How can I find greater work-life-balance in my business and life?
Work-life-balance is elusive for most business owners, but here’s how to find it
Work-life-balance is a term that’s been bandied about by many business and life coaches, in the books and videos by the life style gurus and in the personal development industry. It’s what we’re all supposed to be creating for a long and happy life. It’s the dream. Sadly, it’s a distant dream for many business owners. One of the reasons for the unattainability of the dream, is that the generally accepted idea of Work-life-balance is a myth. Many great philosophers and thinkers, such as the gently spoken Alain de Botton, consider that the way we think about Work-life-balance is fantasy (Watch Alain de Botton’s TED Talk here). We need an entirely different picture to model our lives on, if we want to feel satisfied about our life and work.
And you know this is true, because in your business, if anything is to get done at all, it’s down to you; if you don’t do it, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. You’re often the first one in the door in the morning, and the last one out the door at night. You have breakfast and lunch on the run, and after the kids have been put to bed at night you have to catch up on your admin and quoting. And by the way: Isn’t it funny how with every new staff member you employ to lighten your workload, you seem to get busier?
Have a look at my Big Pain of Small Business survey to see how you compare against other business owners on balancing work and life. You might also like to complete the very short Richard Branson Questionnaire, to see how you compare against the most famous of all the noble knights of business, who also seems to have his work and life sorted better than most of us poor peasants.
Principles of Work-life-balance
To create a better Work-life-balance in our lives as small business owners and entrepreneurs, I believe there are a few principles we need to understand first:
- Balance is a personal thing, what works for you won’t necessarily work for anyone else.
- What feels right, is right. There are no hard and fast rules for balance.
- Balance is a never ending negotiation. There is no set formula for balance. Priorities change constantly in life and business.
- Sometimes we’ve just got to do what’s got to be done.
- There’s nothing wrong with working hard, there’s nothing wrong with averting a crisis, but too much is too much.
- Sometimes, not doing something, at all, (whatever the thing might be at this moment), or not doing it perfectly (read more about perfectionism here) is fine. Your business and your life will most likely survive and the world will not come to an end. (More about getting things done here)
- Nobody has ever come to the end of their life and said: “I wish I’d worked harder”.
There is no rule book for Work-live-balance. (Read more about my thoughts on Work-life-balance for small business owners here). There have been times in my life when I’ve worked insane hours while feeling totally balanced, in “flow” and happy, and other times when I’ve worked much less hard, yet felt overwhelmed and stressed. And just because I might work fewer hours per day, than you might do, doesn’t mean I have achieved better balance than you do. If you feel that your life is balanced, it is, and if you feel your life is out of balance, it is also.
As business owners, sometimes we’ll be confronted with situations that simply mean we have to pull an all-nighter or work on Sunday. It’s part of the package of being a business owner. It can even be highly rewarding to pull an all-nighter on a project, with a deadline looming and at the end of it, know you’re the one that’s made it happen, pulled a rabbit out of the hat. It can be one of the most fun experiences you have in business.
I remember clearly in the last weeks leading up to the opening of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, that I and my team worked every hour that God gave us for two weeks straight to complete the fit-out of the Holland Heineken House in Darling Harbour. It was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. That’s now 17 years ago and I have nothing but fun memories of that period (and about the 14 day long party with 100,000 of my closest friends in the Holland Heineken House afterwards).
The simple fact is that if you feel good about your life and the mix of things you spend time with, you’re in balance, and if you walk around feeling bad about the fact that your kids or your spouse or your choir or your health and fitness or your peace of mind are missing out, then your life is not in balance. And what’s more, it’s really important to understand that what is right for you today, may not necessarily be right for you tomorrow. It was perfectly alright for me to spend those weeks building the Holland Heineken House and barely seeing my family, for those weeks, at that time.
Barely seeing my family
But it would not have been alright for that to be my life all year round. It may be fine for you to be in the habit of catching up on your email after the kids have gone to bed, but it may also be that at some point in the coming year it will start to bother you, and then it’s not alright anymore. (Read about the demands on your time and your brain cells here)
But one thing is absolutely sure. You’re going to want to take the issue of balance in work and life seriously and check in with yourself regularly what is and what isn’t right, and you will want to move towards finding the balance that is right for you, because nobody has ever laid on their death bed wishing they’d worked longer and harder. (Read about the top five regrets of the dying here)
Work-life-balance comes down to 5 things:
- Clarity about what matters most, to you, in your business (Also watch my short video about The Purpose of business here)
- Learning to say no. And also watch my short video about saying no here
- Learning to trust yourself
- The 4 quadrants of time management. And also watch my video about managing the most valuable asset of your business here
- Learning to delegate (one of the 4 D’s, see below)
Work-life-balance follows automatically once: you’ve learned what really matters in your life, you learn to say No to the stuff that doesn’t matter, you learn to trust that you’ll probably make the right decision (after all you’ve got this far, why not assume you’ll continue to do ok), and finally you learn to set time aside for the important stuff you must do and delegate the rest (or apply the 4 D’s)
Once you’ve learnt all of that, you’ll have started to create a Great Business and a Great Life and that although it mightn’t look like Balance to an outsider, it works for you, and that’s all that matters.
The 4 D’s
The 4 D’s I mentioned a couple of sentences ago are a nice management concept. The idea behind the 4 D’s is somewhat parallel to the 5 things I talked about above. For any task that comes across your desk consider one of the 4 D’s:
- Do It – If it takes less than two minutes, and it needs to be done, just do it now. You could schedule it for later, or delegate it, but it might take you a couple of minutes just to do that. Save yourself the hassle and do it now.
- Diarise It – if it’s going to take more than two minutes, if it’s got to be done, and you’re the right person for the job, block out some time in your diary in the next week or two to Do It.
- Delegate It – The secret of getting more done and scaling your business is to delegate, delegate, delegate… So get good at delegating and look for every opportunity to do so.
- Dump It – When you really stop and think about it, and you have a look at the 4 Quadrants of time management, some stuff isn’t actually all that important… A lot of demands on your time are firmly in quadrant 3 (urgent bu not important) or maybe even quadrant 4 (neither urgent, nor important) … The world won’t come to an end… What’s the worst that could happen… DELETE.
- Read about how becoming a grandfather taught me to start to trust myself
- Read about Personal development
- Read about being overwhelmed
- Read about Saying No
- Read about the secrets of Time Management
- Watch the Small Business Masterminds webinar on time management
- Read about laziness
- Read about procrastination
- Read about the 10 Rules for Happiness in Business and in Life
- Learn about the art of managing your people