When I started, working as a freelancer seemed a great way to finally achieve a good work-life balance. I would have been flexible enough to choose my working hours, maybe I could finally spare some time to pursue some hobbies and most importantly I would have been free from the slavery of the 9 to 5. Along this journey I realised that actually working only Mon-Fri, 9 to 5 would give me so much more free time than what my usual day allows me right now.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I am really happy about my career choice, but – like many other entrepreneurs out there – I struggle with achieving a work-life balance. You know, that idyllic, elusive dream of working manageable hours, having free time to spend with loved ones and, on top of all that, getting enough sleep, healthy meals and exercise to maintain a decent standard of life?
Some recent studies found that about half business owners work 50 or more hours per week, and 20 percent work 60 or more hours. Research shows that productivity significantly drops off after a 50-hour workweek — so much so that someone who works a 70-hour workweek is equally productive as someone who works a 55-hour workweek, and ultimately produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours. The biggest reason why people overwork? They feel there are some tasks that only they can handle.
Beyond the obvious health issues, is the fact that many business owners simply want to spend more time NOT working. After all, like many of us, I started my own businesses to escape the rat race and create my own reality—one that includes deciding my own schedule and spending time doing the things I love.
So if it’s still true that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy”, we all NEED work-life balance. Here are 12 habits that we should all try to establish to create it:
- Understand what “balance” means.
Stand straight up with your feet a little ways apart. Now, lean over significantly to the right. Are you still standing? I hope so! You haven’t lost your balance — even though your right foot is taking significantly more weight. This just goes to show that “balance” doesn’t mean “equal.” Sometimes, either work or your personal life takes more weight, depending on what’s going on at the moment — and that’s OK.
- Let go of fear.
To develop a healthy balance between work and life, you have to first let go of the fear that, if you’re not working, your company will fail. When you’ve done a day’s work, let it go, rest and try again tomorrow. The sky will not fall on you — even if you’ve left several items unchecked on your to-do list.
- Schedule important personal activities.
Things such as exercise, nights out with partners or friends can quickly become distant memories if they aren’t purposefully scheduled. Block out your calendar for important personal events, and you’ll find they happen as they should. It can be tough to remember in the middle of a stressful business moment, but they’re just as important as any meeting.
- Set boundaries.
If clients think it’s OK to call you at 11 p.m. when they need something, they will. Set firm boundaries around when you are, and aren’t, available. Doing so will help you relax when you’re off the clock and avoid burnout, while also helping others avoid unmet expectations.
- Think carefully about where you live.
The American magnate Warren Buffett told MBA students a few years ago that the reason he chose to live in Omaha — rather than New York or other cities closer to the financial scene — was because Omaha helped him maintain a more balanced life. Even if you can’t choose your city, you can choose your neighbourhood. Do so with your ideal work-life balance in mind.
- Turn off technology.
Remember that you have power over your devices. Be intentional about turning them off (not just on silent) and taking technology breaks. It will help you tremendously by keeping you more focused during your productive periods.
- Manage your energy, not your time.
Every human being has natural energy cycles throughout the day. If you think carefully about your own cycles, you’ll probably be able to pinpoint times when you usually feel more focused and productive, as well as times where you’d rather crawl into bed than spend another minute at the computer. Instead of trying to schedule every minute of your time and push through your low-energy cycles, schedule your tasks according to your energy. Do lower-energy administrative tasks when you’re in a lull, and more important work when you’re energized.
- Schedule holiday time.
I know that you’re busy and that your business is demanding, but if big corporations can make vacation time happen, then so can you. Remember, holiday time doesn’t have to involve a week-long tropical getaway (although if you can afford the expense and the time away from the office, that’s a great way to recharge). Even a day away from the office can be enough to leave you feeling re-focused and refreshed.
- Learn to delegate
If you’re so involved in your business you feel you really can’t be gone, even for a day, it’s time to learn to delegate. Contrary to what you might believe, you aren’t the only one who can handle many of the tasks you currently spend time on. Your team members will feel empowered if you shuffle additional responsibilities to them, and you’ll finally get to relax.
- Use calendar blocks for laser focus.
You have a calendar, so use it. Schedule specific blocks of uninterrupted time for your most important tasks. If you work in an office, make sure your fellow workers know to leave you alone during this time. Shut the door to your office, turn down your phone’s ringer and turn off the email and text notifications that are constantly interrupting your work. Use your scheduled blocks for work that’s laser focused on the tasks and projects that matter most for your business.
- Limit your work hours.
Work never ends, and if you’re looking to finish everything, you’ll never stop. Working long hours isn’t good for anyone — you, your family or your colleagues. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, spent years leaving work at 5:30 to have dinner with her children. If she can do it, why can’t you?
What other strategies have you used to achieve or do you use to maintain work-life balance? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.