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How do I set boundaries when I'm new to freelancing?

Setting good boundaries is a critical part of working well when you're self-employed. Here are our tips for new freelancers who want to establish good boundaries when they're starting out.

One of the most frequently asked questions or challenges new freelancers, those who are now working from home and even die-hard established freelancers, are around dealing with the blurry line between work and home-life. 
Especially when you’re a new freelancer, it can be really tempting to be overly responsive to clients and make sure you’re tending to their every needs, despite the hour or the day - but it’s very easy to establish bad habits early on which are harder to reset later. 
Setting good boundaries (the differentiation between when you’re working, and when you’re not) is a core aspect of working well when self-employed, and your wellbeing at work needs to be a critical part of your business plan in order to look after your company’s most valuable asset: you.
A few things to consider, if you’re new to freelancing to ensure you are keeping good boundaries between work-life and home-life

You’re not an employee

Firstly, remember that you’re no longer working for an employer, this means you don’t need to react as soon as someone senior asks you to do something, your time is yours to manage - and you’re responsible for setting the pace and ways of working. If you reply to an email within minutes, you’re setting an expectation that might be hard to keep up. Establish ways of working that work for you, not just for your clients.

Keep to your routine

Don’t be tempted to deviate too much from the routine or schedule you were used to working to at first. It can be really tempting to immediately start later, or if you’re an early bird aim to get the work done as soon as you get up - but your clients aren’t always on shifted schedules, and you’ll end up just working longer hours. To start with, stick to the hours you are used to, and be strict with yourself at the end of the day - don’t be tempted to dip into work ‘out of hours’. You’ll benefit from the rest to start fresh the following day. Over time, you can start to shift your routine, and of course, the schedule doesn't have to be 9-5/M-F, but when you're starting out, it helps to not change too much at once, as you already have a huge amount of new to deal with.

Reintroduce the commute

At the start and end of the day, moving simply from home mindset to work mindset is difficult without a tangible distinction such as leaving the house - so reintroduce a ‘commute’, where you take 30 minutes to switch mindsets. Use this time to physically leave the house and go for a walk, or simply just give yourself a half hour to sit quietly and give your mind a moment to move from home to work. This is even more valuable at the end of the day, where you need to create a clear moment of stopping work for the day. Take a look at the benefits of a mental commute on our resource page.

Take a lunch-break

We’ve all been mostly working from home for almost a year now, and it’s been easy to let healthy habits slip, so re-introducing time during the day where you take a break is essential. When you’re around others, you’ll be prompted to think about lunch when you see others nipping off to eat, but at home, this can be harder. Consider setting an alarm or a specific time for lunch and screen breaks each day. Use this time to get away from the screen - move around, stretch, make sure you're hydrating, even take the time to get outside. Don't be tempted to use the time to 'catch-up' on work, or do other tasks, genuinely use your breaks to rest, else you'll be running yourself into the ground every day. This is especially important during covid - whilst energy levels (emotionally and physically) are lower.

Find a space (or a box)

Finding a place to work in the house really helps create the distinction between home and work. If you can create a dedicate space to work from, try to use it whenever possible, and remove as many distractions as possible, which allows you to create a space where you can find focus. For many of us, that isn’t possible, so you can ‘put away’ your workspace at the end of the day - consider finding a box in to which you put away your computer, notebooks, any working tools you have, and physically put the box away for the day. This ritual helps your brain to step away from work.

Switch off those notifications

If at all possible, keep work and personal devices separate. Practically, most freelancers have a computer and phone which are for both personal and professional us, so aim to switch off any notifications from professional accounts (i.e. Slack, Teams, etc) or use separate apps for work and personal accounts, so you’re not accidentally spotting an email which prompts you into action. There's also Do-Not-Disturb mode, which on most devices allow you to let through important contacts, and ignore the rest - which is also great for focus. 

Don’t do it alone

Join a support community for freelancers. There are hundreds of fantastic groups - many are focused specifically the type of work you do or the sector you work in, for instance journalism or creative services; and many are general freelancing groups where people share tips and advice, providing opportunities to ask questions and socialise, and even find new work and connections. Working for yourself can be challenging, but doesn’t have to be isolating - make sure you’re building yourself a support network.

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