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Achieving work-life balance as a contractor

Christophe Hautier 902vn Yeo Ws4 Unsplash

​Many of us are familiar with the old adage “make hay while the sun shines” and for professional contractors the mantra couldn’t be more applicable.

Contracting comes with an added level of uncertainty that permanent employees don’t usually experience - you never know what’s around the corner so you’ve got to make the most of every opportunity that comes before you. Right?

But how much is too much?

In the continuous quest to make the most of every opportunity it’s easy to over commit. Before you know it you’re tired, you’re stressed and your work-life balance is out the window. Worse case scenario you’re on the road to burnout!

Contracting offers some wonderful lifestyle benefits as well - if you take them. It’s up to you to manage your own workload and maintain that optimal balance as much as possible, to ensure you remain happy, healthy and motivated to tackle each new opportunity.

To help you achieve that all-elusive balance, here are a few tips:

Take breaks

When work is so busy it’s easy to forego breaks during the day, especially when you’re working to a specific deadline for a specific project. Taking a short walk, grabbing a coffee or having lunch away from your desk will help you ‘switch off’ mentally for a while and afterwards you’ll be better refreshed to keep going on the task at hand.

Don’t be afraid to say no

When an urgent deadline is approaching employers often turn to contractors first, assuming they’ll want to the extra hours while they’re there. In many cases, you will want them. But if you have other commitments and can’t do the overtime (and they’re not in your contract) it’s ok to say a considered no and clearly explain your reasons. If you’re contracted through an agency, don’t forget to communicate all additional hours to them too.

Be realistic with clients

If a new client approaches you and you’re already at capacity, be honest and explain why. Offer to touch base when you have the ability to take on extra work - you may find the client is happy to wait to secure your particular skillset, or they may have another project available when you contact them.

Plan for a rainy day

You don’t know what opportunities lie around the corner so play it safe and plan for a rainy day. Put some extra money aside when you are working more to ensure you can still pay the bills if there is a lull between contracts down the track.

Get enough rest between shifts

If you’re burning the midnight oil as an important deadline nears, be sure to take enough time to rest between shifts. It’s ok to work long days for short periods but when the hours become extreme for lengthy periods and you’re not getting enough rest, it can become dangerous for your personal health and you’ll be less productive for the client as well. Talk to your manager and agree on suitable rest times between such shifts.

Take holidays

Everyone deserves holidays. And, more importantly, everyone needs them too. You’ll feel more energised and motivated, and when you return to work you’ll be in a better headspace to tackle your new contract. If you’ve been offered a new contract immediately following your existing one, build a few days break into the equation when confirming your availability.

Acknowledge illness

When you’re feeling unwell, don’t be afraid to take the day off. Yes, you’ll lose a day’s income but by taking the rest when you need it, you’ll be more productive when you do return to work. And if your client is flexible, they’ll likely welcome you making the time up in the evenings or over a weekend.

We hope these tips help and your ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance improves as a result. Let us know if you have any other tips you’d like to share with your fellow contractors too!