“Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.” A recent well known super-villain quoted this in regards to weapons, and universe populations. It is also a belief that we carry in regards to our work and life balance, particularly as entrepreneurs. Elon Musk has tweeted “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” and we as a society are ‘on the clock’ more than we have previously been.
Long story short, if we are striving for a work life balance, it feels as though we are taught that work has to be the majority of what we do. Those who are entrepreneurs feel this pressure most distinctly, because often it feels as if everything is riding on you. Alternatively, in many businesses, we keep our phones and emails open. There is a pressure to corporate life that says you need to be available at the drop of hat. It isn’t usually explicitly said, but it lurks in the background. We make a ton of sacrifices, intentional and incidental, in regards to work.
These sacrifices at first seem minor. It could be making phone calls for work on the way home, or a quick question through a text or email. These are innocent situations, and probably shouldn’t be taken as a big deal. The problem is that it rarely ever stops. There are always going to be things to work on and improve at work, and your personal business is never going to be perfect. That means there is always more to be done, and it is quite easy to become lost in that. Working an extra hour on your day off turns into an afternoon, or an afternoon into a day. The price is pretty clear as well: when I put in more time at work then what I can handle, my work, my loved ones, and my well being suffer.
There are a few tips I would recommend to people trying to reclaim a work/life balance.
Guard your time.
Guard your time, and guard it fiercely. If you have a dedicated day off (you should, by the way), then ensure that it is not spent at work. Most of the time you can push different tasks onto other days. Having a day dedicated to rest will help your days that you are working be more productive. The way rest looks for people is different: sometimes a restful day at home for me has me work on a small project. Sometimes, it’s a day spent reading or playing games. Many times it means visiting with friends and family. The important bit, however, is that it is actually intended to be not work.
I’ll admit, this is one of the most difficult for me to do, and also one of the most challenging for careers. Stop answering every work message and e-mail the moment you get it. Some jobs will hate this, and it may negatively impact performance. Mostly what I end up doing is reading a message, and sending a quick reply. If it is not an emergency, and will take more than 2 minutes to deal with, I will validate the person’s concern and ask if we can meet about it sometime in the future.
Stop immediately saying yes.
I have a powerful drive to agree to do everything. The trouble is that a person can not do everything. When you say yes to something at work, in your personal life, or your entrepreneurial endeavors, you are saying no to something else. Instead, I am trying to develop a habit of consulting my calendar when a person asks me if I want to, or can, do something. That gives a moment to pause and reflect “Is this something I can do? Is this something I should do? Is this something I want to do?” Having a moment to pause is so vital. For those in family relationships, this is a huge advantage as well. Make it a priority to run it past your spouse before you fill in the calendar!
Recognize the Season.
There are times in work when it goes from busy, to busiest. Recognize, and prepare, for those times. For me, Summer is busy. For a two or three separate weeks, I am working 24/7. As a result, I have to be upfront with my friends and family. However, I also prepare for those times as well, by making sure everything that can be done before, is done. Food plans, cleaning, phone calls, and all the other stuff are ready to go. The times after those busy times I have planned as well. I know the day after a week like that, I will sleep. I will want company, but low activity. Recognizing that at times work is going to be more demanding, and balancing around it, can help make those times easier.
In order to have a solid work/life balance, you need to be able to communicate well. With hours that you set yourself, and you get to be your own boss, this may seem silly. The people who care about you will say otherwise. Having a solid understanding of your role and responsibilities, to both your work and personal life, will make decisions easier. As obvious as this may sound, I needed to hear it: you are the one primarily in charge of your well being, so you have to be the one to communicate your needs. Communicate them to those who are relevant, your workplace, your family, your friends. We can’t always get the world to bend to our needs and our whims, but we are certainly in a better position if we are able to name them, and say them.
These things are all well and good to say, but I’ll be honest, I doubted their practice. For a few years, I made exceptions and excuses, and for that I got to experience burnout. In recent times though, I began to balance this act has gotten better and I find my work more productive, and more joy in life. These suggestions may seem silly, or even ‘counterproductive’, but for myself and others I can safely say they have been helpful. Protecting yourself from burnout is vital as an individual, particularly in positions where you set your own projects and interests, and however you choose to do so, I hope you find time to rest! You deserve it!