If you’re reading this, you’re probably struggling right now with getting that all-essential work/life balance. In fact, we expect you to get distracted by your email/phone/teams/slack etc. before you even read to the end.
Give yourself time to truly reflect on these words.
As an entrepreneur it can often feel like there’s no off switch. Friends and family might be concerned or irritated with this behaviour but we understand that it can be hard to separate life and work. Whether employed or self-employed, all of us are spending more of our lives working, which is why there’s more focus on work/life balance.
According to an Accenture study flagged in Huffington Post, most of us now determine career success more by work/life balance than we do by money, recognition and autonomy.
Table of contents
- According to an Accenture study flagged in Huffington Post, most of us now determine career success more by work/life balance than we do by money, recognition and autonomy.
- The entrepreneurial work/life balance paradox
- What causes work/life imbalance?
- Our top 10 methods to manage work/life balance
The entrepreneurial work/life balance paradox
The issue for entrepreneurs is that work and life are so interlinked that it’s hard to see the difference. It implies we can separate our energy into clear boxes, which is unrealistic.
A healthy work/life balance for entrepreneurs therefore, is about ensuring that we’re happy and have a routine that embraces wellbeing. Overall, we should be enjoying what we do, and not feeling stressed or at risk of burnout.
Burnout is real. According to 2021 research, 79% of the UK workforce have experienced it. So why are we not paying more attention to our mental wellbeing?
Not only is every business different, entrepreneurs are different too, so what this balance looks like can vary. However the fundamentals include:
- taking care of your own physical and mental health and wellbeing
- enjoying and feeling accomplished in your work
- spending time with your loved ones
- doing activities that feed your spirit.
What causes work/life imbalance?
Imbalance can quickly or regularly occur for a few main reasons:
- We are people pleasers
- We say yes to too many clients
- We fail to prioritise: what actually needs to happen vs. what can be ignored
- Hours start to slowly stretch out longer and longer
- We have increased responsibilities, both at work and on the domestic front (children, pets, and people we are responsible for)
Our top 10 methods to manage work/life balance
1. Take a step back
Business never stops. But in order to have time to reflect and plan, you need to stop. Carve out a day – or even half a day for yourself purely to step back and consider the big picture.
Prepare for your reflection day
Spend a week tracking exactly how you are spending your time each day, and how you feel. What is taking up most of your focus and energy within the business? When and how are you enjoying downtime, how many hours of sleep are you getting each night? Evaluate your client list. Are there any clients that are increasing your stress at the expense of the rest of your business? This will help you achieve more clarity on how you are currently prioritising and what you may be missing out on.
2. Set realistic goals, prioritise, and measure success on results
We’re always talking about setting business goals here at Founders Hub, but what about the rest of your life?
Personal goals, both short and long-term, are equally important. So set your intentions about what you want to achieve and, importantly, include the why. This will help you with staying motivated as well. See our blog on how to manage when your motivation is at an all time low, for more help on keeping up your motivation.
Ensure your goals – and their deadlines – are realistic and possible to achieve, so that you don’t feel demotivated if you struggle to reach them.
Set realistic goals
Write down your top personal and professional goals using the format below.
Goal Short-term or long-term?
Timeframe / Deadline
Priority (1 to 5)
For the high priority goals, you need to make them actionable by repeating the exercise and dividing the main goal up into smaller, more manageable goals with actionable steps.
3. Create a schedule and routine
As an entrepreneur, it’s normal that you’re wearing many hats: sales, marketing, business development, operations, HR, accounting/finance. Creating a structure to your week and days really can increase productivity.
You don’t need to be like Elon Musk and calendarise every five minutes but you do want to ensure the personal and professional goals you’ve created become a non-negotiable part of your daily routine, so scheduling them in is fundamental.
Create a schedule that ensures you can efficiently manage your clients needs that’s not detrimental to your own time. Block out time for the following, prioritising in this order:
Obvious huh? So why not schedule it? You should be dedicating seven or eight hours to sleeping each night, and an extra 30 minutes to wind down and prepare yourself for sleep. Once that’s added, you’re stil left with 16 hours per day!
How many hours do you realistically need to work each week in order to keep your clients and team happy and grow your business?
Be harsh with yourself when it comes to restricting your working hours. It’s a myth that you need to work eight hours a day to achieve full productivity and efficiency. If you can, carve out work-free time zones, for example from 7pm to 8am each day, and one hour at lunchtime.
When you build in downtime, you will start to notice that you receive your best ideas while enjoying a swim, out on a walk or at the pub (yes at the pub), while you’re seemingly not even thinking about work. This leads us nicely onto…
You might want to be specific (read, watch TV, time with family/friends, meditation), or you may want to just keep your downtime open to how you feel on the day.
There are lots of ways to boost mental wellbeing, we found out more when we spoke to Judy Hersch, read the Q&A.
Exercise is particularly important if your business predominantly ties you to a desk. We promise that you will feel re-energised and have a lighter mood.
We’ve found that toploading your day and week with activities for yourself tends to ensure they don’t get pushed outside.
You can also incorporate exercise into your work day by having walking meetings, or meeting clients in an active environment, such as on the tennis court or golf course.
Humans are social creatures and need connection. Most entrepreneurs are extroverted and so get energy from interactions. When we find ourselves frequently pulling back from social engagements, it’s often a warning sign that something isn’t right. Perhaps we aren’t making space for the right kind of social encounters?
If you find your work spills over occasionally into your social time, it’s okay to occasionally cancel invitations, those who love you should understand. Just don’t do it too often as this can cause guilt and stress, plus the invites may stop coming.
Create your weekly schedule and daily routine
Write down your different focus areas using the format below, and be sure to include any actionable personal and professional goals in this. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you will probably want to include meal prepping, batch cooking, and exercise into your weekly schedule. Or if it’s to learn to play the guitar, you may want to include this in your downtime or as part of your regular social encounters.
Downtime & Relaxation
4. Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is so important, both for yourself, but also for your clients and team. If clients think that they can call you at 11pm or get a response to emails at any hour of the day, then this is on you to solve the issue.
Set yourself a hard start and stop time each day that you can realistically stick to. Be at my desk by 10am. Shut down from all work by 6pm. This will avoid you procrastinating if you know you have to finish or be ‘at work’ by a certain time each day. In turn, this can increase productivity.
Be sure to clearly define and communicate your business hours so that it’s clear when you work, including a set break time each day. Your clients must understand that you have working hours and you have off time.
Most businesses don’t need 24/7 customer service, but if you do, be sure to set up your team so that every hour is covered, and that your staff are equipped to handle emergencies and challenges.
Set your boundaries
When will you be available to your clients/staff/team? What methods allow you to be available/unavailable to your clients/staff/team? How will you practically manage your business for times when you’re ‘out of the office’? When will you not be available to the outside world? What is your hard start time for the day? What is your hard stop time each day?
5. Learn to say no!
Part of setting boundaries is learning to say NO.
In business, you cannot and should not take every opportunity that is offered to you, as there’s only a finite number of hours in the day.
Identify when to say yes and when to say no
Don’t just say no for the sake of it. Marie Kondo every opportunity being offered! Does it spark joy? Is it practical/realistic? Does it bring me closer to my goals?
If you answer yes to all three, then you might want to revisit your schedule to see what you can juggle about.
If you answer no to any of them, this may be an opportunity you should decline. This will help you achieve more clarity on how to respond to opportunities.
Whether you’re in the focused work zone or giving yourself important downtime, reduce all distractions.
Silence notifications, turn off your phone, stick on your automatic replies, and close your mailbox. This focused time needs to be distraction-free. Make it clear that you’re in Do Not Disturb land.
You may feel that your business start-up is so busy you don’t have time for a social life, and may even feel guilty if you’re seen to be ‘unproductive’, but know that ultimately you are always in control of your time, not anyone else.
7. Plan your holidays
Holidays really do give you that proper switch off time, and it’s important you have them.
We’re not talking about going abroad for a fly and flop fortnight away – sometimes just staying at home or visiting friends without any daily responsibilities can do you the world of good.
We recommend you plan a one week holiday every three months.
If that seems like a lot, note that this is actually just four weeks a year and employed full-time staff are entitled to statutory annual leave of 28 days a year, which works out at 5.6 weeks on a five day week!
You can minimise business disruption while taking a holiday:
- Inform your clients of the dates you’ll be away
- Stick your out-of-office on
- Provide an alternative contact person if possible. If need be, hire people specific for the time when you are away.
- Automate certain processes and tasks so there’s no manual labour
- Work holidays around your project schedule, so you’re not in middle of a project when you’re away
We dare you to take your email off your phone while you are away on holiday 😏.
8. Embrace Flexibility
There is no one-size-fits all approach to how many hours you should be working on your business, but around 40 hours each week is still the norm. The main thing is that when you work on it, you maximise your productivity.
Short 15 minute breaks away from your screen and taking the time to stretch your legs will definitely help this, as it’s impossible for anyone to concentrate all day long. We love the Chrome app Break Timer.
As work and life are so interlinked for entrepreneurs, we suggest you avoid complete compartmentalisation, as it’s mentally tiring to do so. It’s far easier to be authentic and yourself.
The four-day workweek is becoming increasingly acceptable in large companies as it’s got proven results for retaining or increasing productivity, so you might like to adopt one for yourself.
9. Maximise Productivity
You can maximise your productivity with these techniques:
- Work to your natural rhythm. If you find that you work better first thing, plan for an uninterrupted work morning and take meetings in the afternoon. If you find you feel sluggish after eating, plan to eat your lunch later in the day.
- Ensure your workplace and workspace is organised. If you know where to find everything – be it digital files, or physical items like the stapler – you’ll have a much more efficient office, which will free up your mental load.
- Why not try timeboxing? There are many other techniques out there, such as the ‘pomodoro technique’, which gets you to set a timer where you’ll work on a specific task for just 25 minutes and then take a five minute break.
- Another great productivity boost can be mixing up your work environment. While it’s good to have a dedicated workspace, there’s plenty of studies that show working in a different space, be it on the sofa, in a café or in the local library can benefit focus.
Particularly as a small business owner, there’s always the temptation to try and do everything yourself, particularly if you’re penny pinching.
As entrepreneurs, we tend to have the personality that if we want something done properly, we have to do it yourself. You’ll never be able to scale up with this attitude, plus you’ll be prone to burnout.
Conversely, if you’re not good at something, just don’t do it! For example, if you don’t have a head for numbers, you’ll waste too much time trying to do your own bookkeeping – you’re better off outsourcing.
Now, if money is tight and you can’t afford an accountant, you could alway look for advice from our Founders, many will have great tips on how they managed elements of their business that they weren’t experts at.
Join the Founders Hub community for more free advice on work/life balance from other people who have been where you are.