For freelancers and everyone still working from home, we turned to author, illustrator, entrepreneur, and Instagram sensation Alicia Souza for tips on how to maintain a work-life balance.

Souza’s Instagram account is chock-full of illustrations and happy messages that have been making people smile for years now. While she might not have the secret to happiness, she does consider herself happy, largely attributing this to her work-life balance. Walking the tightrope for eight years now, she tells us how to draw the line, something most of us struggle with every day, especially at a time when working from home has become a mandate.

How the freelancer life began

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I’ve been working for myself for eight and a half years, and I can’t tell you how much I love it. But it was something I had never planned on doing.

I started working part-time when I was in university in Melbourne, and after graduation, I also started freelancing. While I moved to Bengaluru after, for a startup company, about a year and a half into that, I started freelancing again. Honestly, it was something I didn’t want to do in India — I didn’t know the market and everything I heard about it wasn’t the nicest. I didn’t even know anyone to have a career in this field without having another job.

But once I started doing it, I stuck to it was because I didn’t have any alternate plan. So, I said, “I’ll do it and see how it works out.” I literally fell into it, and after a while, I realised it was working.

Restricting work hours and maintaining healthy personal time as a freelancer

The biggest advice I have got as an entrepreneur came a year into freelancing. I remember meeting one person who is now a very dear friend — her office was above where she lived. And her biggest advice was to never bring work home, to always finish at a time and not look at it after.

I took that advice seriously and stuck to it. I see the difference when I meet people who don’t have that in terms of lifestyle. Even though I draw after work hours, I make sure it’s not work-related. It makes a big difference in the scheme of things. There’s no work guilt, there’s a timeline. I feel like people who have regular jobs don’t seem to have work hours. But, when you draw that line as a freelancer, you always find that clients respect it.

A typical day

I get up around 5:30 am so that I can start work — it’s the same every day, Sunday or not. I walk my dog, Charlie, and get to my desk. Except for the weekends, when I get to my desk but don’t send any e-mails, maybe just draw.

I start work around 6:00 am. I work at my desk. I rarely do meetings or phone calls; I e-mail because it streamlines working and I have all my information in one place. I do that till 3:00 pm and then I stop working. It’s Charlie’s walk again, and after that home time — me making dinner, cleaning up, or doing personal drawings and other household stuff. By 6:00 – 7:00 pm, my husband’s back, and we hang out.

The Work-Life Balancing Act

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In the beginning, just worked all day. Then a friend suggested I fix my timings, and I became a lot stricter. It did overlap initially, but just fixing up timings makes you realise what works for you.

Today, I’m very strict with timelines. Obviously, not everyone is a morning person like me — point is to make a schedule that works for you. I know a lot of people find that hard, but it just works for me because I have so much to deliver — a company, a business partner, personal drawings I do for social media. I have to find the most time-saving way of working and this is the best way. Now, I have a planner, and everything sticks by it. Plus, I don’t want to compromise on my social and personal life. To do that, I need to be diligent with my time.

The routine remains flexible

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An illustration depicting Souza and George

As your lifestyle changes, the routine will change. Like when George and I were dating, I’d have to stop work because we’d meet up — that takes a lot more time, so I had to take out a lot more personal time. And when we got married, it changed not because we don’t spend time together but because I try to work his schedule into mine. Like he works every other Saturday, so I work every other Saturday. If he’s off, I’ll try to be off as well. I really prioritise that part, because what’s the point otherwise.

Managing it all mindfully

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An illustration of Souza, Charlie, and Henry

Slowly over time. The boys (Charlie and Henry, the guinea pig) were never optional. I made my schedule around Charlie specifically because I start and end my workday with him. The hardest thing is scheduling personal time. It is so easy to overdo work, but work never ends, so if you don’t put an end to it, it just goes on and on.

Avoid this when trying to maintain work-life balance

Charlie and Henry

Not being strict. I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t stop work” — of course you can stop work! That’s just bollocks. I understand certain jobs like being a doctor, you cannot stop if you’re on call. But there are certain things where there’ll always be work and if you make a schedule for it, the clients really respect it. Only you can do it for yourself when it comes to personal space and life. As soon as you get home, if you don’t attend work calls, the world won’t collapse, and neither will your company.

What this balance means for me

Even though maybe I sacrifice some work if there’s no time, the rest of my life is blooming really well. I can’t be more grateful that I did it [time management].

Newbie freelancers, don’t forget to do this

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Get into the groove of a schedule and stick with it. Prioritise personal time and downtime. Just for your mental well-being. Especially in this day and age, there are so many things that can take you away from it. Earlier, everyone used to read a book and now everyone’s on their phone. So just making sure that you have your downtime is important. And that’s the crux of it.

All images: Courtesy Alicia Souza

Alicia Souza

Alicia Souza is an illustrator with an eponymous lifestyle brand. She’s also an author, entrepreneur, and social media star.