Businessman taking a break and looking out into the city.
It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to live and breathe their work. It’s what most of our mentors and role models did to turn their own ideas into successful businesses. But at what cost?
It may be taboo to discuss, but there’s a psychological price to being an entrepreneur. Founders experience everything from anxiety to depression. Others push themselves so hard that they abuse their bodies by neglecting their health. Feeling responsible for their companies, as well as others’ well-being — and livelihoods — can be overwhelming.
Being more open and transparent about mental health is an excellent starting point. Entrepreneurs can also ease some of their pain by maintaining a healthy work-life balance. While this may sound like a pipe dream, balance is essential: It enables them to attend to their own self-care, enjoy a more meaningful life, and take much-deserved breaks.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done. But there is an effective way for entrepreneurs to maintain some semblance of balance in their lives.
Schedule, don’t list.
“Followers of my work know I always say: schedule, don’t list,” explains Kevin Kruse in Forbes. “Meaning, throw away your to-do list and just put all of your ‘to-do’s’ onto your calendar.”
This may go against everything you’ve been taught about time management. It may even sound “extreme.” But Kruse says he receives emails from strangers on a daily basis saying this simple practice has transformed their lives. Kruse adds that when Zirtual, a virtual assistant staffing company, asked 24 entrepreneurs and startup leaders for their No. 1 tip for achieving work-life balance, this was was the most mentioned piece of advice.
How can you really make this work? Simply block off time on your calendar for your personal life, just like you would with your work calendar. That means scheduling specific times to spend with family and friends. Additionally, block out time periods to attend to your self-care and self-development. Don’t forget to schedule things you enjoy doing — while you might feel pressure to always be “on” and performing, the truth is that you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns with your productivity if you’re never having fun or being creative.
The key, however, to maintaining a schedule is setting boundaries. When you’re at work, that’s where your focus must be. When it’s time for family dinner, hanging out with friends, exercising, or doing something fun, work needs to be put on the back burner.
I’d also add that while you should respect the schedule you’ve created, make sure it’s flexible. That doesn’t mean you should stop what you’re doing to make room for other requests or to overcommit yourself. It’s about leaving blank spaces in your calendar so you can tackle the unexpected or adjust as needed. There will be nights when you have to put in extra time at work because you’re launching a new product or marketing campaign. Likewise, there will be times when you have to leave work early to pick up a sick kid from school. Blank spaces ensure it all has a chance to even out.
Give up control.
It’s not in an entrepreneur’s DNA to give up control. But if you truly want to maintain balance in your life, this is an area that demands improvement.
The first place to start is by hiring, training, and empowering those around you. This way, you can lessen your workload by delegating certain tasks to your team. Because you’ve hired top talent and taken the time to get to know them, you’re aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and interests. As such, you know what to hand over and to whom. While ceding control might feel weird, recognize that these people likely have more time and energy (and possibly even the specific talents) to do a better job at the task.
Also, make sure you give them the tools and resources to complete the job. If you do all of this, you can be certain that your team is more than capable of getting the job done — with or without you. This is a life saver if your business requires you to travel often or simply remain unavailable with investor meetings, sales calls, and the like.
If you are on a budget and don’t have an in-house team, outsource less important (re: not mission-critical) tasks to freelancers. There are numerous sites that can connect you with talented freelancers. Just make sure to read reviews before settling on a freelancer, and review samples of her work to get a feel for whether you’ll work well together.
Outside of work, you may also want to outsource tasks, such as cleaning your house or mowing your lawn. If you have a family or roommates, delegate household chores to each member of the household so the burden doesn’t always fall on your shoulders. Consider hiring a housekeeper or a lawn service. You may bristle at the thought of paying someone to do something you can do yourself, but think about your opportunity cost. You have to take into account the value of your own time.
Trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting and stressful. You always have to stay “in character.” Eventually, you’ll burn out because you’re using so much energy trying to be someone else. That’s valuable energy you could be putting elsewhere.
I’ve noticed throughout my career that entrepreneurs, in particular, have a “fake it till you make it” mentality. They want to build a brand that highlights how successful they are and the luxurious lifestyle their success enables them to lead (sometimes even before it’s a reality). As a result, they’re not spending time or effort actually learning and growing — which holds them back from enhancing the skills that could help them finish tasks faster.
Others pretend to know all of the answers, never asking for help. Not only will you spend more time working on a problem that could have been solved faster by someone else, but you’re also more likely to make mistakes and spend additional time fixing them.
In short, be “you” in every situation, both inside and outside work. Never compromise your values and principles. Be realistic about what you can and can’t accomplish. Admit that you’ve made mistakes. Identify what matters most to you, and make that your priority.
Maintaining balance will vary from entrepreneur to entrepreneur. The key is to create a realistic schedule that you follow daily while leaving wiggle room. It’s also about being comfortable with giving up a little control and always being yourself. Entrepreneurship is hard work, but you may be making it a lot harder than it needs to be.
If you’re an entrepreneur, how have you been able to maintain balance in your life? What didn’t work?