Confessions of a recovering workaholic

Finding the right work-life balance means forcing yourself to schedule 'you time' and focusing on the present, says Sabrina Smelko.

You're a freelancer. You're constantly working, whether that's on an actual job or trying to find the next one. Even on your (forced) nights off, you find yourself checking your phone and hitting refresh on your inbox.

You begin questioning if your email server is down; you begin questioning your sanity. You find it hard to claw back time for even normal life things, and at the mention of taking time out for yourself, you can't help but chuckle at the utter naivety of it. The struggle, as they say, is real.

If you feel the above describes you, then good. Admission is the first step to recovery, after all.

Let's face it, freelancing doesn't lend itself well to taking breaks and scheduling 'you time'. As a freelancer myself, I have been guilty as charged. I spent my downtime in front of an illuminated screen hunting for emails or desperation-tweeting. I always said to myself: "Just one more email," or: "Just another hour," or: "It's fine, it just means I'll work one hour less tomorrow, right?" But let's face it, rationalising something that's patently irrational doesn't exactly conjure up a picture of health.

As a recovered workaholic, I've come to realise something very important: it's worth the investment to take time for yourself, and surrendering to the idea is liberating. My inspiration at each step along the way? It goes by the name 'yoga'.

We tend to think of the next minute and the last minute over the present. We're so focused on what we do with our time and abilities that we forget to pay attention to now and today. We forget to breathe and pat ourselves on the back. We think it's selfish or a waste of time to take time out for ourselves. But isn't knowing yourself and controlling the present and how you react to it the greatest influence on tomorrow, next week, next year?

Yoga is a constant progression with no real end, that doesn't care to know your history or your past; your practice is confidential. Unlike freelance work, yoga has no deadlines, no contests, no questions. Yoga asks nothing of you and only expects that you explore what you're ready for in that moment. It teaches you to be grateful for whatever you can do today and not to worry about what you can't do. While that mindset seems obvious to many, to silly over-workers like us, it's easy to forget.

I'll admit it, I still tend to dive head first into things and walk before I run, but when I do succumb to the temptation of over-working, my practice has helped me to surrender and enjoy the time between projects, to be more present for prospective jobs and to focus my attention so I'm better equipped when they do come. While yoga isn't the only answer to avoiding a work-binge and while it can't stop you from barking up the wrong tree, every downward dog is one step in the right direction.

Words: Sabrina Smelko Illustration: Zaneta Antosik

Graphic designer and illustrator Sabrina Smelko has a client list that includes Cadbury and The New York Times, and has received accolades from the Society of Illustrators and the Adobe Design Achievement Awards. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 229.