Saying No to “Busy”: 5 Ways to Create Work-Life Balance

Molly McCowan Freelancing Tips, Productivity, Work-Life Balance 2 Comments

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice.” —T.S. Eliot

I’ve been unusually quiet lately. I haven’t been blogging regularly, and my Twitter feed and Facebook page have practically started to grow cobwebs.

Even though a few wonderful readers have emailed me to ask where I’ve been, I don’t feel the need to apologize. There are times in our lives when we need to turn inward, grow quiet, and enter what Margaret Atwood refers to in her MaddAddam trilogy as the “fallow state.”

2015 was a great year for Inkbot Editing. My client base and profits quadrupled and I expanded my services. I wrote copy for websites, landing pages, brochures, ads, Kickstarter campaigns, retail packaging, and more for companies in industries like forestry, podiatry, law, fitness, food service, and women’s leadership.

I copyedited fiction and nonfiction book manuscripts, academic papers, business materials, and national magazines. My developmental editing projects included young adult, fantasy, science fiction, medical nonfiction, and historical fiction novels.

And best of all? I got to work with fun, genuine people doing interesting things, taking risks, and sharing their creativity with the world.

As amazing as 2015 was (I also got married in June!), it made me realize that being “busy” all the time wasn’t for me. For some, having a calendar chock-full of meetings and appointments is a sign of success. Not for me. I measure success by happiness: my own and my clients’. I measure success by not having to be in front of my computer at all hours of the day and night.

One of my favorite books is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. In it, Hoff writes, “The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not.”

Tao of Pooh_Rabbit

In the book, Rabbit represents the smart, educated person who is always thinking and moving. He runs around like a chicken with its head cut off: no clear direction, too many thoughts, too many to-do lists. Rabbit is killing time: he’s making sure he’s always “busy” because the alternative makes him uncomfortable.

My business resolution for 2016 is to avoid “busy,” and focus on “full.”

“Full,” to me, means a more balanced life. It means more time with my family and friends, more “me” time, and more focusing on the big picture of my business and what’s in store for the years to come. It also means less time mindlessly consuming—scrolling through my Facebook feed, watching TV, etc.

Throughout 2015, I developed a few habits and techniques to help me feel less “busy” and more “full.” Here they are:

#1 First thing in the morning, focus on creating, not consuming.

This could mean writing, playing an instrument, brainstorming, etc.—anything that doesn’t involve the passive consumption of media (Facebook, TV, even reading a magazine or book).

#2 Figure out when you’re the most productive, and set aside chunks of time during these hours to work on your most difficult projects.

I’m the most productive in the afternoon and early evening, so that’s when I crank out my client work.

#3 Each week, schedule at least one “date” with your significant other, friends, and/or family members.

As a recovering workaholic, I’ve found that scheduling time with the people who matter the most is a way to cultivate work-life balance and create a “full” life.

#4 Consume consciously.

This one’s probably the hardest. Set time limits on your Facebook scrolling and TV-watching. Block yourself from social media websites while you’re working (I use a free Mac app called SelfControl for this). Some paid apps, like RescueTime, will even give you a report showing how much time you wasted on social media that day or week.

#5 Don’t be afraid to say no.

If a project or client is obviously not going to be a good fit for you, don’t be afraid to say no. Turning down work that isn’t a good fit is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to maintain control over your schedule and mindfully focus on creating a “full” life instead of a “busy” one.

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What does a “full” life mean to you? How do you go about cultivating it? What are your tips for creating work-life balance? Let me know in the comments.

Molly McCowan
Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor from Fort Collins, Colorado. As the Lead Word Nerd at Inkbot Editing, it's her job to make you look good.
  • Ranee Tomlin

    Molly, I’ve always found your blog postings to be absolute gems. This one is no exception. Welcome back; I’ve missed you! I left my previous career to get away from a culture of workaholism; and as a freelance-business neophyte, I’ve been dismayed to find work-life imbalance a given in the freelance world. I’ve struggled to establish boundaries in a business that appears to accept none. (If I had wanted to spend every waking minute of my life in front of a computer screen or tied to a phone, I could have continued as a university employee.) Thank you for your courageous stand and pragmatic tips. I’ll try to follow your mindful lead, one step at a time.

    • Thank you so much, Ranee! This is one of the trickiest issues I’ve faced as a freelancer as well. Managing client expectations is one thing, and managing your own expectations (of yourself) is another! For someone who has workaholic tendencies like me, it’s a definite challenge.