I’m going to start out by saying I’m not here to tell you that this is definitely the right way to get a good work/life balance. However this is the way that I (try to) do it so I wanted to share it with you – who knows, hopefully I can help someone! It’s what works for me at this moment in time and enables me to switch off when I need to and not being all-consumed by my work.
It’s really difficult being a freelance photographer. Right I’ve said it. We all know it. We all love it, but lets face it, it can be tough as hell sometimes. I can only imagine it’s exactly the same for people in other areas of the wedding industry. We love our jobs so we spend most of the time on our own sat in front of a computer…at any time of day or night. As business owners we often need to work for long hours over the weekend and still be expected to be sat at our computers at 9am on a Monday morning to answer emails.
I know most of us could spend a whole 24 hours at our computer editing images (if your’re a photographer like me), being on Twitter, reading blogs etc. We also wouldn’t think twice about leaving for a wedding on Saturday morning at 08.30am and not getting back until 01.30am the next morning. That’s what being your own boss does to you. You don’t mind putting in the long hours, because you love what you do…and let’s face it, it sure beats working in an office!
Being freelance or owning your own business is a 24 hour profession. I know I’ve spent many a sleepless night thinking about work – planning the next shoot or making lists in my head about what needs to be done. It’s very very difficult to switch off sometimes isn’t it?
But switch off we must…
However in saying all this, we do really need to allow ourselves time to switch off. It sounds obvious saying it out loud but how many of us and really say we do it enough? It can’t be a good thing to have your whole life consumed by work. At some point you may crash and burn, turn your back on the job you love because of the stress, or even worse let it affect your relationships.
So what can you do? Well I think the best thing is to find a way that works for you. You should set some boundaries in your work to make this an easier thing to do and monitor. Some examples could be:
To work a set amount of hours a week
To reassess how accessible you are to clients
To get out of the office a couple of times a week
To delegate some of your workload
To do some physical exercise
To find a hobby/activity where you can really forget about work
However what you must do is something, anything that’s not all about the job!
Kids and family
I’d like to tell you a bit about my situation so you can hopefully see where I’m coming from. I’m a married Father of two beautiful kids (ages 1 and 2). As you can imagine, we have our hands-full at home but for me, it is really really important to spend time with my family.
To that extent working from home is a godsend. I don’t have to leave to go to work at 8am and get back at 6pm missing most of my kids waking day. I make it a point of us having lunch as a family. I also pop out of my office a few times a day and make sure I say ‘Hi’ to the kids, give them hugs and see what they are up to. I may not be spending a long time with them during the day, but little and often goes a long way.
It’s really important to make sure you don’t miss your kids growing up. It happens so fast and I know so many people who have regretted working so hard that they didn’t take the time to enjoy their kid’s childhood. Make the most of holidays with your kids when you can. I know one photographer who takes November off, no matter what, and always goes on holiday with their family then. Another I know tries to have two family holidays a year – one before the main wedding season kicks off and one when it quietens down again.
I know it’s going to get really tough when my kids start school and are away during the week and I’m working weekends shooting weddings. There is going to be even less time to see them then so I need to think about the best way to manage that. But my priority is always to make sure that family comes first.
For me, it’s very important to have a separate working space. I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated office at home where I can shut and lock the door should I need to. It’s great having the kids pop in now and again, but there are some times you need to knuckle down and get on with things – otherwise I’d never get anything done! Sometimes it can be easy to think ‘Oh I’m doing too much work, I need to take a break’ and then letting things slide too much.
Before we built the office, I used to work in the spare room, but in time I realised it was important for me to be able to shut the door on my work and leave it there. I know I need space from my work and if my office was in an area that wasn’t solely dedicated to work (like to corner of the lounge for example), I wouldn’t be able to switch off. My computer would always be there, teasing me to go back to work. I’m lucky enough to have space at home, but if I didn’t I might look into getting a desk in a shared office or renting an office space for myself. It’s all about boundaries and not letting your work encroach in on your life too much. I think having a separate work and living space is imperative to achieving this.
(full wedding here)
Talking of separate spaces, lets look at the concept of time – i.e the amount of time you spend working. I’ve always made it a point of trying my best to work roughly 9am to 5pm during the week. I’ll make myself get up and go into the office at around 8.30am, work through the day and leave around 5.30om. I’ve never been one of these people who will still be working until 2am (of course there has been the odd time, but that is generally the exception and only when it really needs be).
For me, switching off around 5.30pm is really important. I really do feel like the evenings are my time and the stresses from the day are lifted. It may be a bit extreme, but I’ll try and lay off the social networks as well. I may tweet the odd thing that I see online in the evening, but I’ll really try and switch off from all aspects of work. This is because I want a clear definition in my work/life balance. I don’t want to be trying to switch off, but still carrying on with one aspect. It’s all or nothing with me.
I asked some other wedding photographers what works for them and one of them told me this: ’24 hours splits nicely into; 8 for sleeping, 8 for working, and 8 for playing. Put equal effort into each.’ I think this is a great way to think about it!
The same thing applies to the weekends (when I’m not shooting wedding). If I’m not working, I’ll just be focused on relaxing and spending time with friends and family, rather than checking twitter/facebook every second. However if I am working – say I have an engagement shoot one a Saturday afternoon – I’ll work in the office in the morning, as I see that day as a workday. Then maybe I’ll give myself a weekday off to compensate. Seriously, the world isn’t going to end if I’m not chained to my computer every single day! After all didn’t we get into working for ourselves to have a better quality of life not a more stressful/ work heavy one?
(full shoot here)
Another thing that’s been really important to me is to meet with other wedding photographers to talk about our work. We may not work in an office any more, but we still need to socialise and sometimes even moan about our job to someone and get things off our chests! I don’t think it’s a good idea to moan on twitter or online for anyone to see. However, I think it’s ok to chat to someone who knows what you are going though and can sympathise. Think of it as freelancers therapy. It’s really really important to have a network of industry friends that you can meet with now and again or call them up for advice or to let off steam etc.
I love my job!
Don’t get me wrong, in many ways this article could read like I don’t like my job and I’ll do anything to avoid it. However that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I love what I do. I love being responsible for supporting my family and ‘bringing home the bacon’. I love meeting new clients and spending one of the happiest day’s of their lives with them. I love being creative and earning a living though my passion. I love my fellow photographers, I love seeing their work and I love finding out about their lives. I love hearing how people enjoy my photography and how much it means to them.
However I do think that because I can switch off from it all sometimes it makes me so much more passionate about it and that it doesn’t seem like work or a chore.
Adam Bronkhorst of Viva Wedding Photography is a wedding photographer based in Brighton, UK. He shoots weddings, teaches flash photography workshops for other wedding photographers and has published books on photography. He also likes to relax with his family, enjoys movies, eating out, hanging out with friends and generally switching off from the work that he loves.
All Photography Credit: Viva Wedding Photography