How to Balance Work and Life: 8 Tips for Small Business Owners
Small business pressures often require entrepreneurs to wear many hats and work long hours, but that eventually takes a toll on health and personal life. If you run a small business, try this expert advice on how to balance work and life.
- Figure out what work-life balance means for you
- Try to leave work at work
- Make sure to take time off
- Ask for help
- Identify any challenges in achieving work-life balance
- Learn to say ‘no’
- Prioritize self-care
- Schedule family and social time
Figure out what work-life balance means for you
Finding work-life balance is important for everyone, but especially for small business owners who work long days and overlook their personal lives, said Dr. Vinay Saranga, a North Carolina psychiatrist. He often works with entrepreneurs and small business owners to help them when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
According to the most recent Gallup research available from 2005, 62% of small business owners worked more than 50 hours a week, and 57% of owners work six or seven days a week. While that sounds like a lot of time at the office, it’s no secret that small business owners are passionate about their work and tend to put in longer hours. However, what constitutes a happy balance between work and life varies from person to person, and it can take some trial and error to find the right balance for you.
Case study: Kayleigh Clark, co-founder of CLEARstem Skincare
Clark said finding that balance requires making sure your needs are met before handling anyone else’s. “Always put your oxygen mask on first; you cannot be of service to anyone else if you are burning out,” she said. “Do what you can do that fills you up, makes you happy and helps you feel restored so you can show up for whatever you need to do that day or week.”
Clark says that her work-life balance is more of a rhythm than an end goal. “There are ebbs and flows of what you choose to prioritize at given times, so that’s absolutely something I struggle with,” she said. “The key to the rhythm is not to overwhelm yourself with guilt if you choose one thing over another.”
Incorporating balance doesn’t have to be extreme. It could mean:
- Get home in time for family dinner.
- Avoid checking email on weekends.
- Take an exercise class twice a week.
TIP: Borrow best practices.
If you’re not sure where to start, look to larger companies that are known for having a good work-life balance. Their practices can offer clues to how you can find your own work-life balance as a small business owner. Also, think about entrepreneurs you know who set good work-life balance examples and adopt their techniques.
Try to leave work at work
One of the best ways to establish work-life balance is to learn how to separate work and home life. “When you go home, you should leave work at work and focus on your personal life and your family and friends,” Saranga said.
Not sure how to leave work at the office when you’re starting a business? Create boundaries. This might mean “unplugging.” Turn off your phone when you get home, even just during family dinner. Stick to strict work hours. These can be effective ways to disconnect from work. If your clients or employees know you’re not available at set times, you may feel less pressure to be “on” and can be present for your loved ones.
Make sure to take time off
Not all workers receive paid holidays, but even those who do, often waste them — in 2018, Americans left 768 million vacation days on the table, according to the U.S. Travel Association. If you work for yourself, you typically have no paid vacation days and could lose money when you take time off.
Occasionally taking a personal day to recharge isn’t a luxury; it’s crucial for your health. Working excessively can wreck your sleep and mental health, according to a study by the Society for Occupational Medicine. If the thought stresses you out, plan in advance so everything at work is covered.
Taking a break doesn’t have to be a big ordeal, either; Saranga says entrepreneurs can even benefit from taking lunch breaks. “If you were employed by a company, you would get 30 minutes to an hour for lunch, so why do you feel like you can work right through lunch as an entrepreneur?” he asked. “Lunch isn’t always about eating; it’s about taking a break and resting your mind and body.”
Ask for help
No person is an island, and there’s no shame in asking for help — especially if you’re overwhelmed trying to balance work and life. For entrepreneurs struggling financially, consider seeking funding such as a small business loan or a line of credit to relieve some of the financial pressure as your business grows.
This could also mean leaning more on your family and friends and outsourcing tasks. You can ask your kids or partner to pitch in with household chores, or ask friends to carpool. If you can afford it, consider outsourcing tasks to save you time and stress, such as hiring a house cleaner or getting groceries delivered.
Identify any challenges in achieving work-life balance
Proactively think about the challenges you may have in finding a work-life balance, and consider how to address them. Clark acknowledged that small business owners “could quite literally do work 24/7 and still not feel finished,” making it hard to create boundaries. Research has shown that finding work-life balance for women can be even harder if children or partners rely on them.
TIP: Take Technology timeouts.
Clark’s solution to this stress was to remove technology from her “life” part of work-life balance. “When you are spending time with people or taking time for yourself, don’t just be half there and half still answering calls/texts/emails from your phone,” she said. “Be fully present and you will get that mental break from work.”
Learn to say ‘no’
Small business owners often struggle to say no, Saranga said. He says that entrepreneurs don’t want to turn away projects or more responsibilities that could lead to more pay. They also don’t want to disappoint people and are afraid to say no. “The reality is there is nothing wrong with saying no, and people aren’t going to dislike you for saying no,” Saranga explained. “Remember, there are only 24 hours in a day, and you can’t possibly take on absolutely everything that is thrown at you.”
TIP: Offer an alternative.
The solution, he said, is to prioritize and learn that it’s perfectly acceptable to say no sometimes. One trick that can help soften the blow when saying no (for you and the other person) is to offer an alternative. For example, he said, you’d say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you today with that, but why don’t you try to [fill in the blank].”
While the phrase “self-care” has become a buzzword, don’t discount the power of giving yourself some attention. This can involve bubble baths and face masks, but it can also be as simple as eating nourishing meals, getting annual physicals or having quiet time. Saranga said exercise is one self-care practice entrepreneurs should prioritize to support their physical and mental health.
Make self-care fun, and don’t hesitate to try different things to find what gives you the most joy. According to Saranga, “the best advice for self-care practices for entrepreneurs who love to work is to find something you love to do that doesn’t involve work.” For example, he said, those who enjoy golf should make time go to hit balls at the range, and those who love to ski should plan occasional getaways to hit the slopes. If you need something more mellow, try a new hobby, like cross-stitching or hand lettering.
TIP: Add mindfulness to your routine.
He added that self-care can also include mindful moments to relax and reflect. “It can be something as simple as sitting on a bench in the park and just getting quiet with your thoughts,” he said. “A great way to relax is also to slow your breathing, focusing on inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.”
And have fun. From Clark’s experience, taking time to have some fun not only helps her find balance, but be a better business owner. “Bring out the child-like enthusiasm, laugh, go do something out of our comfort zone, be spontaneous,” she said. “We can get in a cycle of being so serious and focused that our brains get stuck, so switch it up!”
Schedule family and social time
When you run your own small business, it’s easy to get completely swept up in it. This passion for your career can be great, Saranga said, but life isn’t only about work. “Life is meant to be about spending time with those closest to you, like friends and family, and enjoying yourself,” he said. Remember, he said, that older people never say they wished they worked more.
While we may feel the need to be reachable 24/7, and some issues actually do need to be addressed after hours, most things can wait until the following morning, Saranga said. Studies show that overworking can increase stress in relationship partners and lower relationship quality, so don’t underestimate the importance of spending time with your loved ones.
Case study: Maureen Stockton, founder of Formé Shoe Shapers
When Stockton started creating her shoe shapers, she prioritized her family and personal life and took pride in her ability to balance it all.
“However,” she said, “That completely flipped once I determined the product was viable and I was launching the company. At that point, my savings were at stake to make the business a success, so my diet, exercise and fun with friends took a backseat to driving revenue.”
TIP: Be intentional with your time.
Sometimes all it takes is being intentional. For example, Stockton said, each morning she asks herself, “What’s on my calendar to support my family?”
“If I don’t have anything [scheduled], I make sure to take the time to make a few check-in calls with family or friends in order to connect,” she said. “This year I’m gauging my success based upon the health of my personal relationships and a funny thing happened — the business took off!” She said she does experience some guilt when friends who don’t work in a startup or run their own businesses don’t understand the intensity of her focus on her company, but she strives to make time for them as much as she can.
What’s the importance of work-life balance?
Yes, work is important; it’s how we pay the bills, and in some cases, find our purpose. Starting a new business can be exciting, Clark said, but you’re often working around the clock. It takes time to build and figure things out, often with nobody to delegate to. “You are literally starting from scratch, and the outcomes that happen in your business are a direct reflection of the work you put in,” she said. “So it’s easy to completely absorb yourself in your business and forget about the outside world.”
This is a common experience, but a lack of work-life balance affects health, and small business owners who don’t find a balance endanger their physical and mental health, said Saranga. “I’ve read too many horror stories of entrepreneurs landing themselves in the ER suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and major anxiety and stress because they had their priorities out of order,” he said.
The benefits of finding work-life balance are far-reaching, especially for entrepreneurs. “If you don’t make time for a personal life, and you don’t make time to rest, relax and recharge, you’re not going to be able to operate at your peak performance in your career,” Saranga explained. Finding a balance, or healthy rhythm as Clark called it, can also help you feel healthier physically and mentally, keep your relationships strong, and help you be a better boss if you have employees who look to you as an example.