I once got this advice from a wise old farmer: “The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.”
His advice sounded simple and folksy at first, but I think about it all the time… and it’s anything but simple. Not keeping “the main thing the main thing” has toppled countries, lost wars, and wrecked marriages.
As a freelance copywriter, you probably feel the constant push and pull of competing priorities. You have all of the freedom in the world to set your own hours and determine how to scale your business, but that freedom can also present extra challenges when it comes to keeping the “main things” in your life at the top of your priority list.
The big dilemma here is that what’s urgent in life isn’t necessarily important… and what’s important isn’t necessarily urgent. You could live your whole life freaking out about client demands only to discover you’ve shorted other priorities in the process just because they didn’t have a pressing deadline.
Here are some things I’ve learned about keeping “the main thing the main thing” with so many demands competing for my time.
1. Decide what’s non-negotiable. In chess, every piece is negotiable but the king. You guard that one at all costs. Take the time to decide what’s non-negotiable in your life. Write it down. Maybe it’s going on a date with your spouse every weekend, attending church on Sundays, or working out every morning. If you don’t build in those hard stops to protect the big things in your life, you’ll soon find yourself being swept away by a thousand little things.
2. Make tactical changes. Many people need the constructs of an office job to keep them motivated, but if you’ve decided to become a freelance marketing copywriter, you’re tapping into internal ambition. You’ve probably experienced times where that ambition takes on a life of its own, and it’s really difficult to pull yourself back from it. If you’re feeling that, consider building in some tactical steps to keep your life in balance.
A few months ago, I interviewed Vince Del Monte on my “Road to a Billion” podcast. Vince is an insanely motivated entrepreneur. He has built a fitness empire that has consistently generated over $1 million a year for over a decade. He’s also a devoted family man. One of his secrets is putting his phone in a lockbox during family time to keep him from responding like an automaton to texts and buzzes. He knows his weaknesses, and he takes practical steps to compensate for them.
Your tactical change may be turning off certain phone notifications. It may be placing your alarm clock across the room so that you can get yourself out of bed and get your morning workout in before your workday starts. It may be removing apps from your phone that tend to distract you or lining up a standing babysitter every Saturday night so it’s easy to get out of the house for a date night with your spouse. These practical steps can help keep you on track.
3. Start small. Change takes time. If you’re not where you want to be with your priorities, don’t expect to do a 180° switch over night. If you need a vacation but long trips away from work stress you out, plan a short weekend getaway. If you haven’t been exercising, start with a walk around the neighborhood and work up from there. If you need to spend more time with your kids, set aside 15 minutes per day. Setting your sights too high can backfire so make incremental changes and congratulate yourself for the small wins.
4. Evaluate your time regularly. Sometimes we get locked into certain commitments or processes and think there’s no other way. Get in the habit of asking yourself if the time-takers in your life could be eliminated or simplified.
Is there a client who demands too much and pays too little? Think about raising your rates or dropping them. Is your freelance copywriting business getting too busy? Consider bringing another writer on staff to share the load. Are you writing slower than you’d like? Sign up for my RMBC online copywriting course, which teaches you how to write better sales copy, faster.
In addition to streamlining your professional life, make your personal life more efficient, too. Consider taking steps like ordering groceries for delivery, subscribing to a meal planning service, or hiring out housekeeping responsibilities. If you’re spending too much time on any one task, look for a better way.
5. Acknowledge the “polarity.” You know what it feels like to come off of a brutal work week (or month). You may have looked back at how your life got out of balance and said, “I’m not doing that again.” But let’s face it, you will!
It’s important to look at work-life balance as a polarity to be managed—not a problem to be solved. A polarity is a condition that exhibits opposite powers in opposite directions. There will always be friction as you try to balance priorities, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong.
Sometimes work will demand more of your time, and you’ll have less time to spend with family. Sometimes family will demand a little more, and you’ll have less time for work. Don’t get discouraged if things aren’t in perfect balance. You’ll never solve it, but you can get better at managing it.
You likely got into this business because you wanted the freedom to set your own priorities so make sure that you’re doing what it takes to give the “main things” in your life your very best.