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July 20, 2018
Culture  |  12 min read

The Entrepreneur's Guide to Work/Life Balance

If you search Google for “entrepreneur personal relationships” you’ll come across some interesting articles:

Clearly, work life balance harmony is not considered one of the defining characteristics of the life of an entrepreneur, but perhaps it should be.

No doubt, 24/7 work requirements and a passion (that may sometimes border on obsession) can be difficult to balance against the focus and presence required to maintain a healthy relationship.

How to Achieve Work-Life Balance as a Small Business Owner - Download Now

Work life balance myth

A few problems with the concept of balancing work and life:

  • It implies that there is a difference between work and life, which, for entrepreneurs, is rarely true.
  • It only measures output. (Which is exhausting.)
  • It implies that your energy can be divided like a pie.

Let’s face it: The phrase “work-life balance” loses all meaning once you become an entrepreneur.

For small business owners, there is a constant need to find equilibrium between a demanding career and a vital personal life. Assuming you can put the two on an even scale, though, is deceiving. Whether you’re a solopreneur or employ 25 workers, the pull of business demands is ever-present. To be successful in both arenas doesn’t mean you have equal hours at home and in the office, it means you have found a rhythm that fulfills both sides.

Here are a few things to ensure your life is in harmony:

  1. Blend the parts together. If you segment life into separate compartments, it’s really hard to blend them together and have harmony. Instead, you should view the important pieces of your puzzle as one unit, with several parts. For example, I share the ups and the downs and ask my kids to cheer me on. Conversely, at work, I’ll share the latest kid story to provide a solid belly laugh for my co-workers. When (not if) the two parts collide, each part is aware of and supportive of the other, which makes it much easier to find harmony.

  2. Be authentic. Be “you” in every situation. You’ll have less stress, more peace, and more harmony in your whole life—instead of just parts of it.

  3. Give and take. Sometimes you HAVE to work long days and give more than average hours to your work, but in those times you have to readjust expectations and to give that much more to your family.

  4. Communicate clearly. I’ve been in situations where the company culture was come in early, leave very late and work hard all the time to accomplish sales goals. For many small businesses, that demand is placed on you to ensure your business thrives. Since you are the one running the ship, you have to communicate clearly with your partners, employees, family and even yourself. Provide vocal and written insight into how you expect to achieve harmony in your life and communicate these goals and needs clearly so that expectations are set and you’re held accountable for what you said you’d achieve.

  5. Commit to harmony. Jim Collins, in his extensive study of top companies, found that there are two types of CEOs (or executives) in great companies. Type one executives, make work their life. Type two executives have other passions and interests outside of the office demands. If you want to be the latter, you must commit to enabling harmony.

For a deeper look at how real small business owners are dealing with these very real challenges, we went straight to the source. We asked for tips, challenges and lessons learned.

Work life balance tips

Focus on Equilibrium

Instead of balance, small business owners report more success when they aim for a healthy equilibrium.

"Don’t focus on having an equal 50/50 balance of personal & business life every day. Personal life will come up sometimes during business hours, and sometimes work calls when you just put in a movie with the kids. Each day will skew in a different direction, but in the end, everything naturally balances out. Don’t worry about making it perfect." — Nellie Akalp | CorpNet

"Although I tried hard for years to balance personal and business, things smoothed out once I learned that drawing a hard line between the two was pointless and that it was ultimately a false dichotomy. At the core, I’m the same person who is in the business meeting as I am at home with my wife. The best thing I ever did was to start acting like it." — Timothy Trudeau | Syntax Creatives

Embrace Failure

Sometimes the very thing that can bring stress to your personal relationships can also come with lessons that can bring harmony and success to home relationships as well.

"Running my own business has made me more tolerant of failure. To do anything well takes practice. I want to be a great leader, a great wife, a great mom, and a great friend. Sometimes, I feel like a failure in all of those roles! When I fail, I evaluate what went wrong and pivot in a different direction. As long as I'm failing, I'm growing." — Chantel Adams | Forever We, Inc.

Learn from your mistakes

It’s inevitable that you’ll make some mistakes. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs report that these mistakes cost a great deal in terms of personal relationships and health. However, the most important thing is to learn and grow from these mistakes, so that you can change what needs to be changed to help you, and your relationships, thrive in the future.

"Knowing absolutely nothing about online business, I spent 16–18 hour work days for the first two years frantically studying and experimenting. I eventually built a passive income model that freed up my time. However, some of my friends had moved on because of my absence and my family had grown bitter towards my business. My ridiculously long work days no longer became the focal point of my stress and I invested time in rebuilding the relationships I had neglected over the years." — Sam Oh | Money Journal

Don’t try to do it all alone

While you may be the best at most things, you can’t do it all. One quality of a good entrepreneur that will also help your relationships is to stay focused on your zone of genius, the things that nobody else can do, and then put your energies into hiring our outsourcing the rest.

"82 percent of business owners are working 40-plus hours per week, but only 44 percent want to be. The best way to reduce your workload and get more time to spend with the people you care about is by delegating tasks you don't need to be doing yourself and creating a strategic plan that allows you to work on your business, rather than in it." — Jo Clarkson | The Alternative Board

Say No (and keep saying No)

It can be easy to say YES to every opportunity, every client, every task—big or small— that comes your way. It can be hard, even terrifying, to say no. But in order to have any chance of keeping your head above water, saying no is a vital skill.

"Eliminate. If it isn't a HELL YES then it's a NO! This has helped me focus tremendously." — Chris Castiglione | One Month

Be intentional (and realistic)

Just like you need a business plan to keep things on track and moving forward, so you need one for your personal life too. Don’t worry that calendaring things like “lunch” or “quality time with my partner” seems unromantic or disingenuous. Because ultimately, it is both romantic and genuine saying, “You mean so much to me that I made this space on my calendar for you.”

"Schedule your time together, whether it's a weekly date or quarterly vacation, and make it consistent. Whatever it is, that time is untouchable, period. We've made an agreement that there is absolutely no business that can trump the pre-scheduled time." — Erin Smith | Chris Castiglione | The Starters Club

Keep work and life separate

Although hard and fast lines are very difficult for most small business owners, it’s best to keep the line from getting too blurry.

"Have a “Rule Of The Stairs”: Do not talk about anyone or anything related to work after stepping on the first step of the stairs. This will help to keep your work and family life separate." — Grainne Kelly| BubbleBum

Keep your eye on the (real) bottom line

Relationships can be the first to suffer when the going gets tough. But don’t forget that they’re actually some of the most important things to maintain.

"I believe that humans are created to be relational. Relationships provide support, love, and emotional stability that helps us get through the rough patches in both life and business. I still struggle in finding the perfect algorithm for work and relationships because there is no algorithm for people. I have found that my time is best spent when invested in people and not machines. Money comes and goes. In fact, millions of dollars can be made or won in mere seconds, but relationships take time and effort to nurture. Keep the quality of your business high and the quality of your relationships even higher." — Sam Oh | Money Journal

“Ask yourself, If I say yes to this task or activity, what will I expect to get back? And is that return worth it to me? The “return” may or may not be financial. The ability to give non-monetary rewards as much weight as more traditional earnings is also one of the great joys of self-employment.” — Samantha Bennett, Author of bestselling Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day

Become more mobile

Technology allows the ability to integrate work and life together more than ever. From office documents to the family calendar, your list of to-dos can fit in the device that you slip into your pocket. Using a cloud-based service such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Box allows you to access and work on your documents anytime, anywhere. When you become more mobile, you become more agile.

Take Vacations

Freedom is a big reason why you start your business in the first place. So, if you can’t take a vacation, you probably don’t have the success (freedom/time/money) you were seeking when you started the business.

Design your business so that you can get away. Through strategy, leadership, and automation—which I refer to as the three pillars of small business success—you can absolutely take vacations. And your business will actually prosper in your absence.

How to be an entrepreneur parent

As a parent entrepreneur, you struggle to find work-life balance. At the end of the day, you try to focus on your family and forget the millions of tasks that you promised you would leave at the office. But if you make sure to plan well, and your decision to launch an at-home business will be one that’s respected and rewarding.

A few dos and don’ts of successful entrepreneur parents from Megan Totka, the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com

  • Separate personal and professional fronts
  • Don’t neglect yourself
  • Treat your home office like on
  • Divvy up tasks
  • Be flexible
  • Don’t be afraid to say no
  • Outsource
  • Create fluidity

Entrepreneurs Life Challenge

Write down the parts of your life that must be in harmony? Draw a pie chart with what the harmony is now. In three months, after you’ve started working on a better harmony, look at the paper and see how you’ve improved. Ask those closest to you to hold you accountable—and then listen to their perspective. You’re sure to hear the harmony much more quickly, and meaningfully.

Don’t forget to keep your focus on the strength and solidity of your personal relationships—when the going gets tough these are the people who will help you get through. And when the going gets good they’ll also be the ones to celebrate your success.


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