When I started my business, I worked around the clock. I thought that meant I was doing a good job. I was on my phone as I walked to meetings, I answered emails at 1 a.m.; I was up anyway so why not! I never let a call go without answering it.
I would look at other small business owners and wonder how they maintained this pace because I was running out of steam. I started to resent my business and anyone who wanted a piece of me, including my family. That was my wake-up call. I needed to find a work-life balance.
This is a challenge so many other business owners face. Where do you draw the line between work and life when you’re working to support your (and your family’s!) life?
How so many of us have been experiencing work and life over the last year.
In this post, I’m going to share how I started to carve out work-life balance for myself and how you can, too. We’ll talk through:
- What work-life balance really is
- Why work-life balance is so important
- Actionable ways to create work-life balance (it’s not as hard as it seems!)
What is work-life balance?
With people working remotely and us small business owners scrambling to keep things going during the pandemic, you may think it’s not possible for you to have a work-life balance. I hear you. So I want to clarify what work-life balance means. It is not pressure to have fun or a dictate of what you should be doing with your time or even a requirement to have a financially robust business.
Creating a culture in support of a work-life balance is an opportunity to figure out your priorities and then decide what would make you feel good. It’s a path to evolving your business to be more fun, meaningful, and lucrative while keeping you from investing all your time and energy into your business. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?
Why is work-life balance important?
I mean really, people have been working for thousands of years without work-life balance, right? Why do we need this fancy stuff? The short answer: Because there are benefits to you, your staff, and your business.
We small business owners have a lot to juggle. We may have chosen this path or inherited it, but it’s on us to keep the business going and care for our customers and staff. According to a poll of readers of the New York Enterprise Report, 33% of small-business owners work more than 50 hours a week, 25% work more than 60 hours per week, and 70% work at least one weekend. The 2016 Annual Bank of West Small Business Growth Survey showed that the top three challenges for business owners are uncertainty, lack of time off, and burnout. Does this resonate? It does for me.
Even before the pandemic, there were plenty of times I’d snuggle my kid to sleep and then go back to my computer. But after 15 years of running my own business, I’ve figured out a way to live a balanced life of work and fun, and the only way I made this happen was to define what’s important to me (don’t worry, we’ll get into how to do this!).
Since I know my priorities, I can make decisions quickly and without question, and I stand by them in thought and action. My child trusts that I will follow through on a promise I make because I’m able to be consistent. My clients know the same. Having clear priorities helps us create a positive domino-effect experience for ourselves and everyone around us.
When you define what’s important to you and run the business accordingly, it becomes clear to your staff that they either align with your priorities or don’t.
This clarity leads to aligned employees staying and un-aligned employees quitting or being asked to leave for obvious reasons. Here’s the best part: now you have a unified team!
And here’s the deliciousness of a unified team:
- Increased productivity and creativity from the entire team.
- A positive perception of you as an employer.
- Referrals to value-aligned candidates for open roles from current employees who know exactly what’s needed.
- Peer coverage for when someone needs to be out or come in late–you’re not managing this, they are!
- Flexible support for seasonal peaks and valleys.
- Genuine customer service that leads to a positive reputation among shoppers for you as a leader and for your business as a provider.
- Low absenteeism and sick calls; they’ll want to come to work.
- Employee loyalty resulting in reduced staff turnover (a 50-75% savings per salary).
- Fun and laughter at work.
- Accurate and trustworthy feedback from employees about streamlining process and protocol; they’ll feel ownership about running the business most efficiently.
- Reliable coverage for when you need a day or week or month off.
All of these bullet points lead to increased revenue with less stress. This is good stuff. This is the goal for any business. And it all stems from you connecting with what’s important to you and creating work-life balance.
How to achieve work-life balance
Achieving work-life balance is easier said than done. It took me some time to find the right balance, but here’s the formula that worked for me (and I think it will work for you, too!).
Define your priorities
Remember when I told you I could only create work-life balance after I defined my priorities? It took me a while to get clear on my top five must-haves in my life. Everything else is fun, but not necessary.
Here are my priorities in life:
- My family (spending time with my loved ones).
- Meaningful work (serving people who want to learn about compassionate leadership).
- Connecting with good people (networking, meeting friends).
- Taking care of my body (sleep, walks in nature, healthy eating, going for checkups).
- Earning a robust income (Spend, save, and donate).
These priorities are absolutely necessary for me to enjoy my life. Yes, I said life. Because for me, work is a crucial and meaningful part of my whole. It is not my whole.
Do your priorities align with mine? Maybe, maybe not. There is no right answer. It’s not possible to do this wrong; you just need to do it. This can take five minutes or five weeks. You know what’s important to you, but sometimes it takes a few steps. I’ve found that writing your priorities down, then experiencing the world with these priorities in the back of your mind to be quite helpful.
Here’s a step by step of what I recommend you do to define your priorities:
Make a list of all the things that are important to you.
Ignore the thoughts of, “I don’t have enough time,” or “There’s no one else who can do what I do.” These may be valid, but they’re not helpful right now. We’re simply defining what’s important to you, not what you’re going to do with this information. Keep adding things until you feel ready to stop.
Think about this list of priorities as you work, see what feels true and what doesn’t.
For example, you may write that you value being a good leader, but in reality, you may yell when something goes awry. Pause, notice, be kind to yourself–you’re doing hard work here. Now think about how badly you want to be a good leader and then think of what you need to be that good leader. Write that down, such as: enough sleep, healthy meals, better sales–just write it down.
Remember there’s no right or wrong. It just is what you value. No one can say you’re good or bad for valuing it.
Sleep on it.
Now go through that list and prioritize it. What pulls at your heart? That’s a keeper. Throw out what doesn’t feel authentic. Go deep here. Is that my insecurity talking about what people will think, or is that what I genuinely want?
Narrow it down to the top 5.
No order of priority among them, just clarity that these are must-haves in your life.
Review your top five.
How do you feel? Physically and emotionally? Do you feel expansive in your chest and heart? I hope so because that means you defined what’s most important to you.
That’s the path to clarity. Feel free to run it by your spouse or best friend or therapist. It never hurts to discuss with someone you trust to support what’s best for you.
Hire the right team and delegate, delegate, delegate
Here’s where it gets tricky. Why, because we small business owners are reluctant to hand off important responsibilities. Let me throw a few more statistics at you. These are what small business owners say according to a survey by The Alternative Board:
- 32% say there are some tasks only they can handle
- 30% say they’re “the most capable option”
- 20% say the employees “do not have the right skills”
- 20% say they can do it faster so they might as well just do it
Yikes. This sounds exhausting and uncomfortably familiar to me. And now you can see why it’s crucial to define your priorities, shift your company culture, and create an environment of loyalty–so the good people stay and you can trust them. So you can take your kids to Disneyland. Or your spouse out to dinner. Or yourself to get a massage.
It takes a village to raise a family and to run a business. This doesn’t mean you need to hire 40 people tomorrow. It means we need to seriously consider who is doing what and when for our company. But you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?
Imagine you’re a pizza restaurant owner and your priorities are:
- Being the neighborhood go-to for fast and easy food
- Being the nominated vendor for schools and businesses nearby
- Taking care of my body by getting to the gym regularly
- Earning a robust income
Now, look at your employees. Do you have only one type of employee such as high schoolers who can only work after school and before homework? Do you have a mix of employees such as college students part-time during the summer and two full-time people who live in the apartment above with their family at low cost because they’re so reliable?
Consider what kind of support you need to be able to sit down to a family dinner every Sunday night without worrying about the restaurant. And who can cover reliably so you can go to the gym for the 2 p.m. bodybuilding class? And what about the time it takes you to schmooze the school liaisons and corporate clients? Not to mention Little League teams?
Invest in yourself
You may not think of going to the gym as an investment in your business, but anything that helps reduce your stress is a smart investment of time, energy, and funds. It’s also an opportunity to empower a staff member to be the go-to in your absence. This creates ownership and builds loyalty and trust.
Maybe you decide to go to your mom’s Sunday night dinner once a month during the summer because it’s peak season or maybe it’s so important to you that you hire an extra part-timer just for Sunday nights. You’re a role model for your employees, your customers, and the young people in your life–whether they’re related to you or not. You’re modeling how to live a balanced life and investing in yourself, which will pay dividends for your business.
Make work-life balance achievable
So let’s recap how to achieve work-life balance for business owners:
- Define what matters to you in this life, your priorities
- Determine what support you need in order to do what matters most to you
- Hire accordingly
- Train the heck out of your team
- Teach them your priorities
- Ask them to share their priorities with you
- Support each other
- Experience a work-life balance
You’re the boss, the top banana, the one who makes all decisions. Use this power to nurture loyalty and trust from your employees, to model a balanced life for the young people around you, and to live your life wholly and completely.