Billy’s Quick Tips to make contracting easy!

How to achieve a Work – Life Balance as a contractor

Achieving a good work-life balance has become a universal aspiration; a kind of Holy Grail that once found will find us happy and fulfilled, but what is a good work-life balance? A 2017 study by LinkedIn found that more than 4 million members across 38 countries who self-identified as contractors said that flexibility and the opportunity to prioritise what was important to them, were the primary reasons that had led them into contracting work. While it’s true that contracting can offer greater control over how and when you work, this doesn’t automatically lead to a balanced lifestyle. Isolation and the stress of finding contracts and managing your own workload are daily risks that must be managed in order to maintain a viable contracting career. Umbrella Exchange’s Billy takes a timely look and gives a few tips on how to achieve a productive balance between your personal and professional life, and how the definition of a work-life balance is changing.

Find the right contracting model for you

As a contractor, it’s important to remember that the first step towards achieving a good work-life balance is to make contracting work for you. Contracting isn’t just a ‘one size fits everyone’ career, and there are many options based on your level of experience and the aspects of your career that you want to prioritise. For example, for contractors operating through their own limited company, a recruitment agency can help with finding consistent work, while contracting through an umbrella company can take a lot of the stress out of getting paid on time. Being aware of the professional services that exist to help support contractors can dramatically reduce the amount of time spent searching for jobs or completing paperwork, which means there’s more time to spend on the things that are important to you; whether that’s family life or developing your career through training opportunities.

Communication is key

Research shows that people are happiest both personally and professionally when they feel that they’re understood, and communication is key to that understanding. It’s crucial that contractors are able to ask for what they need in order to achieve a healthy work-life balance, and in order to do this they must maintain open lines of communication with various groups of people, such as:

  • Recruitment agencies: Contractors need to ensure that their recruitment agencies are kept up to date, which means regularly feeding back to the agency after assignments and informing them of any training that they’ve completed or opportunities they might be looking for. For example, a contractor might be willing to take a lower paying contract in order to gain experience in a certain area in order to develop particular skills on the job. Keeping your recruitment agency informed will help them to make the right recommendations for you and your career development.


  • Clients: Whether the contractor communicates with the client directly or via their agency, it’s important that all the parties are open about their requirements. During negotiations, the contractor should feel able to reasonably request anything that they feel is necessary in order to complete the project, while also clarifying their rights of control over their working practice. Factors such as IR35 mean that open communication is now in everyone’s interest.


  • Colleagues: Although contractors are independent agents, they must frequently work alongside different groups of people, while often taking the lead on key decisions. This calls for a flexible and intuitive communication style that allows you to identify people’s key strengths in order to effectively deploy your resources.


  • Family and friends: Contracting can be stressful and can also mean periods of time spent away from home. Maintaining open lines of communication with your family and friends is particularly crucial if you’re feeling stressed or isolated. Talking things through with someone will help them to understand how they can support you and can lessen your feelings of stress, isolation and estrangement. Taking time to stay in contact with your support network while you’re working on a contract can also help to keep any work-related issues in perspective.

Time management and the ‘work-life merge’

These days, time management is less about sticking to rigid schedules and more about developing flexible working patterns that take into account your overall work-life commitments. Welcome to the world of the work-life merge, the term recently coined by Facebook executive Emily White to describe a life in which work and free time are no longer neatly compartmentalised but seamlessly integrated.

The work-life merge means that rather than achieving balance through separation, it’s achieved through making day-to-day decisions based on a complete picture of your commitments on and off the job. This can be a particularly effective model for contractors who are often seeking flexibility and the ability to prioritise aspects of their personal and professional lives as they see fit.

Moving your personal and professional goal posts closer together means that you’re more likely to focus on achievements rather than unrealistic ideas of perfectionism. It can also increase your likelihood of finding work that reflects your personal values and interests, increasing your overall satisfaction. If the work-life merge strikes you as a messy recipe for disaster, then handy apps such as Clear, Wunderlist and Google Now can help with organising your life and keeping you on track.

Taking time out to recharge, replenish and rebalance

Like most freelancers, contractors work without many of the benefits and support structures of permanent employees, that’s why it’s important to prioritise your physical and mental health by taking regular time out. One of the problems with the increasing overlap between our private and professional lives is that we never fully ‘switch off’ from work. While technology has helped productivity in many ways, it has also created demands of constant accessibility. Contractors tend to work intensively to complete a project, often working at irregular hours and locations. It’s essential that contractors balance the flexibility that technology affords them with the ability to unplug and recharge. Whether it’s socialising with friends, spending time with family, taking a holiday or joining a gym, your downtime should energise and build your resilience levels.

In 2016, productivity expert Scott Barry Kaufman’s study revealed that 72% of people get creative ideas when they’re in the shower, which indicates a direct link between relaxation and creativity, while it’s well known that exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the brain. Taking regular time out to replenish your mind and body often means that you’re able to work with greater productivity, and accomplish more in less time. Contractors should never underestimate the benefits of exercise, nutrition and sufficient sleep in helping to strengthen their coping mechanisms and in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

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