Work-life balance is a challenge for many small business owners. It’s easy to fall into the habit of checking email from bed or answering work calls while you’re on date night with your partner. If we don’t focus on maintaining work-life balance, work can creep into our evenings and weekends.
It’s also easy to push off important work tasks when life gets busy. For those of us with chronic illnesses, periods of poor health can get in the way of our productivity. While we may know what we need to do to manage our symptoms and still work, it can be hard to balance our health while still actively building our business.
Whether you struggle with overworking yourself or with under-prioritizing your business, here are 5 work-life balance tips that will help you organize your life and have it all.
1. Work during your highest productivity times.
Managing productivity and work-life balance as an entrepreneur is all about knowing yourself. One of the best work-life balance tips I have is to plan to work when you know that you generally feel good and productive.
For example, I have always been a morning person. In high school, I used to wake up at 4am to draw and write before my classes started. When I worked in fast food, I had an opening shift, necessitating that I be out of bed between 2:30-4am (depending on the season and how long my commute was). My brain works best before noon, and always has.
This is important to know about myself as an entrepreneur. If I leave projects until late afternoon, they don’t get done, or they don’t get done well. My brain is sluggish after lunch and doesn’t perk up again until early evening. If I really need to get things done, I really need to get up early and make that happen.
Speaking of perking up in the early evening…
2. Block off time for life.
I don’t work evening and I don’t work weekends. Of course, there are rare exceptions to this, like if I’m coming up against a hard deadline or a project comes up that’s on a time crunch. However, part of what I like about making my own schedule is that I can maintain a 9-5 Monday-Friday lifestyle.
It might not be evenings and weekends for you. Maybe your daughter has softball practice every Thursday after school, and you take her out for ice cream after. It’s important to block that time off of work every week. Maybe it’s important to you to sleep in and have gentle mornings where you don’t have to even check your email. You can do that.
3. One thing at a time.
Work-life balance is, at the most basic level, about blocking off work time and life time separately. If you are constantly scrolling Facebook when you should be working, or conversely, always looking at your laptop when you’re trying to talk to your partner, your work-life balance is probably off.
Multitasking is ineffective. (Just read this article from the American Psychological Association if you need more convincing!) Set aside definitive time that is for work (tip #1) , and definitive time that isn’t (tip #2) and stick to it.
4. Take time off if you really need it.
If you are really having a hard time — be it with your health, a family crisis, or some other big problem — it is okay to take some time off. I know that your business is your baby and you are worried that it will die if you leave it alone for a week or two. However, the reality is that you can probably occasionally take 5-10 days off without damaging the integrity of your business. Clients will probably understand that an emergency came up that needs to be dealt with. You’ll also probably be more productive when you return than if you had tried to slog through.
This doesn’t mean that every time you get a headache you can take a half week. However, maintaining work-life balance as an entrepreneur means that sometimes you have to admit that you need a break. In a conventional office, sick time and FMLA exist to provide a framework for this need. As your own boss, you have to know when you need time to heal or cope — and you have to be willing to take it.
If you do take time off, actually take it. Don’t slip into the idea that you can just do “a little bit here, a little bit there”. If you’ve determined that the situation you are in is serious enough that you need to take time off work, you need to respect that boundary.
5. Enjoy your work and enjoy your life.
Running a business is fun. I like being my own boss. I also like the work that I do. I think it’s great that I get paid to do the same things I did for free in my teens. Playing with WordPress has been something I’ve loved for a long time. Social media and the Internet in general truly hold my interest. I never expected to do this as a career, but now that I’m doing it, I genuinely enjoy it. (Most of the time! It is still a job.)
I also have hobbies and friends and family and things in my life that I enjoy doing outside of work. I like to dance. I like to write poetry. I like to sit outside while listening to music and catching up with my boyfriend. I like to watch stand-up specials on Netflix. I like to take the bus downtown, grab coffee, and people-watch in the park.
Don’t resent the time that you spend working. Don’t feel guilty for the time you spend with your family and friends, or relaxing by yourself. If you manage your work-life balance properly, both have a role to play in a healthy, full life.