In the past couple of years, many public relations pros have started their own businesses, sometimes fulfilling a long-dreamed fantasy and sometimes in response to a work-life change. There’s no doubt that we solo PR types have more flexibility than our corporate and agency colleagues, but the shift brings its own set of challenges to the work-life balance we all need.
Here are five tips to help you stay sane — especially if you’re solo.
- If you work at home, be sure you have place to work. My commute is usually a few steps, a marked change from when I drove 51 miles each way every day. My foot-driven, brief voyage down the hall is very helpful for avoiding travel stress, and I have a dedicated space that is all my own for work. The extra bedroom, the basement, the attic or just a nook under the stairs can make the difference between insanity and indispensible. Note: The dining room table isn’t going to cut it. You need a space if you only occasionally work at home, too. Here are some ideas from This Old House.
- Connect with people in person. Making lunch/coffee/cocktails plans with colleagues as well as client prospects sands off the isolation edges and helps me feel more centered and cared for. I also have an arrangement with an agency downtown to use an office there from time to time. It’s great when I have in-town meetings, and it puts me in the midst of a busy office full of smart, talented colleagues. It’s great.
- Have a disciplined work day. There’s no boss to report to every day, and aside from the days I teach at Kent State University, no real schedule to keep that’s outside of my control. I start my office day at 9 a.m. EDT, and on stay-home days, work until 6:30 or 7 p.m. The fungible schedule is great, but if I don’t put myself on a leash, I’ll get distracted, which leads to things that don’t get done, which leads to stress.
- Use a time management system. I used to rely heavily on a Franklin Planner, especially the task list with the daily priorities review. I did merger communications for a while, and there were way too many assignments and deadlines to keep in my head. But more important, thinking strategically about what needed to be done and when made it way less stressful. Having a process to follow helps document your day so you can tell whether you’re spending time on the right things. I often will commit an hour to Twitter activities, an hour to reading, half-hour to commenting on blogs, etc. When I’ve been the most disciplined, I’ve been the most successful. Here’s a useful comparison of the most popular time management tools.
- Be realistic about social media. I could spend literally all day reading, following, commenting, etc., but that doesn’t help me with my business development objectives. Currently, I’m more about expanding my personal network than “selling,” but the process is the same. I need to reach out to people and talk with them. Social is fun and has helped expand the network, but there’s something about hearing a voice in a one-on-one conversation that’s thrilling and unique.
Much of my time, indeed, is spent working. But I don’t feel a sense of being burdened, and my stress load is manageable, in part because of these five guidelines.
What would you add to this list? And, if you’re NOT solo, how do you push back stress and stay healthy?
Sean Williams, owner of Communication AMMO, a strategic communication consultancy focused on measurement and evaluation, internal communication, and planning, is also an adjunct professor at Kent State University, teaching public relations. He’s the moderator of #icchat, the Twitter-based biweekly discussion on internal communications. Sean is a member of PRSA Cleveland and the PRSA Work-Life-Gender Committee, and of the Institute for PR Measurement Commission. Connect with Sean on his blog, Communication Ammo, on Twitter @commammo, LinkedIn or e-mail.