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If you’re thinking about going self-employed, your work-life balance is probably the next biggest incentive after income. But what does that actually mean for a contractor in reality?

Well, in essence, you decide what it means. You set the balance of how and when you spend your time on all the different things you have to, want to or need to do.

Don’t want to work Fridays? Then don’t work Fridays. Want to work at night in your pyjamas and spend days indulging your passion for antiquing? Trickier, but still doable.

Some aspects of your working week might become a little more complex – for instance you may find you need to travel more as a contractor. But – hey presto – you can redress the balance with longer holidays or – the holy grail – unplanned days off.

A good work-life balance is well-known to be a key ingredient to good mental health, which is why it’s such a compelling reason to ditch the day job. But the axis on which work and life are balanced hinges on your ability to be spontaneous. If a day’s work vanishes at the last moment – along with your fee – you need to be ready to make the most of it.

Hopefully something else will neatly fill the slot, but time trickles away easily if you’re not organised. A little light internet browsing before getting on with those admin jobs can easily turn into a wasted morning. Being your own boss means cracking the whip sometimes.

The flipside is that when you do take time off, you need to actually stop working. It’s no good taking a break but constantly checking emails on your phone. You won’t feel like you’ve had a rest at all. Being a contractor very often requires you to be in a state of constant readiness and switching off is easier said than done. Taking a laptop on holiday with you opens up the temptation to tip the balance away from life back towards work, and that’s no good for you or the people you go away with.

Which brings us on to dependants. Those living things that require both your money and your attention on an ongoing basis.

Pets are great when you’re self-employed. You can arrange your hours around walking a dog, or even take them into the office with you if they are a very relaxed kind of place. Cats make home-working less lonely too (as long as they don’t walk across your keyboard and send nonsense emails to your contact list).

But if you have, or intend to have, a young family, you’re about to encounter the mother of all these work-life balance issues. Being able to manage your own paternity or maternity leave, flex your childcare and holidays, and just generally be around to soak up as much as possible of that magical time is – without a doubt – priceless. You can never get that time back, so it’s worth making the most of it. Trying to work from a home office with a baby in the house on four hours sleep requires a certain kind of mental strength, not to mention some fairly understanding clients, but then again you can always schedule in a nap. You’re the boss.

Life and work are different for everybody, so the exact balance you find week by week will probably fluctuate. If you get to decide what ‘balanced’ means, then you’re winning at life, I reckon.

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