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The importance of switching off when you work for yourself


I’m about to go on holidays.

The first year I went away as a self employed birth worker, 4 years ago, I noticed for the first time that during my holiday I was still responding to work emails, something I didn’t use to do when I was an employee. I didn’t resent it but I was very conscious of the difference.

As an employee, I used to truly switch off when I was away, and I rarely worked outside of my contracted hours.

Sure, in my pre-parent years whilst working a postdoc and then for a biotech start up I worked very long hours, including weekends and evenings, but chose to do so myself and didn’t resent it. After becoming a parent, I did the odd bit of work in the evenings and at the week end and during holidays, but mostly I went home and did not work, and certainly never worked whilst on holidays.

Since I left science and started working for myself 4 years ago, my business has grown significantly. There is always stuff to do, so in the evenings/at the week end I am rarely switching off. I also interact with a lot more people than I did at the beginning, so there are messages coming from many different sources, like emails, texts, Facebook messages on my personal page, messages on my business page, and comments and questions on my events pages, and so on, which need replying to.

In the digital age with live in, where the boundaries between work and home are somewhat blurred, I might have ended up there anyway if I’d stayed a scientist. It’s difficult to say for sure.

But now I am more conscious than ever of the need to establish firmer boundaries in my life between work and play time, to be more present to my family, and to resist the desire to answer yet one more email or message. The downside of being self employed (the upsides far than make up for it however!)  is that I often have an underlying feeling of guilt when I’m not working (I am conscious of it and working on it).

The other important aspect to consider is that I have chosen a path that involves giving and caring for others-and therefore in order to have something to give, I need to spend time away from that, refilling my own tank and giving to myself, before I am ready to give again to others (I have written a whole post about that earlier this year).

Last summer I was quite shocked to notice how tired I was, because for the first for the first 3 or 4 nights of my hols I slept for nearly 12h each night (a normal night for me is usually between 6 and 7h of sleep).

This time, interestingly, I seem to have gone into that mode before I have even left! I believe this is because I was on call for nearly 4 weeks, attended a birth, then went off call-so my body and mind reacted as if my work was done and they could start to rest. I have gone to bed earlier than normal, slept longer than normal, and I still feel tired. I’m basically crashing.

So what am I going to do during my holidays? I’m going to have for at least part of the time a period with no access to wifi whilst being abroad. I find this a much needed enforcement : it only happens to me a couple of times a year now and every time I’m amazed how much good it does- I find it truly refreshing. I’m going to go to bed earlier and sleep later, I going to have long, social family diners, I’m going to read more books and swim in the sea. Bliss.

And when I’m back I am going to make a firm commitment to have a better work life balance, to dedicate more specific times to work and play, to keep up my self-care routine, and spend more time being still and being fully present.


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  1. Elizabeth on August 16, 2016 at 8:47 am

    As the child of two self employed parents I really know how the inability to switch off from your work eats into a holiday. Rest and replenish Sophie x

  2. Kati edwards on September 29, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I get this totally! I have little idea how to switch off now I’m self employed! I’m checking my phone over dinner with my family in case a client called or an interesting post arrives. More balance must be had!

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