Last week I talked about entrepreneurs and addiction to work. I concluded that while clinical addictions to work can be real, they are relatively rare, reports Forbes. Furthermore, the negative label of addiction is sometimes misapplied to the commitment and energy that is very typically one of an entrepreneur’s greatest traits. If you missed that post, you can find the column and link to the work addiction self-test survey here.
Clearly, however, the concept of work/life balance has struck a sensitive nerve. While clinical work addictions may be rare, lack of work/life balance is a pervasive issue that to some degree perhaps applies to us all. As someone who has been an entrepreneur through multiple companies and for nearly all of my life, I can see room for improvement on most every point. So with an eye towards improving the balance of work, rest and play for all of us, I have compiled the following 12 strategies entrepreneurs at every level can use to increase their strengths on this front.
First, let’s consider some recommendations from WebMD:
1. Build downtime into your schedule. Because hard-charging entrepreneurs are proficient at filling their schedules with goal activities, we can make great progress by using our planning strengths to our advantage. Make downtime a specific goal and schedule in the time and the steps you will take to achieve it. Exercise and reading are activities you can schedule in to achieve. The same applies to date night or to planned activities for physical relaxation and play. Perhaps you can set a goal of achieving 3-5 relaxation activities a week and build them into your calendar. If circumstances require you to miss a scheduled downtime event, you can discipline yourself to replace it with another, thus maintaining an increasingly better balance of work time and play.
2. Drop the activities that sap your time or energy. Have you noticed that some activities take more time than they should, or are physically and mentally draining beyond the time they require? Maybe you have a friend or a set of friends who tend to bond over too much drinking or gossip. Yes, you appreciate their friendship, but you leave these situations feeling dragged down instead of enriched. Or you are clinging to maintenance activities you could delegate or hire someone else to take care of and add a welcome lift to your day.
3. Make time for exercise. This is a big theme for me as I have loved exercise and athletic challenges for nearly all of my life. As you consider your health and well-being, determine the kinds of exercise that will accomplish your goals. Schedule your workout activities for realistic times that you can achieve such as noon hour walks or runs, early morning workouts, or forms of exercise that can help you unwind after work. Keep your plans flexible as well for the kinds of fitness you want to achieve, to strike a healthy balance between cardio workouts, weights, and activities that emphasize stretching, strength and agility. We all know entrepreneurs and others who actually lose health and risk injuries by adopting one favorite exercise activity and neglecting all else.
4. Remember that a little relaxation can go a long way. If you allow time for 10-15 minute visits with a friend or loved one, to read an enjoyable article, or to take a quick walk around the block, these short activities can go a long ways towards increasing your emotional well-being and health. Stop to enjoy the “small things” perhaps once an hour or several times every day to keep your spirit fed and your motivation and commitment running high.
Here are a few additional “life hack” ideas I’ve gathered as well:
5. Enjoy your weekends and vacation. If weekends and workdays blur together, your body and mind are never able to rest. While it may not be possible to avoid all work-related activities, be sure your weekends and vacations are times that you allow yourself to relax and enjoy. Concerts, family and sporting activities are important times to disconnect and be thoroughly present for those you are with. During vacations perhaps you can limit email checking and computer time to once an hour or to once at the start or end of each day.
6. Make a time for chores, and get your chores done. Yet again, entrepreneurs’ fire to “get hard things done” can work to our advantage when it comes to accomplishing unwelcome chores. Schedule them in to avoid letting them turn into emergencies. Yes, there may be days you face a flat tire or you may come down with the flu. But if you schedule time for health checkups, car maintenance and general cleaning you will face fewer health or maintenance emergencies and those you confront will likely be smaller in scope and easier to work through or to bear.
7. Minimize the time you spend on things you must do, or find ways to make them enjoyable. Perhaps cooking is something you enjoy if you do it with a loved one, or you could use a meal delivery service, or choose recipes that reduce your cooking time from 40 minutes to 25. You could run or bike or walk to the dry cleaner and to other nearby errands to get enjoyable exercise and fresh air instead of driving the car. If you have a lengthy commute, perhaps you can work from home 1-2 days of the week, or find inspirational books on audio or music you love to fill the available time.
Finally, here is a set of big picture strategies from Fast Company to help you emulate the habits of those who achieve work/life balance best. Heed them well.
8. Set aside time for family. While Fast Company put this reminder well down on its list, your family is the priority you should always put first. Entrepreneurship is a hard challenge for many families. It is extremely hard to make family the highest priority on the late nights when a CEO’s work and decisions will affect perhaps hundreds or even thousands of other families and jobs. Yet making sufficient time for family will be a continual area for the hardest and most important work/balance decisions an entrepreneur or executive makes.
9. Make deliberate choices about what you want from your life. There was a particular quote that wheelchair athlete Curt Brinkman used to love: There are people who watch things happen, people who make things happen, and people who stand there and say, ‘What happened?’” Which of these would best describe you? Yes, it’s a humorous concept—but those whose lives are balanced the best have accomplished that goal, like any other high achievement, by conscious and deliberate choice. Are your decisions and your actions aligned? If not, you know what to do.
10. Communicate clearly about what’s working and what isn’t. This is not complaining; it’s communication. Acknowledge and cherish the things that go well. Work to minimize or eliminate what’s not working. This is an assessment that is continual and is important to everyone, rather than making excuses or just “making do.”
11. Turn off distractions. Distractions can take the form of television, too much music, background conversation, or, increasingly, the iPhone or device that constantly pulls on your focus. Perhaps there are times you need to turn off the device or leave it in another room. Whatever the distractions are that prevent you from giving your whole focus to your work (or from being fully present for those you are with when not working), you should make a concerted effort to set the distractions aside.
12. Have a strong support network. Every great entrepreneur is influenced by the people within his or her circle of closest associates and friends. In fact, business expert Jim Rohn has famously noted, “You are the average of the five people you are with most of the time.” Who are the people you trust and who do you turn to for advice, for insight, or simply to lend a listening ear? Knowing the full importance of a strong support network, perhaps you should choose these key players with additional care. And perhaps you could be a better resource than you currently are for those who are relying on you.
This is a fairly comprehensive list of work/life strategies that should provide at least a few new ideas for all. As an entrepreneur who must continually address these challenges myself, I welcome your additional ideas as well.