Work-life balance has traditionally been one of the hardest things for small business owners to master. Whether it’s the long hours, constant need for marketing, or the requirements of networking, work tends to creep into an entrepreneur’s personal life quite easily. Conversely, family issues like spending time with your spouse and kids or going on vacation can just as easily eat into one’s work commitments.
Good balance can preserve your sanity when you’re facing the stress of running a small business, so it’s important to prioritize this issue. In fact, studies show that work-life balance is the main determiner of career success for both men and women. Unfortunately, another survey finds that fully one-third of all workers believe that maintaining their work-life balance is harder now than ever.
That begs the question, how can you get a handle on work-life balance in your small business?
You can’t work so hard that you’re burning out and not having time for friends and family, yet you understandably want and need to strive to achieve success for your small business.
In this article discover the finer points of getting this precarious balance of your everyday life right. Move from understanding what work-life balance is to practicing it with these surefire work life balance tips.
First, let's define it and what we mean by striving for work-life balance.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
We’ve all heard this term, "work-life balance" thrown around so much. To some, it’s become a cliché. That doesn't diminish its importance.
It's the ideal goal of everyone who opens and runs their own small business: Spending enough time at work to be a success in your industry, but also having enough time to be with friends and family, pursue a relaxing hobby, or enjoy an extracurricular activity that you’re enthusiastic about.
Wikipedia puts it best: “Work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between ‘work’ (career and ambition) and ‘lifestyle’ (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation).”
With this definition in mind, we have to now define what makes up the “optimized” balance between your work and lifestyle.
Is it exactly a 50/50 split between career and lifestyle choices? Is it so you don’t get stressed out managing your small business? Is it so you can go on vacation when you want to?
To some degree, this balance is deeply personal and highly individualized to each entrepreneur and freelancer, but there are some basic principles we should be able to agree on.
For example, good balance means:
- Not working so hard you end up hating your career.
- Taking care of your personal health and wellbeing.
- Making enough time for the activities in life that you truly enjoy.
- Spending enough time with the people who are important to you.
- Achieving what you want to accomplish in your business, without overdoing it.
With these examples in mind, let's look at how to improve your work-life balance.
5 Surefire Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance
Here are a handful of powerful work-life balance tips that can help you achieve greater equilibrium. They work well if you develop them daily and commit to them long term.
1. Set Boundaries Appropriately
Setting boundaries means that you have limits with regard to your work. At certain times and days, you simply won’t do any work because you’ve set that aside specifically for personal-life interests. Setting boundaries is an attractive concept, but it can be easier said than done for many small business owners who are “married” to their jobs.
With that in mind, here are some actionable recommendations on how you can set boundaries to keep work separate from your personal time:
- Don’t do any work-related tasks after a certain time in the day.
- Don’t take any business-related messages or emails on your smartphone (since your smartphone is going to be with you all the time).
- Take official “break times” during the day to allow yourself time to decompress and recharge during your workday.
- Use the entire weekend to do personal-life activities, whether that’s family time, meditation, or catching up with your favorite hobby.
The principle is that, while you certainly love being an entrepreneur and becoming bigger and better in your industry, you respect the fact that you can’t pursue this ambitious goal non-stop, which is where boundaries have to come into the picture to allow for a healthy balance. Otherwise, your risk burning out.
For more ideas on how to successfully establish separation between work and personal life, see our two guides on setting boundaries and taking the right mental breaks:
- ProductivitySetting Boundaries: The Key to Maintaining Control of Your LifeAnnie Mueller
- ProductivityHow to Reboot Your Brain and Mentally Reset NowLaura Spencer
2. Become Super-Productive
Productivity is always on the minds of small business owners and entrepreneurs who understand that it empowers them to accomplish more in less time.
Being productive is the key to stellar work-life balance, as getting more done on the job means you’ll have more free time, yet many don’t understand the basics of productivity to make it work for them.
Since productivity can be such an open-ended concept, it’s useful for us here to break it down into easily digestible components, which you can build into your own productivity system. To increase your productivity levels both on the job and at home, think of productivity as being the following:
- Organization – When you’re well-organized, you won’t need to waste time looking for the things you need to excel at running your small business. I don’t just mean being able to quickly locate physical items such as your tablet or checkbook, but also efficiently sorting mental items like ideas and tasks you have to do both at work and in your personal life. For ideas and reference items, there’s Evernote (think of it as your go-to, one-stop filing cabinet in the cloud), and for tasks, there’s Todoist (one of the best productivity/task-management apps ever).
- Theming – When you theme your days, weeks and months, you automatically take the work of thinking about what to do for that given period of time out of the equation. This leaves you with extra time, as you can immediately get down to the tasks you need to do at your business. For instance, Monday can be self-promotion day, Tuesday can be networking day, Wednesday can be client-project day, etc.
- Time Management – Knowing how to manage your time efficiently and schedule your workday and personal time accordingly will give you lots of breathing room. It helps to block off parts of your day for only specific tasks, so you know exactly what you’ll have to do at any given time, without having to waste time thinking about it. Timeboxing strategies like the Pomodoro Technique will further help you make the most of your time.
See our guides on productivity for more work-life balance tips, including productivity apps, getting a grip on busy work, and a guide to personal-habit productivity.
- Productivity15 Business Productivity Apps to Work Better + Save TimeLaura Spencer
- ProductivityHow to Reduce Busy Work as a Small Business OwnerLaura Spencer
- Productivity4 Important Personal Habits for a More Productive LifeAnnie Mueller
3. Leverage Delegation
You can’t do everything, even though it often feels like that's your only option as a solopreneur or small business owner. Delegation is the perfect way to lessen the tasks on your plate while still advancing all of those projects.
If you have a small number of employees you’ve hired, be clear about what their job expectations are and how you want them to be fulfilled. If you’re a solopreneur, there are tactics to automate your tasks, so you’re not doing everything yourself.
There’s always going to be a bit of pain, at first, when you’re training your employees on how to do certain tasks to free you up for more important responsibilities at your business or free time at home. This front-end work will eventually pay huge dividends.
For example, once you hire a new employee, they don’t know how to use your ordering system. It’s going to take a while to teach them how to be proficient in this area, and that’ll likely mean you having to do more work in the beginning until they’re up to speed. This may mean longer hours for you and even initially falling behind on key projects to train your new employee.
However, once your employee is proficient, they don’t need your guidance anymore; they now take a routine task at your business off your hands, freeing you up for more personal time with your friends and family.
That’s the power of knowing how to delegate.
And if you document the training materials needed for new employees or important tasks, that takes upfront time as well, but then you can give those instructions to future hires. They can study and reference them to know how to complete the duties in their role, without needing your direct guidance, saving you training time and allowing you to grow quicker.
See our tutorial on deciding what to delegate, also how to scale your business systematically using standard operating procedures:
- ManagementHow to Decide What to DelegateAndrew Blackman
- ProductivityHow to Scale and Grow Your Online Business by SystemizingBrian Casel
4. Learn to Prioritize
Being able to honestly and intelligently determine what tasks demand your immediate attention (needs) versus other tasks that are only desires (wants) will empower you to get the crucial tasks done, so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. This strategy isn’t just an ingenious way to get the most important things done, but also helps in identifying what’s truly important and what’s not.
When you can prioritize work tasks in this manner, you’re able to better decide what you can either postpone to a later date or nix altogether, so that you have more time for your personal life.
The trick with prioritization is that it also takes a bit of extra time and work up front—but you’ll be happy you invested it when you reap the benefits of more time to do the things you want later on down the line. When prioritizing, ask yourself if the work task you want to get done is really crucial (read: it can’t wait or bad consequences will happen) or just important, which implies that it can be postponed because you still have some leeway.
The more you get into the habit of evaluating your tasks like this and being intellectually honest with yourself, the sooner you’ll get to a point where you have choice over what you want to do because all the must-dos have been completed. And when you have more choice, you’re in better control than ever and can decide if you want to use your extra wiggle room for self-improvement or spending time with your friends and family.
For inspiration on prioritization, begin by seeing our tutorial on prioritizing tasks with GTD and how to better handle your emails:
- ProductivityHow to Use the Getting Things Done (GTD) Productivity SystemDavid Masters
- CommunicationHow to Prioritize the Emails You Respond ToDavid Masters
5. Minimize Distractions as Much as Possible
During your working hours, anything that doesn’t contribute to you getting your tasks done more efficiently is essentially a distraction. If it gets in the way of doing your job properly, then it’s a distraction.
The dilemma is that distractions abound more than ever in our digital world. Here are some of the worst distractions that you’re likely already being plagued by:
- text messages
- social media
- smartphone notifications
- phone calls
Yes, the above can occasionally be relevant to your workday if it’s specifically related to your job. For instance, if you’re about to fall behind on a deadline delivery for a client project, it’d definitely be necessary to email your client to let them know in advance. As for social media, if you’re using it to promote your business and only use it for marketing during your workday, then that’s justifiable, too.
I’m talking about the problem uses of the above, such as texting your friends or family during work, constantly checking emails while at work, using social media to while away the time on the job, failing to turn your smartphone notifications off, and taking inappropriate calls during the workday.
Cut down on distractions by:
- Only checking your phone during breaks or lunchtime.
- Committing yourself to only checking emails once or twice during the workday.
- Strictly using social media for work-related reasons such as Facebook post boosting.
See our top ten list of ways to cut down on distractions, as well as how to stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time:
- Productivity10 Ways to Eliminate DistractionsLeo Babauta
- ProductivityHow to Do One Thing at a Time—and Stop MultitaskingAndrew Blackman
What Is Work-Life Balance? Case Studies
Achieving work-life balance isn’t some elusive pipe dream. Want proof? There are already many small business owners who enjoy this great equilibrium today. Here are some noteworthy examples:
- Michael O’Brien, Principal of Peloton Coaching and Consulting, focuses on only three priority areas of his work and personal life and then delegates the rest of the less important stuff to anyone working for him.
- Bill Fish, Founder of ReputationManagement.com, considers perfect work-life balance to be not neglecting his family by spending time at his office during the workday—then coming home, spending time with his wife and kids, and not checking his smartphone until the kids are in bed.
- Tamara Budz, Founder of Silver Shade Group, defines work-life balance as crossing off everything on her to-do list while still making time for her son after school and eating together as a family.
Getting Work-Life Balance Right
The biggest takeaway is that you have to really commit to make this balance work for you. That’s why it’s so important to make definitive decisions, such as: setting boundaries, or not replying, or dealing with any work-related issues after a certain time each day, or on certain days (like the weekend).
When you set these rules for your way of approaching things and stick to them, that’s when you can strike a healthy balance between your business and personal life pursuits. You'll not only be more successful, but also take care of yourself and spending time with friends and family.
Master elusive work-life balance by:
- Understanding what work-life balance is better.
- Setting boundaries between your work and personal life.
- Becoming more productive and setting up systems.
- Delegating busy-work jobs to those you employ.
- Prioritizing tasks and focusing.
- Cutting down on distractions
Keep in mind, it can take quite a bit of experimenting, and trying out different methods until you arrive at your own productivity system that works for you and your business. Keep at it until you break through.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in August of 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.
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