We interviewed a panel of business owners who believe that hard work is the key to success, and are in business because they love to be their own boss. But the commitment can weigh heavily – running a business can eat into your time and energy and throw your life out of balance.
1. Realise what’s important
Hillary Graves, Little Dish
Of course your business will be a key part of your life, but your loved ones and social life shouldn’t suffer. To avoid feeling unhappy, you must devote enough time to each – but we must find what balance works best for us. “I’ve never believed in a ‘perfect work-life balance’ – you must find what works for you. Running your own business involves pressure and challenges, but there are many positives, such as the flexibility you may not get from working for someone else. You can structure your working hours around your family, I can take my kids to school and go to school events. A corporate career wouldn’t work for me. I’m lucky; I have a great business and work hard, but I can still spend time with my family. You must realise what’s important and prioritise accordingly.”
2. Be realistic
Whether business or personal, don’t take on too much or set punishing deadlines (at least not too regularly anyway). Keep your workload and personal commitments achievable.
3. Build a good team
Recruiting good people can make your life much easier. If full-time employees are beyond your budget, there are other options, and it may be possible for you to find others to share the load. You might even be able to outsource certain tasks. “When I started the business, keeping a good work-life balance was simple. However, as it grew it started to overwhelm me and I’d work weekends and every evening, sometimes into the early hours. One Christmas I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown trying to balance everything. That forced me to have a good look at my business and life. We put in some great systems and took on brilliant staff. Now I’m in the enviable position of feeling that my work-life balance is as ideal as possible. I have excellent staff that can run the business while I go on holiday or spend time with my kids. -Julia Lowe, Farm Toys Online
4. Learn to delegate
David Symons, The Press Room
When you’ve started and grown your own business, giving responsibility to others can be tough, but it’s essential. You can’t take care of everything. Once you’ve delegated responsibility, avoid micro-managing or interfering. “After two years, my work-life balance is really good now. The team is well trained and I’m not involved in the day-to-day running of the business. I keep a close watching brief and provide support and guidance to ensure standards don’t drop and the team responds well to this responsibility. I continue to do the accounts, which keeps me very close to the financials and allows me to identify where savings can be made or where the things are starting to go off track.”
5. Improve your time management
Understand how you waste time. Work smarter. Plan your day, make lists and set deadlines. Do most work when you’re at your most productive. Don’t try to juggle too much. Don’t be a perfectionist. Avoid checking emails constantly. Leave personal calls, social media and other distractions for after work. Learn to say no.
6. Make full use of technology
Patrick Beacom, Inter-com Translations
There is a huge range of software applications that can help business owners to remain organised, save time and be more productive – so why not use them?
“Maintaining balance is hard, especially these days, when the market dictates that clients must be attended to 24/7 – or they’ll go elsewhere. At first I was glued to my PC more than I wished. However, in recent years I’ve embraced the smartphone. That enables me to free myself from my desk and spend quality time with family and friends, while still being able to react quickly to clients’ emails and calls. Undoubtedly, the divide between work and free time has all but disappeared, but using the latest communications technology has enabled to maintain some work-life balance.”
7. Look after yourself
Never mind dull, ‘all work and no play’ could make you ill. Taking time to get some fresh air can help you to refocus and be more productive. Don’t skip meals; eat healthily; limit your coffee/tea intake.
8 Learn to switch off
Janet Sawyer, LittlePod
What’s the point of being with family and friends if you’re still stuck in work mode? Once you’ve clocked off, leave business behind. Relax; enjoy spending time with those who are important to you. Indulge a hobby or pastime. Take some time off – you’ve earned it. “Every week I take time off to do personal things, such as piano lessons or to have a back and shoulder massage. Help from my team also lessens the demands on me, as the responsibility is shared. My business is very important, but I don’t allow it to dominate all aspects of my life. Other things are important. For example, for many years I’ve been director of the Farringdon Society of Arts and recently curated a retrospective exhibition celebrating our tenth anniversary.”