Running a small company can be very demanding. After all, when you don’t have a large team of people to manage the different tasks associated with operating your business, more and more responsibilities end up on your plate.
While this can certainly make it easier for small business owners to maintain control over their company, it also makes it more difficult to find an appropriate work/life balance.
In fact, a survey of Dutch entrepreneurs found that over half of small business owners felt their lives were overly focused on work. This is hardly surprising when these same entrepreneurs reported an average 54.5 hour workweek that generally included nights and weekends.
It can be easy to get wrapped up in your responsibilities at work. You may feel like you simply can’t afford to take a break if you wish to achieve your goals. Unfortunately, when you slip into an unhealthy work/life balance, you begin to experience problems in all areas of your life — 38% of entrepreneurs in the aforementioned survey said that their work led to familial tensions, while 20% admitted that they missed important events like weddings and funerals due to work.
An unhealthy work/life balance won’t just affect your personal life — eventually, it leads to burnout, which can harm your physical and emotional health, and even your professional career.
So how do you keep from overworking yourself? The following strategies will help you strike a better work/life balance so you can avoid the dangers of being busy all the time.
Setting and respecting a fixed schedule
You’ll never achieve a healthy work/life balance if you don’t set limits that allow you to divide your time properly. Focus on the personal needs you have outside of work — be it spending time with family, going to an exercise class or simply taking time to relax and unwind. Use these other important activities to establish a fixed work schedule.
Regardless of when you plan on being done with work, be sure to make others aware of your schedule. Let them know that there are times you won’t be available to discuss business. Communicating your fixed work schedule with family and friends, as well as coworkers, will make it easier to hold yourself accountable to these boundaries.
Even more important than setting limits is your ability to actually respect them — and one of the hardest parts of respecting your limits is learning to say “no.” It doesn’t do you much good to say that you’ll be done with work by 5 o’clock each evening, but then let yourself stay ten minutes late to answer a few more emails.
Learning to say “no” to yourself isn’t always easy, and requires a fair amount of self-control. While slip-ups may occur, you shouldn’t let this derail your determination to separate work from the rest of your life. As PsychCentral notes, “Your boundaries will get crossed. Instead of viewing violations as taking a step back, see them as something instructive, and an opportunity to gain insight and improve on your boundary setting.”
Make better use of working hours
Of course, it’s a lot easier to avoid working in the evening if you can get everything done during the day! This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to work harder from 9 to 5 — but it does mean you should try to work smarter.
As Jason Fried of Bandcamp explains, this starts by evaluating the way you use your working hours: “Our days are being occupied by things that don’t matter most of the time. We’re just talking. There’s a big difference between constant conversations and meetings and actually getting work done.”
Could that one-hour meeting you have scheduled for this Friday be resolved through a few emails instead? Are certain tasks taking longer to complete than they should because you’re checking your messages every 15 minutes?
As you evaluate your in-office activities (particularly how long it takes to perform key tasks), you’ll be able to identify where and how you can make better use of your time. Even physical changes to your office space — like creating a more ergonomically-friendly workstation or putting plants in your office — can help you increase productivity during the day so you’re less tempted to take work home at night.
Unplug and recharge
As helpful as smartphones and tablets can be, they can also serve as a major detriment to a small business owner’s work/life balance. After all, email is easily accessible from your device, giving you the opportunity to take care of work on a 24/7 basis.
The invasive nature of smartphones makes it all too easy to neglect spending time with loved ones or taking time out for yourself. In fact, a study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that people who felt psychologically dependent on their smartphones were more likely to experience “relationship uncertainty,” as well as “less relationship satisfaction.”
In other words, if you’re constantly checking work emails on your smartphone or tablet, you won’t be doing your relationships any good. While certain apps can allow you to block email and other work-related tools during select hours, the easiest strategy may be to just turn off your device once you get home.
Not every moment needs to be a busy one
It’s perfectly normal to be afraid that setting limits to your work hours and saying “no” to certain tasks will keep your business from being as successful as you’d like it to be. In reality, taking steps to improve your work/life balance will help you be happier and more fulfilled — and in the long run, it will help you achieve better results for your company, as well.