Long before pandemic remote work culture became the norm, I was a work-at-home mom.
For more than a decade, I’ve run a freelance writing business from home. The pros: I love what I do and have been able to build my business to the point where I earn six figures. The cons: Having five children means I work every spare hour I have: in the early morning, during nap times, on weekends, anytime I'm in the car and my husband is driving, on family vacations, at kids’ practices and during movie nights.
The takeaway? Burnout always seemed right around the corner, and I finally understood the importance of bringing balance into my life. Here’s what I did to maintain a wellness routine, as well as how much I spent to find balance.
Childcare for my toddler
Through all my years of working and parenting, I’ve never really had consistent childcare.
In the fall, I finally took the plunge and signed my daughter up for childcare at a local in-home daycare a few days a week. I had feelings of guilt, of course, and missed her cuteness. But there is a palpable difference in my stress levels when I can focus on one thing at a time.
The alone time allows me to really focus on getting all my work done, then be fully present when my husband brings all the kids home from school around 4 p.m.
Cost: $480 a month
Being selective about new work
Freelancers face a constant feast-or-famine mindset. In the past, I accepted every assignment because I didn’t want to miss out on income or building future client relationships. After all, if I can make money sitting at home in my pajamas, why wouldn’t I do it?
But now I think of it this way: Saying “yes” to new work that I don’t necessarily need means saying “no” to other things, like time with my family, rest, exercise, taking care of my home, or engaging with a better-playing client.
Hiring a personal trainer
My sister and I joined a very small gym last month and I absolutely love it. She and I are typically the only ones working out, so it’s essentially personal training with a huge emphasis on form and functional movement.
Getting back into exercising and justifying taking time out of the workday is hard, but the physical and mental benefits are worth it.
Cost: $200 a month
Instituting free-day Fridays
I don’t have childcare on Fridays, so instead of fighting to work that day with my toddler at home, I decided to embrace it.
Now, Fridays are “fun” days for us. My 2-year-old tags along to the gym with me, then we head off on an adventure — we might go to breakfast or get pedicures together. I keep my workload light and catch up during nap time. Other than that, it’s a carefree, relaxed day.
To my surprise, I’ve found that I love the change of pace. It’s so nice to work hard all week, especially on the days I don’t want to leave her at daycare, knowing that I have Friday to look forward to with her.
Hiring a virtual assistant
Having run a one-woman shop for so long, it never occurred to me to hire an assistant. But when I began having to turn away work that I was really interested in, I realized I needed help. I thought carefully about which parts of my job I could outsource and which parts I dreaded, and how hiring help in those areas might free me up to both make more money and find balance.
I decided to find an assistant who could help me with admin — stuff like scheduling interviews, transcribing and following up with sources.
The search was difficult and time-consuming, but then a friend recommended someone she knew, and my life has been forever changed. This virtual assistant took initiative, helping me find new sources and jumping into new tasks with enthusiasm. She even — and this almost brings me to tears — created a beautifully organized, color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of articles, deadlines, sources and notes.
The time and money investment has been invaluable. I've regained balance and can take on more lucrative assignments.
Cost: $200 to $400 a month
Occasional 'splurges’ in the name of self-care
Recently I did two specific things that felt wildly indulgent: 1) I got lash extensions and 2) I paid a local meal prep service to deliver a week’s worth of meals for me.
Those mini splurges were done with two goals in mind: help me feel better, both mentally and physically; and give me back time to focus on the things that matter most (work and my family).
The lash extensions meant I could eliminate wearing make-up completely and having to worry about being “ready” to leave the house or jump on a work call. The local meal prep service delivered fresh, homemade, vegan, gluten and dairy-free meals right to my house, helping me to eat healthier without much effort on my part.
Cost: $200 a month
The cost of achieving balance and building boundaries has totaled around $1,200 a month, which initially felt like a luxurious spend. But I felt like I started thriving since making these changes and, at the end of the day, I viewed this as an investment in myself.