Mastering Work-Life Balance as an Independent Consultant

blog article Sep 12, 2023

Estimated time to read: 16 minutes

Download the article as a PDF:


Quick links

What you will learn in this article

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started out as an independent consultant.

Being an independent sounded like a great idea. When my former employer asked me to stay on as a consultant after I resigned, it felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. I had income coming in on a retainer and I also had freedom and autonomy. I could set my own schedule, choose who I wanted to work with, and be selective about the types of work I agreed to take on. 

Consulting seemed like the perfect way to achieve work-life balance.

I had been running on fumes during the last few years in corporate, trying to navigate the stress of helping grow a start-up with a new private equity owner and CEO. At the same time, I had a baby. It was all incredibly stressful and I noticed my emotional and physical health were at an all-time low.

I chose to resign so my husband could pursue one of his professional goals, which happened to be in Hawaii of all places.

I thought the work-life balance would naturally come together for me by living in Hawaii and working part-time as an independent consultant.

I was shocked when that didn’t happen.

We moved to Hawaii, and after the first month or so, the newness wore off. I went back to old habits of overworking and filling my free time with projects.

I learned (the hard way) that work-life balance is something you have to create and cultivate, even when you are an independent. Otherwise, it’s easy to recreate the same patterns you built when you were working in corporate and experienced periods of burnout, stress, and overwhelm there. 

The same thing is true in independent consulting. It’s easy to quickly feel stressed, worried, and imbalanced. Because, as the saying goes, “no matter where you go, there you are.”

The reality of work-life balance in consulting

Independent consultants often assume that work-life balance comes naturally, as a by-product of owning a solo practice. It doesn’t. In some ways, work-life balance can be more difficult to achieve as an independent consultant than it was as an employee because all the decisions and priorities are yours. 

There’s no one else to decide your company's vacation schedule.

There’s no one else to decide your working hours.

There’s no one else to set your sick policy and guidelines.

There’s no team to delegate to.

There are no other departments to take on some of the load. 

It’s all on you.

But, being an independent consultant can be lonely and stressful. 

All the weight of your consulting business rests on your shoulders. 

You’re challenged to balance working on the business with delivering for clients, along with wearing all the hats in your company, including the CEO, CFO, COO, CRO, CMO, COO, CHRO, and consultant.

You’ve got to learn and master new skills as a business owner.

You’ve got to sell new work.

You’ve got to deliver results for your clients, which can require long consulting hours.

It can be a lot.

And, all of this pressure can add up. It’s common to question whether the autonomy and flexibility you have as an independent consultant are worth all the stress of running a business and being responsible for revenue, lead generation, selling, pricing, and delivery. 

It can take a toll on you and your business if you’re not managing this work-life balance. It’s common for consultants to ignore the importance of work-life balance and burnout as a result.

I’m not sharing all of this to scare you away from starting or growing your consulting business.

Instead, I’m sharing this because it’s important to talk about the realities so that you can avoid burnout and reap the benefits of having your own consulting business where you get to call the shots.

It’s possible to have an independent consulting business AND also to have work-life balance. It requires intentionality, an optimized business model, and a managed mindset to get you there.

Benefits of independent consulting for a healthier lifestyle

When you’re able to put some key work-life balance guardrails in place, independent consulting can be one of the most flexible, autonomous, and lucrative business models available to you.

It’s possible to have control over your own schedule and priorities, even if you have demanding clients. 

It’s possible to enjoy flexibility with the way you choose to work, without needing to sacrifice your financial goals. You can work 10 months a year and make $800k. You can work 4 days a week and make $800k a year. You can work 3 weeks a month and make $800k. 

$800k doesn’t have to be your goal. It can be higher or lower. My point is that it’s possible to make the type of money you were making in corporate (or much more) without having to sacrifice your flexibility and lifestyle to get there. 

You became an independent consultant for a reason. It’s likely you want flexibility, control over who you work with and the type of work you’re doing, and a more balanced lifestyle where you’re able to take time off, travel, spend time with family, and feel more present.

You can have the lifestyle you want without sacrificing your financial goals.

But, it won’t come naturally.

Achieving this type of work-life balance as a consultant requires intentionality. I’ll share those specific work-life techniques in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the challenges in achieving work-life balance as an independent consultant.

Challenges in achieving work-life balance as an independent consultant 

There are three primary reasons that can make it difficult to achieve work-life balance as an independent consultant.

Time-based billing models

It’s more difficult to achieve a work-life balance if your business model is a time-based billing model.

And, if you’re like many consultants, you’re still charging by time (hourly or daily) and it can feel like a constant dilemma, choosing between working or making money and feeling like everything is a compromise. In this time-based business model, taking time off is costing you money. So, of course, you would feel worried and guilty and not take off as much time off as you’d like in your perfect work-life balance vision. 

Over time, you can feel exhausted and overwhelmed by your business. 

You started your business so you could have autonomy and flexibility. You want to be able to enjoy vacations, travel, personal time, and family time. You want to pick and choose the work you take on. But, if you’ve set up a time-based billing model (e.g. hourly rates or day rates), it can make it very difficult to achieve these work-life balance goals. 

Juggle working on business with client delivery

You’re a business owner and you wear all the hats in your business. You’re responsible for marketing yourself, generating leads, selling your own work, and delivering it. If you take your eye off any of these responsibilities, you can face severe peaks and valleys in your business revenue and personal income. 

It can also be very stressful to have all of this responsibility on your shoulders.

It’s common to find yourself working just as much, if not more than you did in corporate.

This is a recipe for burnout. 

Managing all the emotions that come with being a business owner.

You’re learning new skills. You’ve never been the CEO, CFO, COO, CRO, CMO, and consultant wrapped up in one. You may have sold or supported sales in the past, but you weren’t selling yourself.

Now, you’re 100% responsible for your business results, there are no other departments (e.g. marketing, sales) to depend on.

Running a business is no joke. It’s common to battle self-doubt and second-guessing yourself. One minute you’re feeling on top of the world, that things are coming together. Then, everything can turn and the next minute you’re feeling worried and disappointed.

It’s an emotional roller coaster.

Even if you are taking off time and your calendar looks balanced, these emotions can deplete your energy and make you feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

Work-life balance is a combination of how you’re spending your time, your mental state, and your emotional state. All of this comes together so you can either feel balanced and present or overwhelmed and guilty. 

What are the best strategies for achieving work-life balance as an independent consultant?

There are six work-life balance strategies you can implement as an independent consultant.

1. Define your life balance formula

What does it mean to be balanced? What does it look like? How are you thinking when you feel balanced? What does balanced feel like to you? How do you recognize and redirect when you feel out of balance?

Work-life balance isn’t a “thing” it’s a state-of-mind.

Most people can't answer this because it's just a vague concept. Let's make sure you avoid that mistake most people make, and that you've defined it very clearly for yourself. 

Write out your ideal week, including your 12-month business calendar, the days you work, the hours you work for client delivery, the days and time set aside to work on your business, and your time off, including vacations, your company holidays, and your sick policy.

To achieve work-life balance, your personal time can’t be what’s left over after you finish working. It’s about intentionally designing the way you will use the 168 hours in your week and 8,760 hours in your year.

Define your ideal version of a balanced life. What do you want to use as guiding principles for the 168 hours you have in each week? 

For example, you might set policies such as:

  • I spend an hour of uninterrupted time with my family each day. 
  • I never miss watching my child's sporting events. 
  • I schedule time to work on deliverables every day from 9-10 
  • I never schedule meetings from 3-4 so that I'm free for school pick-up 
  • I don't take last-minute meetings unless XYZ criteria is met 

2. Set your work-life balance protocols

After you know what your life balance formula is, in detail, the next step is to set up your protocols that will help you adhere to your life balance formula.

Plan ahead that your work-life balance formula won’t happen automatically or always go as planned. 

We typically plan for the best case. We expect that we’ll set up a work-life balance formula and then we expect ourselves to follow it. Perfectly.

This is a recipe for failure.

There’s no way you, or any of us, could achieve perfect work-life balance all of the time, under all circumstances.

In this step, you’ll want to get very clear on the situations that you anticipate could detail your work-life balance goals. Write all of these scenarios down. Then, for each one, make specific plans for how you’ll avoid, redirect, and/or recover from each situation. 

This helps you plan in advance for the times you’re feeling tempted to override or procrastinate or change your mind about the work-life balance plans you make for yourself.

3. Set yourself up for success

Next, set yourself up for success. Figure out what you want to have in place to make it easier, or even auto-pilot, to achieve the work-life balance formula you defined in steps 1 and 2. 

For example, you may decide it’s important to change your consulting pricing model from time-based (hourly or daily) to a project-based fee structure or a value-based pricing model. Then, you’re not as tempted to work at the times you’ve set aside for personal time.

Another common example for you if you work from home is to create office hours for yourself. The lines can be very blurred when you’re working from home, and you can feel tempted to go back into your office during personal hours. Or, you can feel guilty if you choose to wander out of your office during work hours to do something personal. Set an intentional plan and clearer separation for yourself between work and personal life, especially if you work from home.

4. Increase your capacity without working more hours

Improving your work-life balance isn’t just about carving out the time you have available each day, week, month, and year. It’s essential to strategically delegate non-client facing and non-revenue generating tasks like bookkeeping, invoicing, and administrative work. 

By outsourcing or automating these responsibilities, you can reclaim precious time and reduce the pressure of wearing multiple hats. This not only allows you to nurture your personal life but also enhances your ability to concentrate on client-centric work and revenue-generating activities. Striking this balance not only bolsters your professional impact but also promotes your overall well-being as an independent consultant. 

5. Increase your effectiveness to make the most of your time

In the pursuit of a healthy work-life balance, it's all about making our time count. 

It’s common to stuff our days with meetings, deliverables, and action items. We don’t prioritize time for thinking.

Successful CEOs think.

Successful CEOs prioritize unstructured space.

Successful CEOs set aside time to strategize and problem-solve.

For example, solo corporate retreats offer an excellent opportunity to recharge and gain fresh perspectives on both work and life. 

Carving out dedicated "thinking time" is a game-changer. It's a space to brainstorm, strategize, and reflect without the daily hustle and distractions. 

Beyond these practices, technology like productivity apps and automation tools also helps streamline tasks, giving us more freedom to enjoy life outside of work. 

These deliberate approaches not only make our professional lives more effective but also contribute significantly to a more fulfilling and balanced overall life.

6. Evaluate, iterate, and adjust

As I stated above, achieving work-life balance doesn’t require perfection. In fact, it’s not possible to be perfect. Work-life balance isn’t a destination, it’s an ongoing practice.

Part of a successful life-balance formula involves consistently evaluating how your work-life balance looks compared to the ideal life-formula you defined and then making adjustments.

Look at your calendar for the past week or month. Then, list everything you notice that didn’t go as planned as compared to your ideal week. 

Then, identify the changes you'll make in order to (1) implement the ideal and (2) avoid/mitigate the blockers you just identified

Key skills and habits for improving work-life balance

As an independent consultant, there are several skills and habits you can build in order to improve your work-life balance: 

  1. Adjust your business model not tied to time-based billing
  2. Rolling 12-month business calendar
  3. Manage your emotions such as overwhelm, guilt, and fear
  4. Avoid overworking as a mechanism to avoid fear, worry, or even boredom
  5. Plan ahead. Make a plan for the week and each day.
  6. Adhere to the plan. When your brain wants to talk you out of what you planned, or justify doing something different, do the original plan anyway.

1. Adjust Your Business Model: One of the most significant shifts you can make to improve work-life balance is to move away from time-based billing. Embrace value-based pricing, project-based fees, or retainer arrangements that reflect the value you provide rather than the hours you put in. This shift allows you to focus on delivering results rather than tracking time, giving you more flexibility in your schedule.

2. Maintain a Rolling 12-Month Business Calendar: To protect your downtime, adopt a rolling 12-month business calendar. As a consultant, you set your own time off, vacations, and holidays. It’s easy to look up and realize you haven’t had time off in months. For example, there was one point in my business where I realized I hadn’t taken a non-working vacation in 18 months. I was exhausted. By establishing a 12-month rolling calendar that you update quarterly and monthly, you’ll build the skills of building out your work calendar in a way that reflects the work-life balance you want.

3. Learn to Manage Your Emotions: Independent consultants often grapple with overwhelming emotions like guilt and fear. They can be stronger than the emotions you felt when you were in corporate because all the responsibility lies on your shoulders. It's essential to recognize and manage these feelings constructively. Seek support from mentors or a coach who understands the challenges you face and can offer guidance. Otherwise, if you leave these emotions unmanaged, you’ll burn out.

4. Avoid Overworking: Resist the temptation to overwork as a way to cope with fear, worry, or even boredom. Overworking might seem like dedication, but it can lead to diminishing returns. Overworking can lead to burnout and negatively impact your overall well-being. Instead, develop the skills to schedule and set your time off and then take that, even if you’re feeling the urge to work.

5. Plan Your Week and Day: Even if it feels arduous, take the time to plan your week and each day meticulously. Having a clear plan not only keeps you organized but also ensures you allocate time for both work and personal life. Identify your most critical tasks and allocate dedicated time slots to complete them efficiently.

6. Adhere to Your Schedule: Perhaps the most challenging part of maintaining work-life balance is sticking to your plan. Your brain may try to convince you to deviate from the schedule or procrastinate. Resist this temptation and stay committed to your original plan. Hold yourself accountable, and remember that following through on your plan brings you closer to achieving both your professional and personal goals.

7. Maximize the time you’re working. For many of us, we’re not as productive as we could be. We waste time procrastinating, second-guessing ourselves, and choosing the work that’s more comfortable over the work that’s more impactful. 

Corporate taught us to spread out our work so it fits into a 40, 50, 60, or even 70+ work week. We learned to spend the time we thought was required to succeed. For example, when I was in corporate at a start-up, I had a mountain of work to do. And I frequently worked 60 or 70-hour weeks. But, truth be told, a lot of that time was spent inefficiently and unproductively because I also knew the people who were always in the office were highly rewarded. It was a combination of managing optics, bad habits, and eventually getting the work done. As an independent consultant, you’re in charge of your own schedule. You don’t need to manage any optics that you’re “working hard.” This is the opportunity to build your skill of productivity so you can carve out more free time. 

Improving work-life balance as an independent consultant requires a deliberate and holistic approach. By adjusting your business model, implementing a rolling calendar, managing your emotions, avoiding overworking, planning ahead, and adhering to your schedule, you can create a more fulfilling professional life that aligns with your personal goals.

Best technologies and tools for balancing your work and life

As an independent consultant, leveraging the right technologies and tools can make a significant difference in achieving a healthy work-life balance. These tools can help you streamline tasks, enhance productivity, and carve out more time for your personal life.  

Here are some of the best technologies and tools to consider: 

  1. Time Tracking and Management Tools:
  • Toggl: This time tracking tool helps you monitor how you spend your work hours, making it easier to identify inefficiencies and allocate time more effectively.
  • RescueTime: It tracks your digital activity, providing insights into where you might be wasting time and helping you make more informed decisions about your work habits.
  1. Project Management and Collaboration Platforms:
  • or Asana: Project management tools enable you to organize tasks, set priorities, and collaborate with clients or team members, ensuring smoother project workflows. They also allow you to templatize the work you do 
  • Slack: For communication and collaboration, Slack offers real-time messaging, file sharing, and integrations with various apps to keep you connected with your clients and colleagues.
  1. Virtual Assistance and Automation:
  • Upwork: Find freelancers to handle non-core tasks like data entry, research, or administrative work, allowing you to focus on higher-value consulting tasks.
  • Zapier: This automation tool connects your favorite apps and automates workflows, reducing manual work and increasing efficiency.
  1. Cloud-Based Accounting Software:
  • QuickBooks: Manage your finances with ease by using QuickBooks for invoicing, expense tracking, and financial reporting, ensuring your financials are in order without taking up too much of your time.
  1. Productivity and Time Management Apps:
  • Todoist: Organize your tasks and set priorities with this task management app. It can help you maintain a clear schedule and allocate time for both work and personal life.
  • Auto-generate your daily schedule from your list of projects, tasks, and recurring actions using AI 
  • Freedom: Block distracting websites and apps during work hours to stay focused and avoid overworking.
  1. Calendaring and Scheduling Tools:
  • Acuity or Calendly: Simplify appointment scheduling by allowing clients to book meetings based on your availability, reducing the back-and-forth emails.
  • Outlook or Google Calendar: Keep track of your appointments, set reminders, and create separate calendars for work and personal events.

By integrating these technologies and tools into your consulting practice, you can optimize your workflow, reduce stress, and regain control over your work-life balance. Remember, the key is to adapt and choose the tools that align best with your specific needs and preferences, allowing you to thrive both professionally and personally as an independent consultant.

Get the help you need to grow your consulting business while maintaining work-life balance

To put this article into action, there are two next steps:

1. First, click here to download the Work-life Balance Playbook for Independent Consultants.


2. Then, consider working with a coach who can help you get clear on what you want to achieve in your consulting business, including work-life balance, put an effective plan in place to achieve those goals, and support you to implement the strategies, tactics, and mindsets so you grow your business in a way that supports your work-life balance.

A coach can help you achieve results you never realized were possible by avoiding the mistakes and self-sabotage, like lack of confidence, and resistance to selling, that slow you down.

Click here to learn more about coaching for consultants.

And then, click here to apply for a consultation to determine if working with Melisa would be a good fit for you and your business goals.

Take the Independent Consultant's Pricing Assessment

Most independent consultants have hidden pricing opportunities just waiting to be discovered.

Let's see where your opportunities to make more money are hiding...

Start the Assessment