Not having a traditional career can be difficult on your romantic relationships, especially if you run your own business. Sure it’s great to have the flexibility of movie hopping with a friend on a Wednesday afternoon but generally speaking, your work hours aren’t confined to a predictable 9am – 5pm window. As a writer, my deadlines often fall on Monday mornings. That means a weekend full of cramming, editing, and revising. Guess what that means to the girlfriend who’s been working sixty hours in a stifling office Monday through Friday and wants to take a relaxing trip somewhere? “Sorry, gotta work. Have fun.”
Being self employed also means constantly checking your phone or email. Nothing cuts an evening short faster than a panicked email from a client demanding immediate updates or changes. A rain check once in awhile is fine but a series of them will start to get annoying really quick. The trade off of escaping traditional job hours is never being able to leave work back at the office. There’s always a running mental tally of things due tomorrow, things due next week, and things due yesterday. Everyone takes work home once in awhile but when the work trails you around like a cloud, that can be difficult and put stress on your relationship.
The situation is exacerbated if your work schedule is drastically different than your significant other’s. While I feel most productive during the witching hours, a girlfriend might need to sleep by midnight in order to wake up early for her long commute to work. At midnight, I’m barely getting my work day started. Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially inspired (or pressed by a deadline), I’ll be headed to bed as dawn breaks and the rest of the world is getting up and yawning on their way to the office. If you thought Shrek and Fiona had it rough with her late night transformation into an ogre, try maintaining a relationship when your interactions can sometimes be distilled down to a simultaneous “good night” and “good morning.”
What’s a solution? Well, for one, it helps to clearly define working hours versus quality time spent with your partner. While it can be hard to predict when emergencies might crop up, it should be within the realm of possibility to say something like, “I have to do some work tonight, but I’ll keep the phone and computer away for a couple of hours so we can eat and watch a movie. But then I have to get back to work.” Setting clear expectations beforehand can be a wonder, and help release you from the guilt of always being interrupted. It also helps to mentally put work aside for that period of time. You may be stressed about something the client needs tomorrow morning but relax, have confidence that you can finish it and still take a few hours out for a quality time dinner. Sometimes it even helps the mind focus better on work after there’s been some downtime.
It’s never easy balancing disparate schedules, even two traditional ones, so it really takes some forethought and consideration to clearly mark out “us time” when schedules don’t match up. What sorts of issues have you had to face in your relationships with a non-traditional working schedule? And what are some of the things that have helped alleviate any strains caused by that?
Mark Powers says
Great topic to write on, Jon! As a full-time (and then some) musician and regular traveler, I agree that it is super difficult to give relationships the precious time they need. How about I keep working on that one and get back to you? . . .
I’ll await your revelations and answers, I’ll need it!
Maren Kate says
Appreciate it 🙂 this one spoke right to me – its hard when you aren’t the same as everyone else, especially schedule wise on relationships. Good advice 🙂
Lori Fagerholm says
Fantastic post. I’m facing this challenge, and your advice, and the advice in the comments, is much appreciated! I might add: work together, when it’s practical to do so. Co-telecommuting (I think I just coined a phrase) works for me, and I also like to meet other freelancing friends to work side by side at cafes. I get a hit of community, and it helps keep me from procrastinating when I see the others working diligently away!
“Co-telecommuting”would be a dream! You may need to urban dictionary define that asap. We’ve been doing a few cafe times to work side by side, but it takes heavy discipline to not lean over and say “so, hey, what’re you doing?” and then get lost in conversation and hang out time. Then again, that’s part of the fun of having people around too I guess. Thanks for commenting!
Kaye Porter says
I -love- “Co-telecommuting!”
Twice a week I work at a collaborative work-space here in Los Angeles. I think I would quickly stagnate if I didn’t have that resource. It has the benefits of community, and a work environment. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten stuck on something, and bounced upstairs to talk with my friend Sheila, or into the warehouse to run an idea by my friend Dena.
It’s great because we all know each others businesses, but aren’t in the same business. We can look at each others copy, or blogs, or strategies..
Doniree Walker says
I have SO been there. And you’re right – you have to clearly define those working hours vs. “social” hours or “quality time,” and that’s still tough because for me – I’m MOST productive in the late morning, and then the evening, say, right after dinner. I get a creative streak then and I can turn out some work and focus more than I could during the “normal” working hours.
Defining your own work schedule has its perks, but it’s certainly got its challenges also. Great post, and it’s nice to know that other self-employed, contractor-types get that too.
Richard @ WpSplitTester says
I have struggled in the past with this problem. For example it can be difficult to explain that just because I am sitting around infront of the computer rather than out working at a “normal” job I am still actually “working”. Many people see me sitting there in my shorts and assume I’m just “messing about”.
Luckily I have found over the last year or two that I have become more and more of an early riser and that I feel most inspired and energetic early in the day. I have also switched from more service-related businesses to product sales and affiliate sales which tend to be less time-sensitive business models than dealing with clients. Lastly, I really only like to work a few hours at a time or I start to stagnate.
Oh, and I have helped my girlfriend to start her own online business so she understands more about what I do and she earns some “play money” from her efforts.
All this means that I am typically up and online by 6-7am, full of energy. Then by 10am or so, I’m getting on for done. I’ve got some articles written, links built, emails responded to, Twitter updated and I’m in the mood for a break.
So I’ll take some time off before a final check late afternoon and then have the evenings almost totally free.
It doesn’t *always* work like this but I find these early morning, high-productivity bouts work well for me.
You make great point (as I write this while wearing my shorts and PJs all day): “it can be difficult to explain that just because I am sitting around in front of the computer rather than out working at a “normal” job I am still actually “working”.
I’ve definitely tried being an early riser and productive in the mornings but I’ve struggled with it. I’m just much more comfortable at night and need to figure out how to at least occasionally get on a normal person schedule. Any tips?
Kaye Porter says
They talk about this (sleep/waking) particular pattern in the book “Brain Rules” by John Medina. Some people just have different hours that they’re really productive.
I’ve been working on this one with my boyfriend. I work for myself (just got our of my own jammies) and he has a 9-5 designing toys for Mattel. On the up side, he spent years running his own special effects company, so understands the crazy hours an entrepreneur can run. But we also have pretty solid agreements, making time to eat together, Sunday mornings in bed together. One of the thing I do is when he gets home, I pause what I’m doing, kiss him hello, ask him about his day, and we have dinner together. If I need to get back to work, I let him know ahead of time, and let him know about how long I’m going to be.
It’s helped, so that he doesn’t feel like he’s just an afterthought to my business.
Sid Savara says
I think the key here is this: “clearly define working hours versus quality time spent with your partner”
Another thing I would keep in mind is a lot of us who get into freelancing, our own businesses, etc need to draw the line between what is work and what is personal. That means having separate email addresses and phone numbers – so that after hours, you leave the “work” environment behind, including turning off the phone (or using GVoice to send it to voice mail after hours)
May not be possible for everyone depending on their situation, but having a separate computer for work and another for play also helps keep the two separate =)
Having separate computers, could you explain the magic of that (I love it on principle)? Is it simply because you can physically separate “work time” versus “play time” or is it so other people can too?
Adventure-Some Matthew says
I definitely agree with the importance of setting up defined boundaries! My wife and I struggle with our school/work schedules: it’s hard to find time for each other. So we make sure to eat together every day. We also set aside time to spend together, in-between work or homework.
Your example of night-owl/9-5er would work out well if it was on purpose. He goes to bed as she leaves for work. He can sleep for 8 hours, and be up and ready to spend time with her when she gets home. Then when she heads to bed, he can head to work.
This would allow everyone to get a full day’s work in, a full night’s sleep in, and have a good amount of time to spend together in-between.
Yeah, it’s easy for forget to set aside some time for even a simple dinner or something. An hour, thirty minutes, it can all make a difference right?