As mental health professionals, we all know how important it is to find a healthy work-life balance. But it’s easier said than done, especially when you run a business and have to set your own boundaries. So, how can you create a healthy work-life balance as an online therapist?
First of all, if you find this challenging, you should know you’re not the only mental health professional who struggles with this. Despite all our background and training, it can be challenging to stop your work from seeping into your free time, especially when emails keep coming in and it’s hard to switch off.
So, how can you separate your work responsibilities from your free time? Here are our tips for therapist entrepreneurs who work online from home or on the road.
#1: Separate Yourself From Your Business
Firstly, try not to let your identity get too wrapped up in your business. When you’re starting or growing a business, it can be easy to get caught up in it and find that it slowly takes over all aspects of your life. When you’re the boss, it’s trickier to set boundaries, but it’s also even more important to do so for this reason!
So, make sure that you have clear work hours and keep to them. As a business owner, there’s always one more thing you could be doing, and you’ll probably never get to the bottom of your to-do list. But you also need to know when to switch off and take a break.
Beyond that, don’t base all your identity around being a therapist and an entrepreneur. Make time for hobbies or interests outside of your work that give you enjoyment and a sense of achievement. Make sure to explore the other parts of your identity, too, such as being a romantic partner, a parent, a friend, or a sibling. Set some time aside to step out of the work zone for a while to connect with those around you and remember your why for building your business.
All businesses will naturally have ups and downs and will be more successful at times than others. But when we get too closely entwined in our businesses, it can feel like we ourselves have failed if we go through a challenging time for our business. Maintaining a healthy attitude towards your work and finding fulfillment outside of your business can provide a buffer against that happening.
#2: Have a Dedicated Workspace
One of the easiest ways to create a healthy work-life balance is by having a dedicated workspace. Then, you can set a clear boundary between your work time and free time – and once you step away from your workspace, there’s no temptation to send just one more email.
Ideally, your workspace shouldn’t be in your bedroom or living room unless you’re short on space. So if possible, have a separate room where you can work – e.g., your office or even a spare bedroom. Then, you can more easily switch off from work when you’ve finished for the day.
If you live in a small space like a camper van or travel a lot like our co-founder Sonia Jaeger, who is a digital nomad therapist, you may need to be more flexible with your workspace. Another way to differentiate between work and free time is by having little rituals for the start and end of the day.
For example, you might like to spend five minutes stretching each day before you start work, and you could mark the end of your day by switching off your laptop completely and putting it away. These habits help to tell your brain and body when you’re in work mode and when you can relax.
#3: Set Clear Boundaries
Another crucial step is to set clear boundaries – both for yourself and your clients. For example, you should establish your working hours early on with clients and let them know how quickly you respond to emails.
One smart way to do this is to have this information in your email signature or set up an autoresponder on your days off. Your clients should know how and when they can contact you and when you’re unavailable. Don’t forget to ensure they know of any vacations you’ll take, too!
But perhaps even more importantly, you’ll need to set boundaries for yourself, too.
That might be switching your laptop off at the end of the day so you don’t feel tempted to check your emails in the evening. Or it could be removing applications and turning off notifications when you’re on holiday so you get a proper digital detox. The firmer you are with your boundaries, the more others will respect them, too.
#4: Track Your Time
A time-tracking tool is helpful for keeping an eye on how much time you spend in your business. You can use a free tool like Toggl to track how much time you spend working. It even breaks it down into different areas of your business so you can see what takes up most of your time.
Not only will this make you more aware of how much time you spend working on your business, but it can bring your attention to areas where you could streamline tasks and increase your efficacy. You might even decide it’s more cost-effective to outsource certain tasks than do it yourself.
Another productivity trick is to use a Pomodoro timer during your workday; we also use these during our virtual coworking sessions in the LIT Community (which are also great for holding each other accountable and getting more done!).
All you need to do is set the timer for your desired length – we recommend 25 minutes for shorter admin tasks and 45 minutes for more involved projects like blog writing. Then, the timer will ring when your work session is up, and you can take a short break. This method allows you to see exactly how much time you spend on different tasks and helps you to stay focused, be more intentional, and get more done in less time.
#5: Delegate and Outsource
As mentioned above, you might decide that you’d like to get some outside help in your business – and that’s okay. There are many ways to do this, such as:
- Hiring a virtual assistant or a digital business manager
- Working with an agency that will outsource your tasks for you
- Working with freelancing specialists – e.g., a web developer or a social media manager
Just because you’re the business owner, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything yourself within your business. You might find that trying to do everything is counter-productive, as you’ll have less time to do the work only you can do – seeing and supporting your clients.
Instead, start by outsourcing some of the tasks you like least or aren’t specialised in so that you can focus on what you do best – your zone of expertise. Read our blog post here for more tips on how to get started with outsourcing.
#6: Make Time for Self-Care
As mental health professionals, we all know the importance of self-care and how crucial it is for your work-life balance and overall wellbeing. But even so, it’s not always so easy to make time for it ourselves, especially when we’re holding all the responsibility for keeping our businesses running.
At the same time, that makes it all the more crucial to take care of ourselves. That might look like taking a bubble bath or reading a good book, or it might be ensuring you get enough sleep, exercise, and good nutrition. Or you might be craving connection and time to socialise and connect with your friends and family.
Either way, make sure you’re listening to yourself and checking in with what you need. Running a business brings unique challenges, so don’t forget to take care of yourself. One way we do this in the LIT Community is by setting aside an hour each month to meet and do a self-care practice together, whether that’s a visualisation, journaling, yoga, or something else.
Having a scheduled time to meet with colleagues provides more accountability, so we’re less likely to skip it – especially when we need self-care most!
#7: Plan Your Time Off in Advance
Another thing we recommend is planning out your vacations and time off far in advance. At the beginning of the year, grab your calendar and think about how much time you’d like to take off throughout the year to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Consider public holidays, vacations, and other things to factor in, such as the school holidays if you have children.
Then, block your vacations and time off in your calendar so you don’t forget about them. Taking this proactive approach will ensure that you take enough time off throughout the year so you don’t get exhausted. Otherwise, it’s easy for your calendar to fill up with work commitments and suddenly, you’ll realise you’ve not taken any time off for months and you’re feeling burned out.
The next step is to let your clients know well in advance so you can set their expectations. Don’t forget to set up an autoresponder during your vacations so you don’t need to worry about checking your emails. This way, you can turn off your notifications, delete apps, and have a proper digital detox to allow you to destress and recharge.
And when you’re back from your time off, allow yourself some extra time to ease back into your work routine. Give yourself a day to catch up with admin and emails before you start seeing clients again. This way, you’ll be able to deal with the backlog without getting stressed out immediately.
#8: Set Yourself Goals and Check in on them
Finally, we’re a big fan of setting goals in the LIT Community – we have an annual goal-setting session at the beginning of the year, as well as monthly events to check in on how we’re doing and what progress we’re making.
The reason for setting goals is that it allows you to track what’s working well and not so well in your business. But the key is to be flexible and adaptable with your goals. So, when you review your progress, if you’ve not achieved all of them, don’t get critical of yourself. Instead, get curious!
Did you set your expectations too high? Give yourself unrealistic goals to meet? Or maybe you need to tweak how you’re doing something in your business. We can learn a lot, or even more, from our failures than from our successes. Reviewing our goals and progress can help us to see when we’re pushing ourselves too hard or too fast, so we can readjust to get a better work-life balance.
This process of setting goals and reflecting on your progress – and tweaking them where necessary – will keep you moving in the right direction. It will encourage you to celebrate any goals you hit and take stock of your achievements, both big and small. Plus, it reconnects you with your business vision and your ‘why’ for running your business so you can feel motivated to keep going.
Work-Life Balance as an Online Therapist: The Wrap Up
It’s not always easy to create a healthy work-life balance as an online therapist and entrepreneur. We hope these tips will help you get the balance right so you can grow your business without burning out.
If you’d like more support on your journey as an online therapist, the LIT Community could be just what you need. You can connect with other like-minded mental health professionals around the world, learn from each other, get valuable insights into running an online practice, and access all our events and resources inside the community. Find out more and sign up for our waitlist here to be the first to hear when we’ll next open the doors!