Manage your business finances with Wave—it's free.
Send invoices, get paid, track expenses, pay your team, and balance your books with our free financial management software.Get started
Six ways to keep a healthy work-life balance
This article is part of our Complete Guide to Health for Entrepreneurs, which covers topics like mental health, eating healthy, taking vacation and avoiding burn out.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is not only crucial for your business, but more importantly, your mental and physical health. Overworking will lead to burnout, but as a business owner you can’t attend every event your friends are hosting, either. Here are six ways you can be sure to strike that perfect balance. (Or at least get a little closer to it.)
Understand what balance really means
The term “work-life balance” can be misleading—it doesn’t mean you’re working the same amount of time that you aren’t, and understanding this should be your first step at achieving it. The reality is, some weeks you’re going to have more work than you have free time. The balancing act comes in during those weeks that you might find yourself with more free time than you feel comfortable with, especially when you’ve become accustomed to working long hours running your business. They key is to make it regular practice to accept that time as your own, instead of feeling obligated to find more work to do, or make it “productive” time.
Get the full picture, then rearrange
For two weeks, use a journal to track how you’re spending every hour of each day, including weekends. Get specific. Use colours, charts, pictures—whatever you need to categorize your daily tasks. From there, separate them in two ways; urgent and not urgent. Start prioritizing the tasks that are the most important and the least flexible, and take note of the tasks that are less urgent and can be moved around.
Are you spending the most time on those urgent tasks, or are you running yourself tired trying to complete a never-ending list of things that can realistically be put aside for a day or two? When you look at your time holistically instead of task by task, it will be easier to see where you’re maintaining balance throughout your week and where you may be struggling.
Once you’ve got the pieces, use them to create your ideal week. This part is crucial: you cannot forget to include time to do things you want to do, alongside things you have to do. It won’t always be perfect, but learning to differentiate between time necessary for work and time necessary for personal interests is key to maintaining healthy limits.
Burning out is what happens when you’re always available, and in order to achieve a healthy work-life balance you’re going to have to get comfortable saying no. Whether it’s to a never-ending list of event invites or a client that wants to check in every few hours, you need to reclaim your time. This is where those two letters are going to come in. (N and O, in case it wasn’t obvious.)
Start setting expectations on your availability. Let people know that you’ll reply to email within 24 or 48 hours, that you’ll be offline after 7 p.m., or that you’ll be working with your door closed between 3 and 4 p.m. every day. Whatever you decide, make it clear that during these blocks of time, you won’t be available. As time goes on, people will get used to it and it will become the new norm. Setting time aside for you to get work done without interruptions will allow you to be more productive with the time you spend focused on your business so you won’t need so much of it.
Pay attention to your natural energy spikes
We all know someone who can wake up every morning without an alarm clock, and someone else who will never, ever get used to regular office hours, no matter how many years they’ve worked them (this has suddenly become autobiographical). You can probably pinpoint your natural energy spikes (and lulls) throughout the day; the times when you’re more focused and productive, and the pockets where you need two shots of caffeine just to get through a meeting.
Take note of these cycles and use them to your advantage. If you know you need deep concentration for a specific task or project, set aside time during your natural productive hours to work on it. Similarly, if you know your brain usually turns off between 2 and 3 p.m. every afternoon, use that time to go for a walk or do something that doesn’t require much concentration, like administrative tasks.
Another option is to use technology and flexibility to your advantage. If you know you’re most productive on Mondays, work longer hours and free up some of time on Friday afternoons when you know you’re not likely to get much done after lunch. If you prefer to work from a cafe in the afternoon, get everything you need to be at your desk to do done first, then finish wherever you’re most inspired.
Delegate, delegate, delegate!
If you have the ability to delegate some of your responsibilities, there’s no reason to feel guilty about easing up your workload where possible. Clear a few items from your day-to-day tasks at work by giving someone else a chance to take a stab at it. A fresh set of eyes on something that’s become routine for you can often help improve efficiencies.
You can also increase your time with friends and family by hiring a professional to offload some of your household chores. Hire a housekeeper one night a week so you can make it a movie night with the kids. Or let your neighbour’s teenage son finally mow your lawn so you can spend that time cooking for the week. It feels great being able to complete a to-do list on your own, but you know what feels better? Taking a bubble bath and reading a chapter of your favourite book.
Get creative with your errands
Could you order your groceries online and have them delivered instead of driving through rush hour and spending an hour in the store? Can you complete your least favourite chores at the beginning of the week to avoid procrastinating and making everything else pile up as your week goes on?
Find ways to get through the chores you can’t delegate more efficiently, or turn them into a more exciting version by including friends or family. Make gardening a family activity. Have your friends over for dinner during the week. Get creative and exchange services with friends; you cook, they take the kids to soccer practice. You may not be able to reduce your list of chores, but you can definitely reduce the time you spend knocking them off the list.
The reason a lot of people find it hard to find the perfect work-life balance is because… it’s hard to find the perfect work-life balance. Remember that time you tried to give up sugar cold turkey? Making big changes all at once is a recipe for disaster. When it inevitably fails, you’ll feel discouraged, and may even take on more work for time lost!
Be realistic. Make a few small changes every week, see how they work. If something doesn’t work, adapt it until it does. Once it works, keep at it for three weeks, and voila, it’s a new routine. Remember, your life and priorities will be forever changing, which means so will your routine. When you’re feeling overwhelmed start from step one. And repeat.