Being self-employed is not easy. Whether it’s the long hours, the search for new clients or the stress of late payment, it can be tough to work for yourself. Self-employment can be financially precarious at the best of times, but the current crisis has made making a living even more difficult.
Of a survey of more than 1,400 highly skilled freelancers by University of Edinburgh Business School researchers, three quarters of them had lost income because of COVID-19, with an average income fall of 76%. Over two-thirds say they now have cash flow problems – and an astonishing 91% said they could not access the government’s self-employment support scheme.
When you are struggling financially, it is tempting to work even harder to make ends meet – which often takes priority over looking after yourself. But it’s now more important than ever to engage in self-care, particularly when many self-employed people are working longer hours at home, isolated from friends and family, and facing additional stress and insecurity.
“Self care can be a challenge when working from home because our boundaries between work and home life become blurred. As a consequence it becomes difficult to know where work life ends and home life begins,” says business psychologist Charlotte Armitage.
“This lack of distinction, can lead to burnout because we don’t know when to switch off, or a complete lack of motivation because we struggle to be productive in an environment which has been inextricably linked with relaxation,” she adds.
Being self-employed is very different to working in a 9-5 role. There’s no clocking in and out and your schedule may be subject to change nearly every day, particularly if you’re working extra jobs or trying to find additional clients to bring in more income in these challenging times.
It can be hard to draw a line between your work and personal life if you are self-employed. Running your own business is often a 24/7 operation with little room for downtime, but it is still essential to switch off from it occasionally. One way to do this is to separate your workplace from your living area to create a physical boundary between the two.
“This doesn’t have to be another room, it could just be a space on a table. Once you start to associate that space with productivity and work, it will be easier to work from home and easier to switch off from work,” Armitage says.
Don’t work from the sofa or your bed; it is bad for your posture and can lead to difficulties with relaxation and sleep respectively. This is because you psychologically start to associate those spaces in the house with being productive which then makes it hard to switch off in that environment.”
Research by Metro Bank has found that more than a million self-employed workers never manage to take a lunch break. Of those who do take a break, over a fifth take 20 minutes or less. It also found self-employed workers feel more pressure to be productive during their breaks, with 13% saying they should be doing something useful compared to seven percent of employees.
It’s hard to drag yourself away from work if you are feeling under pressure, but taking regular time off is essential. In reality, this “work hard” mentality is rarely effective – research from Singapore Management University has shown that taking short breaks can boost your engagement and productivity at work. Getting fresh air and exercise is particularly helpful for maintaining good mental health, too.
When you work for yourself, it’s easy to overlook your achievements when you don’t have a boss to congratulate you. Finishing a project, organising your invoices, clearing your inbox, or gaining new work are all accomplishments worth celebrating, even if going to the pub is currently off the cards. Small wins are also important - and give you that incentive to keep pushing on.
And finally, be kind to yourself. “We are experiencing difficult circumstances right now and everyone will respond in a different way. Don’t compare yourself to others and do what feels right for you,” Armitage says. “Trust what your gut instinct is telling you because that is your subconscious telling you what you need before you become consciously aware of it.”