my inability to disconnect as a matter of ambition. But when my husband walked in on my crisis and said my real issue was bad time management, I couldn’t help but be a little confused.

To live a life of value we have to reevaluate what we put first.
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In my experience, conversations about time management tend to focus on what we haven’t accomplished.

So many of us hold an oversimplified understanding of time management that overlooks the importance of a sufficient balance of personal and professional time. We are a generation (and a nation) of workaholics. And that definitely suggests an issue with the way we manage our time.

Overworking, obsessing, and overlooking the importance of self-care is literally killing us. To live a life of value we have to reevaluate what we put first.

Workaholism and Stress Hold Us Back

The United States has a problem with overworking. According to a Gallup survey, the average full-time worker reports a 47 hour per week workload. Similarly, nearly four in ten workers report working 50 hours or longer! And a recent study published in New Technology, Work and Employment journal suggests individuals who work remotely often work even longer and have a harder time turning work off.

The reality of overworking is particularly true for individuals who are middle and working class. And unfortunately, our shift towards using metrics as proof for productivity has only made things worse. That “worse” looks like less family time, more stress, and as a result an increased risk for cardiovascular-related illnesses and even death.

Rethinking Time Management

It’s surprising to think that better time management, or at least more effective time allocation, could be the solution for fewer stress triggered emotional breakdowns.

But time management is more than increasing productivity.

It’s also a matter of prioritizing healthy habits and setting firm work-life balance. Below are a few suggestions for better managing and allocating your time.

1. Set Firm Work Boundaries

Setting aside time to de-stress is vital for stress management. Way too many of us take work everywhere and blur the lines between work and leisure.

As more of us participate in the gig economy, it’s becoming progressively more challenging to disconnect. That’s why setting (and sticking to) hours of operation is a great way to increase balance.

Setting (and sticking to) hours of operation is a great way to increase balance.
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During your “off times” use whatever you need to disconnect. The use of email and webpage blockers can do wonders for workaholics. Remember, there is nothing wrong with using the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on your phone and vacation auto-responders on weekends/ holidays.

If we start treating work during our personal time the same way we avoid personal time while working? It could do wonders!

2. Preschedule Time for Community

Harvard Business Review found that it’s not uncommon for teleworkers to feel left out and lonely. It makes sense when you think about being cooped up in the house all day. Working in the office came with the benefit of social interaction. The laughter, companionship, and support we got in those environments were an important part of human development.

Being around friends and loved ones makes us feel good. And we can’t overlook the benefits of conversation for de-stressing after a long workday.

We can't overlook the benefits of conversation for de-stressing after a long workday.
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All of this makes it exceptionally important that remote workers set aside time to engage with loved ones. Having them hold you accountable with pre-scheduling weekly lunch dates, leisurely strolls or even phone calls can give you the necessary interaction you need and give increased accountability to setting work boundaries.

Co-working spaces can also be a great way for increased accountability of work-life balance. Find a buddy to telework with and enforce strict start-stop times!

3. Prioritize Solo Time

I’ve learned that setting aside time for myself is equally as important—if not more—than setting time for community. We speak of self-care in terms of finance-based pampering but solo time is much more than that.

All of the most important moments of your career and personal development begin with time to rest and reflect. Giving yourself enough time to power down after a day of stimulation is key for being able to get a night of quality rest. But it goes much deeper than that.

All of the most important moments of your career and personal development begin with time to rest and reflect.
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The benefits of dedicating specific days and times to goal planning and career reflection cannot be overstated. If you find yourself continuously exhausted or unhappy after a day of work, it might be a sign that a career change is in order. But you can’t assess your feelings if you don’t pause for ‘me-time’ in between working and sleeping.

It hasn’t been easy for me to incorporate these qualities into my work habits. But I’ve noticed a big change in how I handle my stress when I use these tactics.

We live an economy that puts “productivity” above everything else. When you rethink the importance of “me-time management” you are being productive: Productively protecting your mental and physical health. If that’s not worth it, I don’t know what is!


Read next: Work-Life Balance Is a Myth—Aim for Alignment Instead

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