6. June 2013–
Ask any fully fledged entrepreneur about their work-life balance and most would respond with a wide-eyed “what's that?”. Is living a work-work life just something founders have come to accept? Is it humanly possible for them to “get a life”? Freelance journalist-turned-time coach, author, and founder of Real Life E Elizabeth Saunders believes that with a bit of work- and life-goal analysis, it absolutely is – if you really want it.
Here, she shares her top 10 tips for putting “life” back into the equation...
Don't just accept losing your social life as the norm
Achieving a work-life balance is absolutely possible. I've run my business for over seven years and work between 40 and 45 hours a week. I don't work nights and weekends and I still take vacations.
When I started my business I was 23 and going to conferences and panels discussing that “this is just how it is. You have to work really hard, pay your dues and maybe some day you'll get a vacation”.
A couple of years into my business I said “No... I don't feel successful and it doesn't feel good – I don't care what anyone says about what we're supposed to do and not do – I have to find a way to make this work."
So I taught myself how to let go and develop new habits, and instead of thinking when my business gets to a certain level I'll take a vacation, I thought “How can I make it happen now?”
Track your working hours
The first thing I did was set up a schedule where I get up at 6am, start working by 8.30am and then I feel like I can wrap it up around 6pm. I started tracking my hours by keeping a very simple Excel sheet. I still do that to this day, where I have Monday through to Friday, for the week and my start and stop times to manifest in my awareness – my accountability for if I was working or not.
At first when it got to my hourly limit of 50 hours a week, I had to just step away from the computer. I felt like I was going though withdrawal symptoms. But things got done, nothing blew up and I found that in cutting down my hours I was still maintaining my business.
There's no “one size fits all” work-life equation
It's really important not to judge others. There are people who can work 60 hours and still be pretty balanced with time for friends, exercise and get enough sleep, and there are people who need to work 30 hours to be balanced. Be honest with what you need and don't compare yourself to others.
The work-work approach won't guarantee success
When I was 21, I landed my dream job. but six months later I was laid off. Sitting at an out-placement class (something US companies offer to people who are laid-off to help build skills, write resumes etc), I found myself with people in their 30s through to their 60s... some had worked at a company for up to 30 years and were feeling so betrayed because they had given up their health, their friends and their family for their job.
The same thing is true with entrepreneurship. Most businesses fail. You can't guarantee that you'll still have a job or that your business will be successful no matter how hard you work. But I can tell you that if you consistently invest in your health and in your relationships with whoever is important to you in your life, those are going to be the things that will be there for you no matter what, and will really give you that enduring sense of fulfilment.
Step out of the work addiction cycle
Work can come and go, and I think that's why we see so many entrepreneurs commit suicide – they can lead a high-profile life and their sense of identity is so wrapped up in their work, that if they feel like they're losing their job or business they feel like they've got no value outside of that.
There's a level of work addiction involved. It's a lot harder for an entrepreneur than an employee. That's why they need to decide on what's enough for work hours, what to sacrifice and what not to sacrifice. In the moment you can lose perspective and instead of your business working for you, your business is controlling you.
The bigger picture: What will you be most proud of?
Decide for yourself what's important and keep perspective. If you decide that nothing is more important to you than growing your business, it's going to be really, really hard for you to stop. But, ask yourself a big-picture question: “If I'm 70 years old and looking back on my life, what will I be most proud of?” or even on a smaller scale: “At the end of summer, what will I be most proud of?” I can pretty much guarantee you that it won't be things like “I kept my inbox at zero”. It'll be things like “I had such a wonderful time with my family” or I “love to cycle and took amazing rides through the countryside".
Keep perspective on what you're going to be grateful for in the end because that will help you make better choices. There will be times when you make things other than your business a priority, and your business may not grow as fast or make as much money, and you realise that that's OK because other stuff also matters to you.
Be mindful of the type of business you're creating
Really think through what it is you want – there are certain businesses where by definition you sign up to crazy hours, so consider the lifestyle you want. A lot of entrepreneurs get thrown off balance because they move too quickly when they don't need to. Some people are built to work 60-70 hour weeks and be OK, but a lot of people aren't, and they would be more efficient and sustainable if they're able to focus on slower growth.
Look after the important stuff
If you're not taking time for those things such as sleeping regularly, getting exercise, spending time on your relationships, and anything else important to you, you're going to quickly run out of steam and lose your efficiency. Make sure you look after the important stuff that will help keep you on track for the long-run.
Don't obsess over time-management and to-do list tools
You need something that you're consistently going to use on a daily basis. I recommend Time Doctor, which records the time you've spent on the computer, Google Calendar, and Evernote. My biggest thing with apps and tools is – if you have something you're already using and it's working, try to stick with it. People can get so obsessed with trying to find the perfect tool that they keep switching around. If something is really not working for you, then yes – look for something new.
Make real use of your work time
If you're always telling yourself “I just need to keep working until I get everything done” then you're giving yourself no incentive to becoming efficient.
But if you set limits, like: “I'm wrapping up at 6pm and going to dinner with friends” then you're encouraging yourself to be efficient, focused and motivated. By cutting off the option of just finishing a task that night, you immediately have a higher level of motivation because you feel a sense of time pressure... Plus you're rewarding yourself with the light at the end of the tunnel.
For related posts, check out:
The “Feelgood Manager”: is ensuring workplace happiness a full-time job?
Keeping employees happy isn’t rocket science
VIDEO: “What would you tell your younger self?” European founders and VCs step back in time