Whether you’re salaried or self-employed, these tips are so important.
In an era where self-employed people can almost always work remotely, be easily pulled into work when they’re supposed to be off, or contacted at any stage of the day or night, the once-clear boundary between work and leisure has inevitably been blurred.
To learn about how to avoid this, we spoke to psychologist, author of Your Precious Life and founder of Moodwatchers, Shane Martin.
For the self-employed, creating that distinction is more difficult, when there is no clear switch-off point and work can often become all-consuming. However, there are a number of practical changes you can make to your daily habits to ensure that you reach your peak potential happiness, both in work and outside it.
1. Make the effort to create a support system
To put it simply, Martin wants to drive home the message that “people need people”. Happiness at work, and life for that matter, is so dependent on our socialising, both inside and outside the workplace.
This is especially true for people who have been self-employed for a number of years or for those who work on a computer, says Martin:
As we grow older, our social circles become smaller and we need more people in our lives. We are social creatures, we have evolved that way and sitting in front of a desk all day and eating in front of your screen doesn’t lend itself to that.
However, socialising can be particularly difficult in a self-employed setting, where Martin sees as an even bigger onus to make the effort with your social life:
“I’m self-employed and the one thing I miss is belonging to a staff and always having news when I arrive home – I can’t talk about the ins and outs of the office, so it’s really important to be social outside of my working environment.”
“We are social creatures and we do need to harbour a sense of team in order not to feel isolated”, reminds Martin, who himself makes the effort to spend time with friends from outside his industry twice a week.
2. Don’t let your work limit your hobbies
“Sometimes holidays don’t do it for us because we are approaching it the wrong way”, says Martin, who references a recent conversation with someone who “couldn’t wait to do nothing for ten days”.
This is what Martin suggests we try to limit or ideally avoid. This is especially important for the self-employed who may feel they have less time to pursue their hobbies when running their own business or constantly trying to generate new clients:
If you like playing music, your guitar should not be in the hot press from 15 years ago. If you like movies you should be going to the cinema not watching them on TV and being interrupted by texts. A lot of people give up a hobby that makes them tick because they become absorbed by their work – they only talk about their work.
Don’t feel like you have a specific hobby that can take you away from the mindset of work? “Even starting something new is a great idea – there are people who are brilliant at things and never get the chance to find out”.
3. Get outside at every opportunity
It’s an obvious one, but you should never underestimate the power of fresh air and exercise for your mental health, says Martin.
In fact, structured daily exercise is being prescribed to fight depression and it’s something Martin believes in wholeheartedly.
Leave your workplace and walk to go buy your lunch – if it takes longer so what? If we were to incorporate more walks into our day we’d live longer and get better sleep.
This is something that is incredibly important for the self-employed, who may not be leaving their workplace, whether that’s their home, shop, car or van during the day.
4. Prepare yourself for change in your industry
There’s a lot of change happening in a number of industries right now for self-employed people, and usually it’s non-negotiable, says Martin.
It’s natural to resist change. However, there are practical things you can do to adjust to changes that come throughout your career, and it’s something you should absolutely invest time in, according to Martin:
Take the help available to you about changes in your professional development. Don’t sit in anger and go home resentful – do something to prepare yourself for it.
5. Plan ‘golden days’
One of the first thing that Martin does when he meets people stressed at work is that he gets them to plan what he calls ‘golden days’, which could be incredibly positive for the self-employed:
It’s sad I have to get them to do this but I say let’s take this Saturday and plan for the best Saturday you’ve had in decades and let’s do the things that you genuinely love doing. Life is never meant to be about just work. It pays the bills but your life outside work is much more important than that.
Whether that’s catching up with your dog, spending the day in a spa or taking a long walk amongst your favourite scenery, Martin reminds that your leisure time requires planning, especially if you’re self-employed.
6. Your sleep is crucial
Have a job that requires you to be ‘always-on’? This is especially true for the self-employed. According to Martin however, that necessity may be in your head:
I would challenge that person to see how true that is. Being a 24-hour person isn’t good for your job, I would question a person who expects someone not to relax or go home and switch off. I don’t know if there is any work that truly requires that.
Think you can catch up later in your life if you’re burning the candle at both ends right now? Sleep is particularly important as you establish your career in your younger years:
As we grow older we need less sleep. A lack of sleep in young people is linked to vulnerability to mental health issues later in life. You don’t need to be a brilliant sleeper, but you do need to get sufficient sleep to recharge your batteries or you’ll run into health issues.
Martin’s ultimate advice on this? “If you’re in a job that really impairs your sleep I would recommend people to think about leaving that job.”
7. Leave your phone down if you’re with loved ones
Unfortunately, hearing that parents regret the time they didn’t get to spend with their kids is something that Martin has encountered so many times from clients that he has taken precautions to ensure he stays fully connected with his own family.
I have counselled so many parents who regret not getting to know them as they grew up – it’s a very hard thing to live with. You can never get back the Christmas play, them reading their essay at the table. We need to make an effort and nearly have to have rules around that. If I’m out for a meal with my family, you won’t be able to contact me. If I’m coming home and they’re on a laptop, that’s so unhealthy.
“I feel like houses have never been closer to each other but we’ve never been further apart” states Martin. Avoiding a disconnect from children and teenagers being engaged with technology is crucial for a healthy family, especially one that involves a self-employed parent:
Children are pressing buttons at home instead of playing outside with other kids, which makes it so easy to turn down invitations. We used to be so social as Irish people but now easier to stay in and watch repeat TV. The greatest friend of depression is solitude which can happen so easily when we’re overly engaged with technology.
If you’re self employed, it is absolutely essential that you try to maintain a healthy work/life balance regardless of what you do for a living, for both our mental and our physical health. Happiness in both work and life involves putting your phone down and re-engaging with pastimes (and people) you love, as Martin shows.