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Tips for the Freelance Animator: Balancing Your Work and Home Life

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Tips for the Freelance Animator: Balancing Your Work and Home Life
photo by furnishu on sxc.hu
When you work from home, sometimes it’s very hard to separate “at work” from “at home” – meaning that you also don’t get the relief of “going home from work”. In fact, work may well start to intrude on your personal life, until it feels like you’re always at the computer, always working, rarely stopping for anything other than sleep.

This may work well for you for a short period, especially if you love what you do – but if your freelance work is starting to affect your personal life and you just can’t seem to get a handle on your time, you may want to try to a few of these tips. I had to start following my own advice not too long ago, when my partner remarked that I never eat breakfast away from the computer anymore. My family and friends were both grateful when I introduced more balance between work and home, and my productivity when I did schedule time for work increased exponentially.

Keep your workspace separate from the rest of your home.
It’s temping – especially if you have a laptop – to work out on the patio, on the sofa, even in bed. Sometimes I work from my balcony for a break, especially on a clear, cool early morning. The key is not to make a habit of it, or the entire world will become your office and you won’t ever be able to leave work. Convenience can at times become a hindrance, and add to personal stress when you can’t ever leave the “at work” mentality. It becomes hard to know when to stop.

Keep a separate room, or even just a niche in one corner of a room, as your work area; keep your computer there, your art supplies, and any other work-related materials. When you leave your work area, leave your supplies there. If you use your computer for entertainment as well, then keep your fun time strictly separated from your work time.

Mark your deadlines, and plan for them.
Very few of your clients will say “oh, just get it to me when you’re done, no hurry”. Most will give you a set date to deliver the goods, and it’s either too close for comfort or so far away that you’ll grow lax and forgetful until the last minute. (Personal experience talking? Never!)

To make sure that you’re not scrambling to finish a project in marathon 24-hour stints without sleep or any nourishment beyond coffee, make sure to mark your deadlines on a project calendar, plan out how many total hours it will take to complete each project, and budget a certain number of hours a day to work on each project. Prioritize; adjust your schedule blocks based on the deadline proximity.

Keep a schedule, and adhere to it.
When you work a nine-to-five, there’s no doubt about when work starts and ends; you go into the office at a certain time, leave at a certain time, and the rest of the day and night are yours. When you work at home, it’s not so clean-cut. You aren’t punching a time-clock; it’s up to you to decide when you work and when you don’t in order to complete your projects on time.

If your laundry’s piling up, the dog’s food bowl is empty, the cat’s litterbox is far too full, and there’s a mountain of dishes taking over the kitchen, then you’re not managing your time well enough. If you don’t treat your freelance work like an office job and set yourself a starting and ending time, then you’ll end up frittering away useless idle minutes over the course of the day in random spurts of activity – when you could be using that time for dozens of other activities (such as washing those stinky socks).

Remind yourself that every day you should start at a certain time and finish your planned workload at a certain time, with scheduled breaks. Quitting time is quitting time, no questions asked; you’ll produce better work if you stop and get some rest only to start fresh the next day.

Set yourself a time limit.
This is related to scheduling and deadlines; unless it’s an emergency (and if you plan well enough, those should be few and far between), don’t spend more than a set number of hours per day on your work. Being a workaholic is admirable, but not exactly healthy for your body, mind, relationships, or social life.

Ignore your phone and close your browsers, your IM, and your e-mail while working.
You can’t always ignore your phone, but invest in Caller ID so you know who’s calling and why. If it’s one of your clients, pick it up, but keep the conversation strictly work-related and concise while remaining polite, accessible, and friendly. Don’t waste your client’s time, or your own.

Try to keep calls with your friends, family, and the dry cleaner to a minimum; Aunt Chloe’s arthritis can wait for your lunch break, or after closing time. Your friends and family should know what your working hours are, and respect them as much as they would if you were in a traditional office.

Ignore the temptation to play around on the internet while working on your computer. I used to think that I’d be more productive if I had my e-mail automatically downloading every five minutes and my IM constantly on so that clients could reach me without calling, but I quickly found that I spent all my time chatting in IMs or reading new e-mails – not just from clients, but from friends. My buddy list became my worst enemy; my e-mail client turned into my daily fixation, and it didn’t help that now and then I’d spend hours browsing web pages. I could pass an entire day without accomplishing a single task, completely negating my goal of productivity. It made more sense to simply shut all of that down and only check them every once in a while, so that I could work without distractions.

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