By Sujan Patel
Being an entrepreneur or successful leader in business takes a lot of work. There’s no way around it. Fortunately, many people are able to find a lot of fulfillment in their work -- whether that comes from the customers they serve or the colleagues they enjoy working with.
However, it’s still true that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” You need work-life balance. Here are 12 habits you can use to create it:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Schedule important personal activities.
Things such as exercise, date nights with a spouse and more can quickly fall by the wayside 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.
4. Set boundaries.
If customers or colleagues think it’s OK to call you at 11 p.m. if 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.
If you’ve previously kept an open door policy at all hours of the day, shifting to a more limited availability can be frustrating to people who are used to having continuous access to you. Notify them of your schedule changes in a professional manner and reiterate that limiting your availability will improve your ability to meet their needs more effectively when you are “on the clock.”
5. Think carefully about where you live.
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 neighborhood. Do so with your ideal work-life balance in mind.
6. Turn off technology.
With smartphones and increasing demands on workers, we now live in an “always on” culture. However, 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.
7. 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.
8. Schedule vacation 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, vacation 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.
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.
9. Join social groups.
If you find it hard to socialize because you’re always working, consider joining a social-only group. You can check out Meetup.com for groups in your area, or join a non-business related sports team or bowling league. Focus on using these opportunities to meet new friends, not on talking shop.
10. Delegate household tasks.
If you have the ability and extra cash to do so, consider hiring out or delegating household tasks. For example, a housekeeper who comes once a week can help you tackle the cleaning projects that always seem to pile up, while a lawn service can save you the hours that you’d otherwise spend mowing your grass or maintaining your landscaping.
By looking for and taking advantage of opportunities such as these, you’ll be able to spend your personal time with friends and family, instead of doing chores. Or, if your spouse or older children can handle some of the more mundane tasks while you work, you can all enjoy having fun together afterward.
11. 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.
12. 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 spent years leaving work at 5:30 to have dinner with her children. If she can do it, why can't you?
Work-life balance is not a system of having your work and life take exactly the same amount of hours or focus. It’s a way of making sure that both your work priorities and your personal priorities are being met. Sometimes that means more work hours, and other times it means less. In either situation, in developing the 12 habits listed above, you’ll be well on your way to developing and maintaining a great work-life balance.
What other strategies do you use to maintain work-life balance? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.