September 15, 2014

Work Life Balance: How to Be an Entrepreneur and Stay Sane

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult for anyone, particularly when our smartphones buzz with each new email, no matter whether we’re on the way to the gym, in the grocery store, or relaxing at home. But the challenge can be exponentially harder for today’s entrepreneur. Starting a business requires a little insanity, to be sure, but you don’t want the lifestyle to send you over the edge.

So how do successful entrepreneurs stay sane while they prosper at work and at home? For me, finding balance boils down to taking it one day at a time, one step at a time, and always staying present in the moment while running and growing my business. Here are a few tips I like to incorporate into my daily routine:

Work Life Balance

1. Get a grip on time management.

I’m not talking about downloading the latest calendar or organization app. For most entrepreneurs, effective time management isn’t an issue with organization, but with prioritization. If you want work-life balance, you’ll need to think about everything that competes for your time, then decide what to keep and what to discard. You’ll also need to communicate clear expectations for yourself and others. In some cases, this means saying “No.” For some, saying no doesn’t come naturally, but you’ll be happier and healthier if you manage your time on your own terms.

2. Exercise, exercise, exercise.

No matter how hectic your schedule, make time for exercise. I work out every day by taking Richard Giorla’s Cardio Barre® classes. A good workout helps you release stress, maintain a routine, and think without interruption (exercise can be a form of meditation). Physical activity helps your body pump out more of those feel-good neurotransmitters, known as endorphins, to keep your mood up even in when days get a little tough (check out what The Mayo Clinic has to say on the subject). Even President Obama faithfully hits the gym, The Economist has reported, relying on exercise as his life intensifies.

3. Unplug.

Facebook and YouTube aren’t the only digital distractions we face. For most entrepreneurs, the never-ending onslaught of emails and IMs from clients, vendors and colleagues ends up being the day’s biggest time sink. If you’re drowning in your inbox, dedicate chunks of the day when you unplug from the phone and email to get work done. Then log back on and power through the necessary responses.

And when “office hours” are over, close your laptop and put aside your mobile phone…even if just for an hour or two. For most entrepreneurs, this task will take enormous discipline, but you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes, in terms of both your mind-set and your productivity.

4. Live outside your job.

As an entrepreneur, you’re passionate about your business and you’re ready to put everything you have into making it thrive. You may feel you need to work on your business all the time (just for the first year…or for the first two years…), but eventually this lifestyle will catch up with you and result in burnout, damaged relationships, stress and health issues. Yes, there will always be more emails to send or more prospects to contact. But you’ve got to be able to walk away and spend time on the other activities you love, whether that’s reading, kayaking, movies, cooking, gardening or just spending time with family or friends. As much as possible, try to be 100 percent present during your free time activities, since bringing your BlackBerry on a hike isn’t much of an escape.

5. Don’t fear failure.

Sven-Goran Eriksson said, “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” And when it comes to running your business, truer words have never been spoken. As an entrepreneur, your path is uncharted and oftentimes bumpy. And when things don’t go as planned, it’s all too easy to find yourself frustrated, stressed or downright panicked. Realize that you cannot control everything, no matter how hard you try. This simple change in mind-set will actually give you better control over your environment and help you better respond to whatever comes your way. For me, I know that I am not done failing …I will fail again.  I am not done succeeding …I will succeed again. And most importantly, I am not done trying!

6. Get help.

When you’re just starting out or times are tough, it’s natural to want to tighten the purse strings. And in many cases, this is the only realistic option. However, you should consider what you could gain by handing over certain tasks to contractors, employees, even interns or volunteers. By relinquishing control of administrative tasks or keeping up with the company’s daily blog, you’ll be able to better focus on what’s going to keep you in business. And that’s revenue.

The key to work-life balance is different for everyone; the key is knowing what works for you. How are you faring in the entrepreneurial balancing act? Have you found unique ways to stay sane and avoid burnout?

23 Comments ▼

Nellie Akalp


Nellie Akalp Nellie Akalp is CEO of CorpNet, her second incorporation filing service based on her strong passion to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting their business. Free guides, advice and videos on small business legal topics are available at her Small Biz Corner.

23 Reactions

  1. When determining your priorities you need to make sure that your personal well-being is on the list. You mention exercise and I think that vacations or other breaks are just as important in keeping you balanced and happy. And remember that a happy, sane you is appreciated by your family, friends and clients.

  2. You are absolutely right…in fact if you cannot be happy, you cannot make anyone else happy either. Thanks again for your comment and reading my post!! :) – Nellie

  3. Good advice…now if only we can get the Entrepreneurs to step away from thier iPhones and laptops and follow it! :)

  4. Sound advice. It’s so easy to get puppy syndrome, where everything that pops up is the most important. It takes a lot of discipline and a well organized system to keep yourself on track. Also automation is a fantastic way of saving time. You can schedule your tweets in advance, automate your finances in a way that saves you time and money, write scripts for replying to generic emails so you can just copy/paste and move on, there are lots of ways of saving your sanity ;)

  5. Wow. I had to read this twice and then make notes. Thanks for such a strategic and powerful angle to LIFE management. I’m a freelance writer, and managing my time is paramount to success on the professional front AND on the personal front. I wanted to add that one thing I do that has DEFINITELY worked is using a time tracker to find out where all the time goes. I picked OfficeTime.net because it was easy and inexpensive, and then I re-evaluated everything on my calendar. I realize clearly in this time management effort that money is not the real commodity – it’s just a necessity. But time? Well, time is the most valuable thing we have. NO refunds on time. Thanks for a great article. I’m definitely putting it into practice asap.

    Mary Agnes Antonopoulos, Freelance Writer and Blogger

  6. Great reminders, Nellie. We should work smart to ensure we enjoy our lives and families too and that we don’t become burned out.

  7. Good article, but one thing may have been left out. Without a supportive significant other or spouse, none of the above will work.

  8. I’m glad you started with time management. I think this is by far the most important thing when it comes to finding balance. You will find that you can get more done during the day if you plan to spend a fixed amount of time working towards each your daily goals. And you won’t find yourself at the end of the day wondering where all your time went.

  9. Great article! Ironically enough I just read another article this week, saying there’s no such thing as work / life balance, at least for women ( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/cathrine-ann/work-life-balance_b_913261.html?ir=Women ). I wondered about a lot of it, and then today came across your article.

    As CEO of a growing business, I’ve been carefully looking over my schedule for awhile now, but find myself constantly reprioritizing, including making time for the gym no matter the schedule. It’s definitely a juggling act some days. These are great recommendations to help keep us sane!

  10. Good Article. More importantly one shouldn’t giveup incase of failure

  11. I really like #5 about not fearing failure. Once things don’t go according to our plan, I know I become very frustrated and want to just stop. But I know I can’t be a leader and teach young people about giving up, if I am not willing to fail.

  12. Wow, thank you for the amazing support and comments on my post! Everyone’s feedback is amazing, and I totally agree with all of you! There has to be balance to everything you do, otherwise you won’t enjoy any of it after a while! Have a wonderful and successful week! – Nellie

  13. Great article! I appreciate that you allow for a *little* insanity. Starting a business is just a little crazy, no way around it, but a huge number of the sacrifices that seem necessary actually aren’t.

    Entrepreneurs worry about 4 main categories of things: commercial, vocational, personal and relational. However, the first, “commercial” (that is everything involved in building as viable business) tends to dominate the rest in part because it is seen as foundational to the other three (e.g. when the business is more profitable, I’ll be able to pay for a nice vacation with my family).

    Unfortunately, what often is overlooked is that the other three are also foundational to “commercial” concerns. In other words, they help an entrepreneur be at their best so they can make rapid progress in their business.

    This article nicely outlines how to honor all four priorities. Nice work!

  14. Thanks, I needed this! And for the “Get Help” part, remember to tap into your network of friends and contacts. Many of them are very happy to help and will often do some kind of trade which can save you money.

    As for exercise, I juggle in my office. It’s a good workout and clears the mind, making it easier to focus on priorities. It’s portable for business travel as well!

  15. The most important thing that I have learned about avoiding entrepreneurial burnout is to delegate, delegate, delegate!! This can be so hard at first when you are emotionally attached to your business. But this is a bitter pill to swallow – there are many people out there that can do some things far better than you and at prices that are much lower than what your time is worth.

    Nina

  16. Great tips here and I agree that time management is critical. In fact I find setting aside time to better manage your time is one of the most important things I do.

    It feels “unproductive” at times because I could be spending that time simply working on my list, but seemingly every time I do it, it’s an investment that pays off.

    I do want to disagree with the “not being afraid to fail” part though.

    I think that once something is started, once that momentum is rolling on your business or your project, a healthy fear of failure can be a good thing. You don’t want to be so scared that you’re paralyzed but I think that a little fear of failing helps you to not quit when things don’t go as planned.

    To me that little bit of fear, even the thought of having to face the consequences of quitting or things not working out, can be extra motivating.

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