Many small business owners suffer from constantly being in “overdrive,” always working at a pace that makes mere mortals seem slow by comparison. And while a fast pace can definitely aid small business owners in getting ahead of the competition, it can also lead to burnout, and you can’t compete when you’re burned out.
For years, many have sought to achieve the seemingly mythical ideal of “work-life balance.” While many experts say it’s simply not possible, the truth is that defining one’s work-life balance is really in the eye of the beholder.
To help you find your own work-life balance, we’ll explore 12 different things to try, culled from the experience of entrepreneurs and small business owners who have struggled and succeeded.
1. It’s Not About Balance. It’s a Give-and-Take
Achieving a true balance in a mathematical sense will likely drive you mad. There will be days when your business will require more time and attention. Conversely, there will be days when your personal life requires more time and attention. Try not to think of splitting your attention between the two evenly, but giving your attention to each as it is needed.
For instance, when you’re first starting out and trying to build your business from the ground up, chances are you’ll be spending a lot more time on business-related activities. Your family or personal life may be neglected as a result. During this time, try to remember that your business won’t always demand this much attention. Also, for your own sanity and personal well-being, you’ll need to take a step back at some point and recharge.
2. Set Boundaries and Keep Them
This can apply to many different aspects of your work and personal lives, but the most important boundaries to set for small business owners are those pertaining to work hours. Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of working around the clock, sacrificing weekends, sleep, family meals and breaks to keep their business going.
Consider the long-term effects of attempting to sustain that pace: sleep deprivation and exhaustion. When you’re sleep-deprived and exhausted, meeting those heightened expectations becomes a memory, and your personal relationships suffer too. Try to establish the following boundaries:
- Time: Set distinct work hours, and adhere to them. Determine which days you’re going to take off, and stick to them. Embrace personal time and/or vacation days.
- Space: Leave your work at the “office,” whether it’s a room inside your home or a space down the road. Try to limit this in an effort to create a separation between work space and living space.
- Access: Determine when you will be accessible for professional and personal inquiries. Of course, there will always be emergencies, but don’t fall into the trap of allowing a client’s emergency to become your emergency. Unless a product or service you have provided to the client is failing, chances are you can manage expectations for how long it will take to remedy the situation. The same is true for family and friends. Increased connectivity and mobility makes it easier to abuse, so be mindful of what you respond to—and when you respond to it.
3. When You Say You’re Taking Time Off, Take Time Off
Again, connectivity is a blessing and a curse. Because it’s easy to quickly check email, call a client or edit a proposal, you may find yourself doing these things on days you’ve designated as time-off or, even worse, on sick days. If you’ve told people you’re taking time off, honor that commitment to yourself. It will make it easier for others to honor it as well.
4. Keep Your Social Commitments
If you’ve planned to attend a friend’s dinner party, a family picnic or a child’s school performance, keep those plans. Chances are that nothing will fall apart if you’re out of the office for an hour or two, or turn off your phone for the evening. If you feel that you must make the time up, do so after the commitment has been honored.
You should view these types of fun “non-work” events as if they are work events. Give them the same level of importance, and you’ll find it’s much easier to keep them.
5. Yes, Even You Deserve a Vacation
In spite of what you might believe, taking vacations is considered important for everyone, especially small business owners. Similar to setting boundaries and taking time off, taking vacation time is a great way to reinvigorate yourself and rekindle the motivation to keep working toward your goals. Everyone gets tired and overwhelmed. Rather than overworking yourself further by trying to power through the fatigue, take a vacation.
6. Take Care of Yourself
You’ll work better and more effectively if you’re healthy. A large of part of your personal health is eating right and exercising. If you already have an established routine of gym time or a personal trainer, keep that routine.
It’s possible you may need to scale it back a bit due to demands on your time, but try as hard as you can to keep this time set aside for yourself. Also, try not to fall into the trap of eating fast food or fattening snacks and sodas from the vending machine down the hall. Natural foods help keep your body functioning well and maintain your energy level during the day.
It’s important to distinguish between the tasks that only you can perform and tasks that you can ask someone else to handle. If you don’t have any employees, then delegating may involve outsourcing relevant tasks to a third party or hiring someone on a part-time basis. If you do have employees, remember that you hired them for a reason.
Ideally, that reason was their competence. Remember that the more you exclusively hold on to projects and tasks, the less likely your employees—and by extension your business—will grow. Employees who feel that there aren’t opportunities for growth will eventually leave. And then what will you do?
8. Remember to Ask for Help
Chances are you have someone in your life—or a few people if you’re lucky—that you go to for help. It could be emotional help, financial help or strategic help, but they provide you with support nonetheless. When you feel yourself starting to get overwhelmed, don’t forget to reach out to the folks who are your support system. Even if it’s just an excuse to get out of the office for an hour, this respite can make a world of difference to your mood and motivation.
You might also consider finding a business mentor. A good mentor will be willing to guide you through the pitfalls of running a business from their own unique perspective, which can save you time and money, as well as sanity.
9. Take Breaks
This is about pacing yourself during the workday. It’s best to view the hours in the office as a marathon, not a sprint. Step away from your desk for five or 10 minutes. Go outside for a breath of fresh air or a brisk walk. Grab some water from the kitchen and spend a few minutes talking about last night’s game with an employee.
However you choose to take a break from work throughout the day, make it part of your routine and stick to it. One trick: schedule 10- or 15-minute breaks in your calendar at specific times during the day. When you get the reminder that it’s time to take a walk around the block, get up and do it.
10. Pace Yourself
Unless you’ve just invented the ultimate widget that no one can live without, your business will not be built overnight. It will take time to grow your business, build your brand and find ongoing success. As a result, trying to achieve all of your business goals in the first six months of hanging up a shingle isn’t realistic, and the pace could kill you. Spend time prioritizing your most immediate goals and tasks, with some left over. Don’t try to finish everything at once.
11. Set Your Own Norms
While it’s important to understand how other small businesses or entrepreneurs work, embrace the idea that their method for success may not be yours. Don’t try to copy someone else; focus on the schedule, timing and boundaries that work for you.
12. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
This is probably the hardest lesson to learn, but it might be the most important. You will be faced with clients, employees, partners, friends and family who will demand your time and attention for a variety of reasons, some valid, some not.
In the case of the latter, learn how to gently but firmly say no. While outright refusal is the ultimate boundary you can set, sometimes it is the only answer that will satisfy someone. Before you say no, analyze the request, the time it will take you to fulfill it and the potential return from fulfilling it. If the numbers add up, then maybe figuring out a way to fit the request into your schedule is a good idea. If they don’t, you might need to turn them down.
Achieving work-life balance is difficult; any entrepreneur, small business owner or employee will tell you that. But by setting your boundaries, treating your social commitments similar to your work ones and seeking help when you need it, you might be able to find an equilibrium you can live with.
For a few more secrets to being more efficient, read our article on how to manage your time for maximum results.